The Red Rabbit generates the Tower of Babel

Red Rabbit from Egmont Mayer on Vimeo.

The room is set up with chairs in clusters of 4, with some facing the screen and some facing away from the screen. The guest lecturer is standing in the room as the Dialog language teachers start entering the room. Within seconds they have started moving the chairs into rows and there is little that can be done to stop them. They are expecting a lecture and are deaf to the pleas to leave the chairs as they are. Learning point – tell participants before they enter the room that they are not to move the seats, as they have been arranged in a specific formation, for a reason.

Leo Selivan, of Leoxicon, is ready to start but is struggling to be heard over the noise of 55 teachers chattering excitedly in 10 languages. Suddenly the room is silent and Leo has their attention. Leo opens the session with a discussion around the use of videos in the classroom, with a particular focus on the possibilities of generating language from silent movies. The teachers are interested but not yet convinced. Leo asks the teachers to organise themselves into language groups of up to four per group, with one person per group facing the screen and the others with their backs to the screen. The task is for the ‘watchers’ to describe what they see on the screen, while the other members of the group listen carefully and try to understand the plot unfolding, on the screen that they can’t see. After 2:46 minutes Leo stops the movie and asks the teachers to swap places, the ‘watchers’ are now the ‘listeners’, and the ‘ listeners’ are now the ‘watchers’. The narrative continues…

As the teachers listened, described, questioned, gestured and laughed aloud, I wondered around the room enraptured by the cacophony of languages being heard. This was organised chaos, and it was exciting. The descriptions of the ‘Red Rabbit’ that I could identify in so many languages, including Spanish, German, Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Italian, French and English was akin to what I imagine it might be like at the United Nations. As I looked across the room I was clearly aware that the teachers were engaged and on task. The scene created was reminiscent of the story of the Tower of Babel, though this time the tower was the Red Rabbit, and the goal was to generate language rather than reach the heavens.

Four months later and the activity has been tried in a number of Dialog classes in multiple languages. An English teacher reported that one student in a pre-intermediate class was so excited by the experience, and refused to let his language limit his narrative, that as he gestured wildly he shouted; “Oh it is a big, big rabbit. It is a Rabbit Rabbit!”(Doubling a word in Hebrew, is a common way of emphasising something.) A Spanish teacher used the activity with her pre-intermediate class, and stated that though her students really enjoyed the activity they were frustrated by their limited vocabulary, she told me that she now realises that she should have pre-taught the requisite vocabulary. Reflection par excellence!

As English teachers you’re probably not trying to create the Tower of Babel but I strongly suggest using this activity, and the others Leo shares in his blog, “Not a word was spoken (but many were learned), with your learners for a fun, interactive and challenging learning experience.

Highlights from the PCE & ETAI Summer conference 2014 Music, Mime, Movies and More

ETAI Highlights

Russell Stannard, creator of, was this year’s British Council sponsored presenter. Russell started his hectic presenting schedule with a 90 minute workshop which focused on getting students speaking and developing their fluency through the use of digital tools. Russell started us off with a pair-work activity in the virtual classroom, set up by Russell, on TodaysMeet. We quickly joined the classroom and wrote our greetings to Russell before being asked to define the role of Learning Technologies in the classroom. We finished off with an activity for low level learners where we had to list all of the fruits we could think of. The fact that students don’t need to sign up to the site makes it immediately attractive for teachers. It is intuitive and easy to use and a cool tool for brainstorming. Russell went on to share with us a variety of tools that he has used over the years to encourage his students to speak both inside and outside of the classroom in a connected way: mailvu, vocaroo, Brainshark and presentMe. As always Russell’s energy had everybody excited about using this great audio visual tools. You can check out Russells presentation here.

‘M is for More and Making the Most’ was Russell Stannard’s talk on day one of the conference which focused on a variety of screen capture tools, and in particular JING. Russell described how these tools meet the needs of different learning styles. Russell shared examples of how he uses these tools to provide oral feedback to students on their presentations and written work. Russell has found the results to be very powerful as the combination of spoken feedback together with highlighted text, is more likely to be embedded by learners than traditional feedback methods. Russell has also used screen capture for teaching pronunciation. Russell gives a word list and then highlights the syllables to be emphasised, whilst adding his voice. A nice homework task is to get students to choose a picture of a famous person, JING it, and then record your voice describing the person. The JING lind can then be uploaded onto a class WIKI or blog or sent directly to the teacher. Russell demonstrated in Chinese (which he is currently learning) how even beginner students can provide oral information about themselves with screen capture. Russell typed on a word document: Tell me 3 things about yourself: Name; Job and the Languages you speak. Russell then JINGed it, recorded his speaking which he can then simly upload, or send it to his teacher. See Russell’s presentation here.

Russell Stannard gave the closing plenary ‘Where is Technology Taking Us? to a packed auditorium. Russell discussed how collaboration and communication are now the essential skills required by employers for new recruits in the 21st century workplace. Consequently teaching and learning needs to change to prepare learners to become lifelong learners, who will need to be autonomous. We need to prepare them to train, retrain and retrain again as new professions are constantly being created. This is particularly pertinent to language learning, as English is needed more and more as the global tool of communication. As teachers we need to think about how we can help our students become better learners, how we can encourage them to collaborate and work in teams and focus on problem solving on real world tasks. We need to look for ways to assist our students to make decisions about their own learning. Russell left us all with the desire for more. You can see Russell’s presentation here.

Leo Selivan, had his audience totally absorbed in his workshop ‘Not a word was spoken (but many were learned)’ Leo took his former film in the classroom workshops to a whole new level, with ‘Sound Off’ and ‘Vision Off’, ‘Split viewing’ and ‘Dictation’ techniques being radically upgraded through the use of silent movies and lots of pair/group work. Leo’s chose of short movies which provided language rich speaking opportunities, along with the given task of ‘commentating’ the movies, was both challenging and entertaining and pedagogically sound. Check out Leo’s handout here.

In ‘What Teen Learners Can Learn from Children’, Leo Selivan shared with us his passion for lexis. I loved the analogy of the ‘Biological Clock of the brain’, whereby our ability to learn languages decreases dramatically as we get older. This certainly rings true for me. Leo described Krashen’s model, whereby language can be acquired either implicitly or explicitly, where acquisition is defined as a subconscious process, similar to L1 learning, whereas in contrast learning is a conscious process and the result of formal instruction. Leo pointed out that child learners see language as a tool for communication in contrast to older learners who are aware of language as a phenomenon. Leo shared language research by Fillimore  and Wray to demonstrate what older learners can learn from children. Leo concluded by telling us to start teaching with chunks and then try and accelerate the process of chunk learning, we should focus on probable language rather than possible language. You can see Leo’s presentation here.

Dr Carol Goldfus gave a riveting presentation, ‘The Brain and Music’ in which she described how teachers can use music to shape the brain and dramatically improve learning outcomes – “Teachers are’ after all the ultimate brain changers “they are in a profession of changing the human brain every day,” Sousa, 2010, p.23. Goldfus’ energetic statement, ‘We teach language, we do not teach the present simple because the present is not simple. We do not teach the present perfect because the present is far from perfect. We teach language,’ clarified even more forcefully for me why grammar should take the back seat in our classrooms. Goldfus explained that humans are not born with a reading a brain, but rather it is developed through good teaching. Goldfus suggested playing music at the beginning and end of a lesson and teaching in the middle. The reasoning for this is that by listening to music the frontal part of the brain is activated, it is this part of the brain that that is responsible for planning and spoken language. Goldfus asserted that by listening to music we are naturally rewiring the brain. Classical music can be used as an intervention tool for teaching. It provides an excellent model for organizational and rule-governed behaviour. Goldfus asserted that the goals of listening to music in the language classroom are:
1. To develop sensitivity to organizational and rule-governed language
2. To develop timing, sequentiality and fluency
3. To develop word meaning and store the information in the brain
The audience left the room with a strong awareness of the power of music and our power as humans to rewire our own brains, and to assist our students to do so too.

For details of my own PCE Think mobile! Think more! workshop you can read my post here.

Think Mobile! Think More!

At my workshop on Monday’s PCE in Jerusalem I discussed the issues raised in this article Why apps and smartphones are the future for education. I showed teachers a number of ways that they can integrate smartphones and mobile devices into their language lesson to engage and motivate even the most reluctant learners.

Think Mobile! Think More!
Think Mobile! Think More!

Want to get your students speaking and writing more in English,
and motivated and excited about their homework? In this
hands-on workshop you will learn how to integrate mobile
technology, Web 2.0 tools and a few simple thinking routines
into your lessons and homework tasks, and engage even the
most reluctant learners.

See my slideshare presentation here.

Learning from a mentor

In my lost post I mentioned how frustrated I was with my blog and that I was feeling digitally incompetent as a result. In true digital style I tweeted for help and two ELT colleagues, Julie Bytheway and Naomi Epstein, immediately swooped in to help. Naomi, a local ELT leader, invited me over tonight for a hands on mentoring session. This post is one of the results. I can sleep a little easier and now focus more on content than on layout. I feel so much more digitally competent now.


e-merging forum 4 – Moscow 2014 – ‘Learning Technologies Track’

emerging forum 4

I recently returned from the e-merging forum 4 in Moscow where I had the opportunity to facilitate the Learning Technologies track together with Elena Kazachkova and Nicky Hockly. This was a wonderful professional development opportunity for me as I was able to learn from the local presenters as well as from Nicky, who is both a great presenter and an advocate for incorporating LT into the ELT classroom along with the active teaching of ‘Digital Literacies’. In each of the presentations, in the LT track, the themes of engagement, motivation and learner autonomy as enhancing learning outcomes came through very clearly.

In Elena Peresada’s talk: ‘How to Gamify your English class’ we were shown how all students can be motivated to achieve ‘Personal Bests’ through the use of a game design approach to teaching. Elena explained that XP points (experience points)’ a leaderboard and healthy competition are criteria for this approach. It was interesting to see that Elena has flipped the concept of Gamification by applying Online Gamification rules and techniques to traditional learning in her classroom without any computers, to increase student motivation and self-autonomy.

Anna Avramenko’s talk: New educational standards, Mobile competence of students and teachers in Russia, referred to the mobile competencies of both teachers and students. Anna highlighted the difference between ICT and MT( mobile technology), and said that many teachers do not yet feel comfortable with MT, despite the fact that this is their students preferred way of learning. Anna explained that with the use of MALA (mobile assisted language assessment) teachers and institutions are able to track progress immediately and effectively. Anna also spoke of PELE, a peer assessment system, and said that students are keen to use online polls in class, as polls provide instant feedback, which students find both motivating and engaging.

Vera Bobkova led an interactive workshop: ‘Time savers for Busy Teachers’ which gave the audience an opportunity to see that engaging activities can be prepared quickly by using online tools such as a dictionary apps, crossword creators, story cubes and the ‘Big Wheel’. Vera’s message was, get the students to create the games and tasks wherever possible, because they love it, and their learning is enhanced; and the best of all is that it saves time for busy teachers.

Anna Loseva shared with the audience her use of Social media as a learning opportunity for students. In her talk: ‘International student collaboration on Facebook: what it is and what it isn’t,” Anna explained how she had responded to a single student’s request for authentic language practice. Anna set up a FB group in 2011 for 17-23 year olds, and asked teachers to join and bring their students to the closed group. Since then the group has grown to over 500 members from 23 countries. Anna shared the challenges and the successes, and encouraged us all to try this medium for engaging learners by providing authentic language opportunities.

Little pigeons can carry great messages or using online post its in ELT, Anastasia Fetisova shared her ‘fetish’ for post it notes. Anastasia started off by showing us multiple ways of using physical post its for ice breakers, for spelling words, for writing poems and for labeling the body parts of some willing volunteers in the audience. Anastasia then went on to share with us a multitude of digital tools that offer numerous creative ways of using post its to engage, motivate and stretch our learners, for example,;;; (Creating and expanding sentences);

In her talk: Using Wikis to create collaborative teacher student sites, Alexandra Smirnova spoke of the Wiki as a collaborative storeroom, as a tool for organization and collaboration, where everybody can be involved from the teacher, the students to the parents. Alexandra explained that all digital tasks can be stored in the one place on a Wiki, from Vokis, to e-books, to podcasts and videos, which is really useful for everyone to quickly access each other’s work. Lastly, Alexandra showed us how we can use hypertext to create web quests.

The Learning Technologies plenary: Digital Literacies, was delivered by Nicky Hockly, who so skillfully convinced us all of the existence of the endangered species; The Pacific North West Tree Octopus, which surprisingly enough does not exist, in order to demonstrate how our students tend to assume anything that is published on the web must be authentic. Nicky showed us the importance of evaluating websites and how to do it and emphasized four areas that need to be focused on: Information; Language; Connections and Redesign. After she presented the theoretical background to integrating Digital Literacies in the ELT classrooms, Hockly share some great activities with the audience using Remix and Literal Videos. Check out: and Catch an interview with Nicky Hockly after she gave her plenary for more information.

For my video summary of the entire conference you can catch me on the TeachingEnglish website. Now I can’t wait for e-merging forum 5.