Technical Ideas for Teachers

There are many teachers who can produce brilliant lessons with nothing more than a blackboard and a piece of chalk. Some of them don’t have access to anything but a blackboard and a piece of chalk. For those of you that do, here are a few ‘technical’ things you may like to try to liven up your lessons.

With a mobile phone

It is likely that almost all of your students will have a mobile phone. Here’s a fun activity that takes a while to set up, but makes a lesson memorable. Get hold of a SIM card that you don’t normally use. (In the UK you can pick them up very cheaply – or ask your friends if they have an old one they don’t use. Write out the number of the mobile. Then search your music collection to find songs with numbers in them. Here are a few suggestions:

When I’m sixty four – Beatles

Rocket Man – Elton John

2-4-6-8 Motorway – Tom Robinson

Don’t cry for me Argentina – Sinead O’Connor

I’m sure you know others. Then use audacity (see below) to cut and paste the numbers of the phone into a new mp3. Once it is ready, you shoud have a short recording which, when the students listen to it, they can key in the numbers and call your phone. The student who makes your phone ring first, wins a prize.

With an MP3 player

I use an Edirol R-O9 to record a wide variety of authentic language and sounds. I then use audacity software (see below) to edit the sound files. In the classroom I use a BOSE Sound Link. I am very satisfied with both pieces of equipment.

A lot of teachers like to use music in the classroom either as a way of relaxing stressed out students or as part of a listening comprehension. Here are some tips on how to make the most of what mp3 technology can do in the EFL or ESL classroom.

Audacity is a great piece of software, not only because it is free to download (from here) but also because it is very easy to use. If you know how to cut and paste, you’ll be able to use audacity. If you need some very basic help, click here. More help here. Below you can see a screenshot of audacity. There is speech for the first 17 seconds followed by silence. By cutting and pasting parts of an MP3 into such a silent line, you can put together your own tracks.

Presuming you have some MP3 files on your computer already, you can now manipulate them to produce ideas for lessons. Imagine you’re doing a lesson on colours. How about taking segments from songs which have a colour mentioned in them? Yellow submarine, Black Betty, Brown Sugar etc. A lesson on numbers? 2-4-6-8 motorway, you’re the one, dressed up to the nines, at sixes and sevens (from Don’t Cry for me Argentina). Yes, how about a lesson on towns and countries? 24 hours from Tulsa, If you’re going to San Francisco, Waterloo Sunset, London calling, One night in Bangkok… The possibilities are endless.

Musical Lesson Idea

Cut out 10 questions from music and then write 10 answers to those questions. For example, I used “Can you teach me how to dance real slow?” from American Pie and then wrote the answer “No, I can only do the foxtrot and the chachacha.” Hand out the answers to the students in strips. In groups, they should write suitable questions. For example, for the answer, “No, I can only do the foxtrot and the chachacha” students typically write: “Do you want to dance the waltz with me?”

Once the students have a list of 10 questions, take the answer strips back in. Give the lists of student-generated questions to another group in the class. Can they work out which answers they refer to? (This step is not necessary but will increase the students’ familiarity with the answers. Now for the big moment. Hand out the strips again. Within each group, the students should divide up the number of strips. Explain that you are going to play some snippets from songs. They will hear a number of questions. Questions to which they have the answers. If they have the answer to the question, they should wave the appropriate strip in the air.

As teacher, you have to watch to see which hand is being waved first. If the student gives the correct answer, then his/her team gets a point. If the student gives the wrong answer, then his/her team lose a point. It is a fun exercise and is a nice way to practise question forms with your students.

If you’re more of a traditionalist and want to do some grammar, how about livening up your lesson with an MP3 track full of examples of the present perfect or future with ‘going to’? A good MP3 player will allow you to see exactly where you are within a track and allow you to repeat sections many times to help your students. It does take a while to prepare such material but once it is ready, you can use it many times – and your students will (hopefully) love you for it.

If you want to use some material which has already been produced, or if you can’t afford an Edirol R-09 at the moment, have a look at the links below.

British Dialects – a wonderful collection of dialects put together by the British Library. Many of the recordings have transcripts and some have notes ‘explaining’ some of the more interesting points.

VOA Voice of America has a special website for learners of American English. They have made special s-l-o-w r-e-c-o-r-d-i-n-g-s for people who need special help. The VOA is public domain material so you can happily use it in the classroom.

With a Laptop
I have developed a powerpoint exercise based on collocations using signs that he photographed in the village of Cheddar. If you’d like a copy, ask me nicely.

With a camera
The talented Jamie Keddie has put together a book on this subject. Have a look at his useful and entertaining website:

With a camcorder
Some time ago, I watched the following clip on YouTube and felt inspired. Please note the first six seconds are silent so don’t panic.

Find some easy songs (I use The Rainbow Song, Little Boxes (By Pete Seeger) If I had a Hammer (By Peter, Paul and Mary) and Summertime (sung by just about everyone). Give your students about an hour to go through the lyrics and prepare a presentation of the song. (Making hammers, rainbows, jumping fish etc). I did this when I worked in the buffer zone between the two parts of Cyprus with teachers from both sides. The teachers were brilliant and sadly their videos are too big to post here.

Here’s a teaching idea that I came up with using video.

EFL video ideas Does what it says on the tin.

Russell Stannard has produced lots of useful ideas for teachers who want to make greater use of technical things in the classroom. Russell narrates his own training videos and sounds uncannily like the comedian Paul Merton.

I’m working on some new material for this page which should be up and running shortly.


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