Integrating tech for the new term: getting to know students


All teachers know that the new year really starts in September, not January as the rest of the world seems to think. That’s when we make our resolutions to be better people, better colleagues and better teachers. We tell ourselves that we are going to finally get organised, read those articles, clean the desk, plan lessons in advance and make sure we stay on top of marking. Sometimes we even do some of those things…..

In the spirit of the new (teaching) year, I thought I’d make some suggestions for any teachers wanting to integrate a little more technology into their lessons. Not for the purposes of novelty – though in itself that can be motivating for students – but because technology can make the lessons more engaging for the students and can help them develop excellent learning habits that will help them in their further studies.

Over the next few blog posts I’ll make some suggestions for ways to kick your new term off with some digital integration. In later posts I’ll discuss ways to do needs analysis, knowledge checks and also ways to establish good learning habits in your students using technology. But in this post, I’ll focus on what we need right at the start of the course, activities for getting to know your students.  There is nothing specifically EAP-ish about these, though you can adapt them easily to focus on aspects of their studies if you wish.

The classic ice breaking activities we do at the start of a new term can be given a twist with technology. Here are some ways to do something more than ‘Find Someone Who…’

Class profile poster board

Padlet is a tool for creating virtual notice boards, it’s great for brainstorming, knowledge checking and a host of other things. But it can also be a great tool for creating profiles of all the students in the class. To make it interactive, you could break the students up into pairs and get them to interview each other, then they have to create a profile of that student with a mix of photos and text (see example below)

example of a Padlet board from a class (student pictures removed)

example of a Padlet board from a class (student pictures removed)

Padlet works well on mobile devices too, there is an app but it’s probably easier if the students go through the browser on their phone and use it from there. It’s much quicker then for uploading photos of their partners.

Once they’ve uploaded a short profile of their partner, other members of the class can then add comments/questions to the any of the students’ profiles  and they can respond in turn. Very engaging and great fun for the students.

Mobile phone pictures

This is one I learnt from Nicky Hockly,  a really quick and easy way to get students using their mobile phones to learn more about each other.

Basically you use all the photos on their phones as the basis for group discussion around a series of topics. And there’s a competitive element as well.

You call out a topic, such as ‘animals’. Working in groups, each one looks through their photo galleries and the first one to find a picture of an animal is the winner and gets a point. You then follow that up with a short discussion with the group members asking the winner questions about the picture to find out more about them.

Other topics you can use are ‘brothers/sisters’, ‘holiday’ ‘countryside’ ‘food’ etc as I’m sure most of them can find pictures of most of these things. The other good thing is that the students choose the photos themselves so they are not being forced to share any pictures they’d prefer not to.

QR code discussion

A modern take on a very traditional activity is to use QR codes to dot around various icebreaker type questions for students. I’ve mentioned this in other posts but it’s a great way to get them out of their chairs, moving around and talking to other people.

QR-code-eg

Before the class, prepare some first-day type questions (why did you choose this university? What’s your major? Etc) and embed each of them in a separate QR Code. This can be done easily on a site like goqr.me and then each of them copied onto a Word document. Resize them and then print them out and cut them up. Stick them around your round, some can be in obvious places such as the walls but to make it more fun you could also hide some of them under tables or other hard to reach places.

For students to be able to decipher the QR codes, they will need a QR code reader app on their phones. If they are Chinese, it’s likely they will already have one since most of them use WeChat for messaging and that has a QR code reader built-in. If any student doesn’t, just tell them to go to the app store and do a search for QR Reader and they should find multiple free ones to install.

Once you’ve done that, you can then get them to go round the class in small groups. They have to find the QR code, scan it and then discuss the question revealed. After a few minutes, they can move on again and find another code.  A variation on this is to get them to first find all the QR codes, scan them, then bring them back to their group desk and write them down. The team that finishes first is the winner. Once they have got them all, get them to sit down and discuss them one by one.

Creating personal stories

Another more sophisticated option is to get your students to create personal video stories for the other students to comment on. You could ask them to talk about some aspect of their life (hobby, family, studies etc) and then create a short 2-3 minute video on that topic combining video/audio/pictures where possible. This can then be shared into the class VLE as a link for other students to comment on.

This kind of activity can really bring out the creativity in students and there are a huge number of tools available for them to do it with. Whether you decide on just one or give them the option to choose the one they like best, that’s up to you. But here are a few that might be of interest:

Movenote

Both an app and a web tool, Movenote lets you create presentations using a combination of webcam, presentation slides, pictures and documents. They are are very easy to create and share.

Sway

An interesting tool from Microsoft, part presentation, part interactive multimedia tool, students can add text, online video, images and combine them with interesting animations. You can see a few examples here and here. It can be used from the web, on an iPad or as part of the Office 365 set of programmes.

Adobe Spark page/video

Adobe have recently moved into this space and these two tools are now available on the web and as an iPad/iphone app. Spark Page lets you create beautiful text and image/video posts, while Spark Video does a similar thing but just with video/images/audio.

Prezi

This presentation tool seems to have fallen out of fashion over the last few years, but it can still be an impressive way for a student to present information about themselves and it’s easy to share them as a link.

Here are just a few options but there are many more out there to try and experiment with. The important thing is to try to make it as interactive as possible. One option is to get them to create profiles of each other, so they have to create a questionnaire first and then interview each other to help them create the description. Also, make sure there is some mechanism set up for the students to view and comment on each other’s profiles.  Depending on your context, that could be sharing via a VLE or social media (such as a Facebook group if you have set one up). Alternatively, they could all be sent out via email to the students, they could view them on their phones/computers and then discuss them in class together.


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About David Read

I work at the English Language Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield as the Director of TEL (technology-enhanced learning). I've been an EFL/EAP teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years and have worked in 14 different countries. Settling down is clearly an issue for me.

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