Take your laptop to class
When I started this tefl lark the most hight-tech gadget any of us could hope to have was a portable cassette player …. which might allow you to record what students were saying over a background of white noise. Really high-tech models had a speed-up/slow-down dial but frankly, as features go it had more to offer as a comic possibility than as a teaching aid. However, things have come a long way since then, and these days I have a very basic laptop computer and I have slowly woken up to its possibilities as a teaching aid.
To be honest, even a modest machine like mine is a fairly heavy piece of kit to troll around and there are only so many bumps and scratches any toy can take before it starts to deteriorate. If I’m going to cart my computer to work I want to be sure that it will add sufficient value to my day to justify the effort involved. You’ll have to make your own mind up, but personally if my current laptop gives up the ghost I’m certain that I will go out and replace it pronto. I no longer want to struggle without it.
Here, then are a few ways in which I have found computing power to be a great help..
- Illustrations Invaluable for technical english. The monitor allows me to bring a custom-made collection of visuals to class without having to print them. When I start with a client with technical requirements the first thing I do is get online and look up the commercial links for companies working in his industry. Just about all visuals on promotional web pages can be cut and pasted into a folder. The student can then talk me through the picture/diagram, practising his technical vocabulary.
- Photographs whether they are your own or borrowed from some online source, a collection of intriguing photos can be used as a starting point for just about any discussion. Working fom a visual rather than written prompt also means that your students are searching in their memories from scratch to remember the vocabulary they need without being distracted by words written down. A favourite activity I have with small groups working on general english is to show a maximum of 10 pictures borrowed from blogs. I ask students to guess what the original article was about, and then to ask them to dream up article ideas of their own for an imaginary group blog.
- Audio back-up We are no longer subject to the vagiaries of audio cassettes, but no cd will last forever. Not only does the computer allow easier use of cd audio on discs by showing a click-on menu, but it allows me to load the content of the disc onto my machine. If I forget the actual cd I’ll still have the recording I need for my class. I am certainly not advocating illegal copying – the people who write the textbooks need to be paid for what they do – but it’s a handy tool for maximising the material I have and have paid for.
- Podcasts The internet is awash with all manner of podcasts and by downloading them onto your laptop you can carry an enormous number of them with you, effortlessly. The best thing is that the technology allows me as teacher to play the audio whilst displaying (to myself) any notes I have made to help me use the recording as part of my class …. what’s not to like? Copyright may be a bit of a grey area, but I feel fully justified in taking podcasts along to class because using them allows me to advertise the source, encouraging students to go back to the site by themselves between lessons.
- Online research If you are fortunate enough to have access to the internet in class you can use online ressources as a jumping-off point for discussion. For example, if you have kicked off with a chat about e-readers, you can then get the students to look at the commercial offerings via industry websites, and then discuss the pros and cons of the different units available. This tends to be much more effective as a learning opportunity than asking them to work from printed material. Why? Because the online content disappears as soon as I switch off the computer. Students have to make their own notes if they want to have info to refer to.
There are my five first suggestions. How do you use yours?