Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A Teacher Went into Class with a 5-second Video Clip - What Happened Next?

Sometimes, it’s impossible to escape from the fact that you are a teacher. You may be chatting to an old friend, watching TV, cooking dinner or even dreaming when you an idea hits you and find yourself saying “that would make a great lesson!” It’s a bad habit that all good teachers have.

This happened to me last week when reminiscing with a colleague about TV shows from the 1980s and early 1990s. The power of nostalgia is always strong but there was something about TV in those days of analogue broadcasts spread over a mere four channels (for those of you who grew up in the UK at least) with the theme tunes, hairstyles (which have not survived the passage of time well) and (nowadays laughable) special effects. We covered the classics such as Knight Rider, The A-Team, He-Man and Dempsey & Makepeace before the conversation turned to one for the boys - A Question of Sport.


Image by itslefty

Amongst memories of the distinct sound of David Coleman’s voice, the cheekiness of Emlyn Hughes, the other team captain whose name escaped us (but was quickly found online to be former England rugby captain Bill Beaumont) and the colourful v-neck pullovers came memories of the different games in each round. One of my favourites was always ‘What happened next?’ in a seemingly normal clip of a sporting event would be played and paused at a key moment with the teams (made up of the aforementioned captains and other sporting celebrities) then speculating as to what unusual occurrence would be seen when the video continued.

And there it was - such a simple idea that for some reason had never come to me before in over a decade of teaching. Why not show a video to the class, pause it and get them to discuss what would happen next? With all sorts of unusual events, bloopers and funny accidents, sporting and otherwise, available on YouTube, it would be easy to set up.

I therefore set about finding some videos (watching carefully to make sure there were no swear words, graphic injuries or any other things unsuitable for the primary school classroom) to use in class. The first one I found was this one, which, considering it has over 23 million views, you may well have seen before:

At the start of the lesson, I got the computer and projector all set up (with YouTube open in the browser but with the window minimised), closed the curtains so we could see the screen and wrote the question “What happens next?” onto the board. As the students came in, I divided them into groups of 3 or 4 and told them that I would be testing their powers of observation. Their first task was to look carefully around the classroom and try to figure out what we would be doing in class today. Naturally, they all noted that the computer and projector were on and the more observant saw the Firefox logo in the taskbar with the word ‘YouTube’ next to it and correctly deduced that we were going to do something with a video (this was also a good follow-up to the fact that we had just finished reading a Sherlock Holmes story in class).

Having done that, we paused a moment to reflect on the language they had used (I think  we will…/ we are going to…/ we might…/ maybe we will….) and the differing degrees of certainty contained within. As the video is only 5 seconds long and I couldn’t trust the slow school computers and internet connection to respond to me pressing pause in time, I showed this screenshot first:


We talked about the setting (a football match between friends in a park) and I asked them to ‘say what you see’ (words invoking personal memories another 1980s quiz show, Catchphrase). Football related vocabulary like goalkeeper, penalty, ball and kick came up and they also noticed the presence of bikes behind the goal, the trees and the sky. I then asked the groups to come and show me anything in the image they didn’t know the English for. That brought up language that would be useful later on such as goal (as in the target protected by the ‘keeper, not the act of putting the ball in the back of the net), post, crossbar and frame of the goal from which we covered hit the post/crossbar, rebound, score, save and come back off the frame of the goal. Other vocabulary also came up such as fence and we also looked at the difference between shoot (no object) and kick (the ball).

Each group then spent a few minutes debating what would happen in the video. Various theories were put forward such as the ball striking the post and the goal collapsing, the ball smashing into the bikes or the penalty taker missing the ball and falling over. All of these were put onto the board with corrections and adjustments made as we went along. Once we had a few different ideas up there, each group had to choose one with the ‘moment of truth’ coming as we finally watched it and found out who had got it right or got close.

Originally, I had several videos lined up but they had got into this one so much and there was so much language that had come out of it that by this point we had less than 10 minutes of lesson time left! The other videos were therefore left to one side and we spent the rest of the lesson making short commentaries to go with the video (adding in some fantasy elements such as it being the Champions League final) and doing a ‘memory test’ for which each group wrote a statement about the video which the others had to identify as true or false (e.g. ‘The goalkeeper is wearing red shorts’ and so on).

Not bad for a 5 second YouTube clip!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Review: 52

“This book is not for everyone.”

That is how the first offering from Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings’s e-publishing initiative The Round kicks off - a simple and yet challenging statement that sets the tone perfectly for this collection of ‘subversive activity for the language classroom’.


For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet, The Round is a new addition to the ELT publishing world, which dares to be a little bit different. It aims to ‘bridge the gap between blogs and books’ while also offering a fair deal to authors and readers.

52 also dares to be a little bit different by focusing on ‘the kind of stuff that doesn’t usually get past the publishers’ radar’. The activities openly embrace social and political issues that are often ignored by mainstream coursebooks and resource books. Indeed, the acronym PARSNIP which is often used to list the kind of topics that should be avoided in the language classroom (Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, Isms and Pork) is actually the basis of one of the activities! There is an important message here - we should not assume what is and is not suitable for our classes. Rather, we should include our students by opening up the discussion to them and finding out what they think should (not) feature in their lessons.

But the book is more than just a collection of controversial discussion topics. There are also activities that ask the learner to reflect on why and how they learn (such as one of my favourites which encourages them to prepare ‘cheat sheets’ ahead of a test but actually results in them studying in a more systematic way as they do so!) as well as activities that encourage students (and teachers) to look at traditional tasks from a different perspective (for example, the daily routine of an innocent person in jail or role-playing someone arriving in a foreign country only to find their luggage has been sent to the wrong place). There are activities for teachers too, encouraging them to try something different such as teaching from a different area of the classroom or to reflect on their beliefs about best practice.

The book is a little on the short side (the whole thing can be read cover to cover in about half an hour) but that is in part down to the concise way the activities are presented. There is a welcome lack of detail or rigid step-by-step stages to follow. There are also no ‘suggested levels’ and no ‘target language’ (as you might expect with one of the co-authors of Teaching Unplugged involved) which means many of the activities are flexible and adaptable, even to someone like me who works with young learners.

Speaking of which, I am currently plotting with one of my classes to create posters with subversive educational slogans to be stuck on the walls around the school. Other classes have been discussing and deciding how to re-arrange their classrooms and what additional facilities they think are needed and I’m trying to persuade one of the senior teachers in the department to come in to one to answer the students’ suggestions of how to improve the school. This is definitely a resource you can keep coming back for ideas and inspiration.

So, yes, this book is not for everyone…. but if you are willing to experiment in the classroom or you are looking for a breath of fresh air in your teaching routine, it might well be for you. Smile


image52 by Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings is available in Kindle and e-pub formats. See The Round’s website for details. 

Also, check out the 52 blog for more subversive ideas.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Lessons on the Fly: An Open Dialogue

In the Reading and Writing paper of the Movers and Flyers tests, students are presented with one half of a dialogue which they need to complete. In Movers, three choices (A-B-C) are presented in response to each line of dialogue with one to be chosen and in Flyers, a list of choices (A-H) is given on the facing page to be inserted into the correct place (I personally think that the Movers version is harder as there is a lot more reading involved but I digress).

So, how can we prepare our students for questions such as these without ready-made practice materials?


Patrick Bohnen’s ‘Conversation’ - Image by Kraemer Family Library

Simple - we get the students to come up with a dialogue themselves! (I wrote about a lesson similar to this last year so I will try not to repeat myself too much.) In short, I drew a boy and a girl on the board, asked the students to name them and explained they knew each other from school. I then asked the class to suggest what these two would say if they saw each other in the street (this was done as a whole class activity).

Obviously, each class came up with wildly different conversations but they enjoyed debating and discussing the direction this short conversation should take. We then acted out the dialogue several times, changing partners every couple of minutes and encouraging lots of drama (for example, “act like a shy boy” or “act like you are not feeling well”) - always a hit!

While all this was going on, I started to delete parts of the conversation from the board. If the students didn’t mind acting out both the male and female roles, only one character’s lines were removed (thus simulating the style of the exam questions). In other classes with some boys unwilling to act the girl’s part and vice versa, I instead removed words from both characters’ lines in the manner of a disappearing dialogue.

Once they had repeated the dialogue several times, they sat down once again and I asked the class to reconstruct the dialogue in their notebooks. Their initial reaction was one of shock. “How can we write it?” they cried. “You cleaned most of it off the board!” However; I just needed to point out that this was similar to dictogloss and then they were happy to do it.

In the classes where I had removed whole lines of dialogue, this activity was very similar to the exam question as they re-inserted one person’s lines. ın the classes where I had removed several words from each line, this gave them good practice for the the cloze test style questions. Reconstructing sentences and lines of dialogue like this really helped them get to grips with the finer points of the language such as how articles, prepositions and word order hold a sentence together, all of which are very tricky to teach explicitly.

As ever, the confirmation of the success of the lesson came from the students and the often repeated request as they left the class of “Can we do this again next lesson?” Smile

Friday, 6 April 2012

Blogging is…

As those of you who have followed this blog for a while may know, blogging has become the focus of my current MA research. It is now nearly two years since my first ever post and in that time this blog has come to play a major role in my development as a language teacher and my online professional identity. That was the initial reason why I wanted to research this area - to find out more about the role blogs have to play in a teacher’s self-development.


Individual or part of a group? Image by tkksummers

Earlier this week, I was discussing how my research is taking shape with my dissertation supervisor and I mentioned that my interest was in how individual language teachers use their personal blogs for self-development. In that way that academic tutors often do, she immediately honed in on three words I had used without really considering their weight and meaning: individual, personal and self.

However, as the discussion continued, I began to mention comments, blog rolls, links to posts shared via social media and the relationships that begin to form with between the writer and the readers (who may also exchange roles when interacting on each other’s blogs). My supervisor pointed out that this was taking me away from the individual and personal aspect I had begun with. That got me thinking that perhaps my idea of ‘self-development’ was not quite the right angle to investigate from - maybe the community and connections made with other teacher-bloggers are more important for enabling development.

Blogs are inherently personal in nature - the main body of content, the layout and the links shared are all chosen and composed by an individual. And yet, through this individual space on the web, we are able to connect with teachers worldwide, exchange experiences, ideas and advice and be active as readers as well as authors.

So, my question to all you blogging teachers out there is:

Do you see you blog as your own personal space for expressing and developing your thoughts and ideas about ELT?


Do you see it as part of an active community of practice where shared experiences contribute to something more than just self-development?

Your answers in a comment please. Smile