Using GIFs and memes in the ELT classroom

I was exploring different tools that we could use in today’s classroom and that would capture our students’ attention. The reality is that most students will automatically be reeled in by anything that is similar to what they are used to seeing on their social networks. This means tons of video content, animated GIFs and memes. I think as teachers, even with just YouTube, we have tons of options and ways of using video in the classroom, not to mention TED, English Central and Lyricstraining.com. But, what about memes and animated GIFs? Here’s a quick run through of how these two fun tools could become educational.

MEME

You can either create them yourself or simply find one that’s already made. All the same, you can spark conversations in your classroom and get students interested in what you have to say. A meme is a combination of an image and words, so you can use this to explore language, expressions, idioms, vocabulary or context. They can be funny, or serious and will still work to get the topic going. Here are some ideas of how you can use it:

  • Get students to share: Have students use a meme to either share what they did over vacation, or to introduce themselves to the class. Choosing just the right image and the right words to place on it can be a more challenging task than you think. Now, of course, despite all of the misspellings and poor grammar usually seen on memes, my students are expecting to demonstrate their good use of the language.
  • Report or summarize a book or project: While doing a summarizing activity or even during a debate you could have students make their own meme to express their ideas and ensure they give only the most relevant ideas. Post these memes around the room, and you’ll get a sort of visual summary, where you can then get students to group them into categories and explain the relationship.

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  • You can also create your own, or bring them in: As teachers you can also play around with making your own memes. Be it to show the rules of your classroom or as a warm up to a book or project you are going to do in  class. One idea is to make an inference game with memes, where students have to infer the meaning based on the image and phrase that is given, you could give them options to make it easier at first. Another idea is to have a meme corner, where you place one image weekly and all of your students have to assign a phrase to the same image. You’ll get tons of different versions and it’ll make for great discussion in the class.

Here are some sites where you can get good memes to teach English, or where you can make them:

Pinterest

MakeMeme

Meme Generator

GIF Lingua

Animated GIFs

Animated GIFs are short looping videos and they have become very popular on social networks. We can also use them in the classroom in many different ways.

  • Vocabulary: By presenting a short animated GIF you can solicit vocabulary words and brainstorming from students. By using an animated GIF you can give a full context of difficult-to-explain phrasal verbs, idioms, and collocations that an image just might not get across.
  • Short story and prompts: Use animated GIFs as a prompt to get students to continue a story, be it in writing or as a speaking exercise. You can find tons of creative and fun prompt animated GIFs here.
  • Get students involved: Give students a topic and have them bring in animated GIFs that are related to the topic. If you have access to collaborative tools like Google Drive, have students share them. You can even get students to vote on their favorite and find the favorite one from each topic. This can be a great warm up when starting a new unit.

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  • Reaction animated GIFs: Find three to five animated GIFs that express a reaction your students could have to something. These animated GIFs would represent if they agree strongly or don’t agree at all with a particular topic. Use these in class when having student weigh in, by having them vote. Or to make it even more fun, have students find a animated GIF that shows how they feel about a topic and then have them explain why they chose this animated GIF.

Here are some sites where you can make your own animated GIFs:

Images to GIF

Make a GIF

GIF maker

Giphy (My fav)

GIF Creator

FINAL TIP

If you are ready to start using animated GIFs and memes, consider opening a closed Facebook group with your students. This will make it very easy to get students to share and vote on the animated GIFs and memes that you will be using for your activities. You can even make an album for each lesson or topic and that way easily revisit ones that you can reuse with other groups.

 

Find the perfect balance of high-tech and low-tech in ELT

Technology is becoming an integral part of education represents something that seems to be inevitable. Our everyday lives are affected in almost every aspect by technology, be it home appliances or medical equipment, and not to mention all of the alternatives in personal communication devices. Technology has engrained itself in our society and because of this it is no surprise education is also part of it. I, for one, believe that technology brings an element of interactivity into the classroom that no other tool had done so far, so I love using it. I consider myself a tech geek and love finding new ways to include apps, interactive activities, BYOD lesson plans into my teaching, but at the same time, I am not blind to the difficulties, disadvantages and maybe even misadventures it could bring to my classroom. So, to be honest, I don’t think technology on its own is the only answer to changing education and engaging students. There must be a balance between high-tech tools (or notions) while not leaving behind the low-tech materials and props that can make your class unforgettable.

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Advantages to using high-tech

There are many advantages that jump out at you when you consider high-tech in an ELT classroom. Some of the obvious ones are having access to immediate almost unlimited resources, which is a huge time-saving tool for us, teachers. But let’s look at some other advantages that high-tech aids could represent for us.

  • Faster and mobile: Any activity, in theory, will be faster and mobile allowing students to interact, participate and move around while they do so. The fact of having technology on small devices like tablets and phones opens the door to the types of activities that we can plan.
  • Collaborative: Of course, being connected allows our students, ourselves and even fellow teachers to interconnect and collaborate in a way that they’ve never been able to before.
  • More engagement and motivation: Especially for younger learners who have been brought up around technology, learning through these devices seems to be more engaging, entertaining and motivational. Students will usually get excited about doing an activity in front of a screen rather than on paper.
  • Transferable technological skills: Today’s world needs more professionals that are tech savvy and feel comfortable innovating and finding new ways to change the status quo. With an increasing number of nomad workers and professionals, technological tools will come in even handier. Who knows, maybe that tool they used with you in class will come in handy down the line.
  • Learner independence: Once they learn how to use the tools, where to find the information and how to find what they need and want, they are free to do it on their own, as independent learners.
  • Integrate CLIL, project-based and content-based learning: In the case of any of the new emerging methods, you can easily integrate them into your curriculums with access to technology and devices in the class. It will make finding the content, sharing it and keeping track of student’s work relatively seamless.

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Advantages to using low-tech

When analyzing how low-tech activities can help in an ELT classroom, some teachers may feel it’s just easier to use tech, while others still prefer to make those flashcards themselves. I think low-tech tools for the classroom are just as beneficial to students and can bring their own advantages.

  • Hands-on activities: Our students are so used to doing everything on a device that some have even lost practice writing by hand, drawing or doing anything manual for that matter. This gives our students of all ages the opportunity to do hands-on activities that allow them to show and explore their creative side.
  • Promote face-to-face communication: Our society is becoming more and more isolated as our communication is reducing itself to social networks, even with family and close friends who live in the same city. Promoting activities that allow our students to interact in ways that don’t involve a screen will help their interpersonal skills.
  • Creative and critical thinking: Facing students with situations where they have to interact, discuss, debate and create with classmates will not only help them become engaged but will help them discover new skills that they will need later on in real life.
  • No budget, doesn’t matter: In many schools around the world, there is simply no budget to have a device for every child, or even one for the classroom, which leads to teachers wondering how they will ever engage and teach students. The fact of the matter is that with low-tech ideas teachers won’t have to depend so heavily on budget and lack of technological resources at schools.
  • Promotes resourcefulness: The fact of having to go “old-school” for a lesson plan may seem like something quite difficult, for those of us accustomed to using tech in our classrooms. In reality, not using it promotes resourcefulness not only for students but for teachers. We as teachers can also find benefits in figuring out ways to get our students to be engaged without using a device.
  • Transferable skills: By prompting students into an environment that promotes creative and critical thinking, hands-on activities and interpersonal skills, they will begin to see useful applications for them in real life. In fact, some of these skills are the ones that are lacking in many of our youth today, and in part this is because of their inability to develop skills in a context other than their devices.

 

Finding the balance

In cases where teachers do have access to technological devices for their students, it’s all about finding a balance. Blowing off low-tech activities all together can also be problematic for a number of reasons like not allowing students to develop their other real-life skills. On the other hand, for those who don’t have technology available to you and your students, don’t worry. At the end of the day, we are trying to get our students to acquire knowledge of the language through content and a series of skills, and this can be done just as well through low-tech or high-tech activities. Don’t underestimate the power of a paper and pen, the best ideas have come from notes that were written on a napkin. Let’s focus more on the content, rather than the mean used to deliver it. I have seen inspirational teachers get their message across to completely engaged students with little or no resources. Let’s dream big and find ways to make our students fall in love with English and want to become autonomous learners, independent if we use high-tech or low-tech resources.

 

Using corpora in the ELT classroom

Ever get stuck in trying to find example sentences for a word? Ever want to create your own worksheet, but ran out of examples? Ever want to see how a word is used in context (spoken or written)? Ever try using a Corpus for your class planning or language acquisition?

If you have and have any ideas share them here! If you haven’t and want ideas as to how to use a corpus, stay tuned for my next article coming up next weekend.

What is a Corpus?
A corpus is a collection of written texts, especially the entire works of a particular author or a body of writing on a particular subject. And as ELT professional we should start using it more often for class preparation, research and content creation!

“The freely searchable 450-million-word Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) is the largest corpus of American English currently available, and the only publicly available corpus of American English to contain a wide array of texts from a number of genres.” – Wikipedia

Give it a test drive and let us know your ideas! 

Inventing words in the ESL classroom

watermarkEver consider inventing a word? Well, turns out it’s not such a crazy notion. Language is constantly growing, but I’ve never seen anyone motivate us to help it grow quite like Erin McKean. After watching her TED video from November 2014 in New York, I felt the urge to share it because I believe it might help us explore a different perspective on language teaching, and learning for that matter. We are so wrapped up sometimes in using the language perfectly, when in reality the need is to communicate and make ourselves understood.

“Every language is just a group of people who agree to understand each other.”- Erin McKean

Erin who is a lexicographer, which means she basically dedicates her life to finding and including words in the dictionary, gives us an entertaining chat and shares with us her thoughts on words, their usage and how she thinks we should be interacting with the language. From what she tells us language should express what we want to say and let’s face it we can’t always find just the right word.

Take a few minutes and watch the video and then let’s analyze how this could affect our take on teaching English.

Ok, so now let’s put it into perspective as ESL teachers.

A main concern for every English teacher I’ve ever met is assuring that students use impeccable grammar and have good vocabulary accuracy. Sometimes we may miss the fact that they HAVE to make mistakes to actually learn. Let’s give our students the chance to make mistakes and speak freely. If we bite our tongue for a minute, it will be worth it. I promise. As our students lose their fear of expressing their ideas, we can focus on polishing up all those things we are tempted to correct right away. This becomes the perfect moment to give the students the opportunity of grasping and using the grammar in your lesson plan. The challenge is making grammar a “law of nature”, as she puts it. I think this is possible by making our classes fun and engaging so we can successfully teach our students the grammar rules and usage naturally in a comfortable environment. (There are some ideas below in the links.)

We constantly talk about being creative, but when we consider learning a language we sometimes limit it to mathematical-type equations that make up the structure of the language. The learning process needs creativity, even if that involves having fun with a few new words! No language is set in stone, it evolves with the people. Native speakers constantly invent new words, which makes it nearly impossible to truly teach the complete English language to any student. English is spoken as a mother tongue by over 430 million people around the world in 99 countries. Whereas thera are 1 to 1.5 billion non-native speakers.¹ Even though we usually teach a standard English, we shouldn’t forget that our goal is that our student’s make this language their own to the point they can express their thoughts and ideas in it. So, let’s motivate our students to participate actively in our classes by reminding them that they make part of this evolution.

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Application in the classroom:

I usually enjoy it when students make up words, which I think every student has done at one point or another. I had this one student that would constantly invent words, but this actually promoted an environment of investigation and teamwork. When this would occur the class would have to try to guess the correct English word and find at least two synonyms. I’ve found that a Thesaurus comes in very handy in the classroom for this exercise. They would obviously know what he meant because it was an all Colombian classroom, so it was usually a Spanish word that was “turned into” English. Besides creating a fun environment in the classroom, it generated opportunities to learn new words along with their correct uses.

Recommended websites: 

https://www.wordnik.com/

http://www.thesaurus.com/

Teaching strategies to teach grammar without the math equations: 

The Discovery Technique

Guided Discovery

¹http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-speaking_world