By Tom Walton
In this article in the Tech Task series, Tom Walton suggests three tasks that can be used with technology in the classroom to motivate learners to improve their writing and speaking skills.
Three tasks that work with technology
To complete this series, let’s look at three tasks involving the use of technology that really work with students. By ‘work’ I mean, first, that virtually all the students they have been used with really liked them and, secondly, that they produced lots of language practice and learning.
The three tasks suggested are as generic as possible, so that you can use them with different ages and levels and interests, no matter what language points and/or topics you want a task for. As well as an outline lesson plan for each, we’ll look at the more general principles that have made these tasks successful with students.
1. Telling digital stories
Earlier in this series, we looked at creative writing with Edmodo. Lots of students say they hate writing, but if you make it creative and collaborative and include as much speaking as writing, this is a task that always seems to work.
1. Find some kind of writing prompt – a photograph makes a great starting point - and ask your students to work in pairs to create some questions about the photo (e.g. What’s happening in the photo? Where was it taken? Who are the people and how do they know each other? What’s happened before it was taken and what will happen next?) as a basis for their stories. Be prepared to help out lower level students to begin with. When they have finished, write up all the questions on the board.
2. Have your students answer the questions individually in note form (not using technology!).
3. Put your students back into pairs/small groups and get them to talk (not write!) about their answers and then pick their favourite answers to the questions to form the basis for their story.
4. Ask each student to write up a draft version of their story and then swap with a different pair/group who will edit their story . A shared Google Drive document is a wonderful use of collaborative technology to allow the pairs/groups to finish off their stories.
5. Share the stories with the rest of the class and ask students to comment on them – what did they like/not like, what did they perhaps not entirely understand, which is the best/funniest/most interesting story?
6. When they have finished and you are happy with the discussion as a whole, provide language feedback on an errors that occured in their stories (this step can also be done digitally).
For advice on correcting students work on collaborative tech tools, see my article ‘How I correct work students do with technology’.
Why this works in a language class
- In class, students are talking rather than spending a lot of time using technology. Technology should not be so complex or time-consuming that it takes over from the language learning.
- It’s creative and collaborative – the more you make this a requirement, the more creative and collaborative your students will become.
- Students are not being asked to write compositions individually (which many of them don’t like and don’t think they are good at).
- This also works well if your learners record it as an audio file using the Spreaker Studio app.
2. Filming tasks on mobile phones
Another article in this series looked at giving collaborative presentations in class. These work particularly well with coursebook-related topics, as a means of recycling language. However, presentations can be on just about any topic.
1. Put students into small groups of three or four.
2. Ask them to brainstorm what they are going to include in the presentation.
3. In class, ask students to rehearse their presentation in groups. Tell them they don’t all need to speak during the presentation and can take turns at giving it. At this stage, provide as much language help as possible.
4. Once they are ready, ask them to give their presentation to another group.
5. For homework, ask one student per group to write up the presentation using Google docs and share it with the others in the group and tell the group to rehearse their presentation so it is ready for the next class.
6. In the next class, ask each group to give their presentation to the whole class, making sure one member of the group films the presentation on a phone.
7. Watch the presentation, either on the phone, or if it has been shared (see below), using your classroom projector.
8. Provide feedback on the presentation to the whole class. As always, start first with the positives, followed by any language review.
We’ve looked here at presentations made in class, but you can do exactly the same thing with role-plays of all kinds at any level.
Sharing the videos
In order to share, watch and provide feedback on the videos (including performance and language used), your students can upload the videos to YouTube, where they can be kept private, by changing the privacy settings. Uploading the videos to a private, shared Google Drive folder makes an excellent alternative to YouTube.
IMPORTANT: Occasionally, students will give presentations which are a disaster: if that happens, leave the recording on the phone, don’t embarrass them by watching it in class, but provide positive feedback on what went wrong and how it can be improved next time.
If your learners are a little reluctant to be videoed, try starting by just recording audio, for which the Spreaker Studio app is excellent).
Why this works in a language class:
- Getting students to use their own phones works because, among other reasons, you don’t have to provide the technical support.
- Filming is motivating. Because they know there will be a recording, they want to make the performance as good as it can possibly be.
- Rehearsal and re-performance gives the students multiple opportunities to improve and get it ‘right’. Give them lots of language support and they will willingly re-do the task – now with better language.
My blog article ‘Tips for great class presentations given by learners’
3. Making lists
In another previous article in this series ‘Ten fun tasks with lists’, we looked at one of my all-time favourite activities for language classes – creating lists.
1. Find a topic for a list that will interest your students and/or relate to a topic you have been looking at in class.
2. Give your students 90 seconds to note individually as many items as they can think of to include on the list.
3. Put learners into small groups and get them to brainstorm a single list between them.
4. Once groups have created their lists, an additional option would be to have a pyramid discussion so that you end up with a single list the whole class has contributed to.
5. Either create the list/s digitally in class, or ask one of the learners to create the digital version of the list/s at home. They can post the list on an Edmodo group, a Google+ Community, a Google Drive presentation, or a tool like list.ly.
6. Ask your students to share the list and comment on it; a shared digital space like Edmodo is brilliant for this.
7. Alternatively or additionally, a quick oral presentation of the list to the class makes another great activity.
8. Finally, if your topic was one you actually found a list for (see Finding lists, below), compare and contrast that list with those created by your students.
TIP Include a number in the title of your list, and make it quite a low number: e.g. ‘Three ways to…’, ‘5 vital steps you need take to…’, ‘Seven things that…’. The low number generates debate as it forces people both to include and exclude items from the list.
Great places for finding lists and ideas for lists include www.boredpanda.com and www.watchmojo.com (for video lists, brilliant if music or cinema is your topic). You’ll also find countless ideas on the BBC or The Guardian, as well as on social media.
Why this works in a language class:
- It requires just one idea, not massive amounts of material that needs to be prepared.
- Everyone can – and will – contribute.
- It produces lots of language and lots of debate.
- It’s learner and language-centred, not technology-centred.
- Everyone loves lists!
What makes these tasks work well:
- It’s NOT the teacher using the technology.
- The learners are making easy, uncomplicated use of simple technology – which means it isn’t going to go wrong.
- The task leads to the creation of a shared digital end product.
- Because the tasks are either performed publicly or are shared, the students want what they write or say to be as correct and as good as possible.
- There is a certain amount of challenge involved but it’s a collaborative challenge.
How do you know when a task has ‘worked’ with a class? It’s very simple: if your students say ‘Can we do that again?’, it has worked! I think you’ll find that happens with these three tasks.