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Deskwarming 2011: 19+ Things to Do

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Heiwa elementary school by ajari

If you’re deskwarming in Korea or Japan, and you’re all caught up on lesson-planning, here are some ways to make the most of your time. (Of course, some sites might be banned at your school, but you never know.) I’ve never been in this position myself, but many teachers wind up spending time at their desks for a couple weeks (or more!)–no classes, no students, and few responsibilities (at least, if they’re experienced lesson-planners). It’s a little hard to imagine, but I’ve heard about it from several friends, and who knows, maybe I’ll experience it someday.

Anyway, I dug through my links. I decided to mix the links together, just as I might want to mix the use of my time–professional development, taking a break, and so on.

  1. Play the beautiful, dreamlike games at Orisinal.
  2. Find lesson plans, activity ideas, current research, and lots more at Free Online Journals.
  3. Learn how to use Skype, Ning, wikis, and more for you or your classroom via short videos at Learn it in 5.
  4. Create an account and edit/contribute to Wikipedia, Wikitravel, and Simple English Wikipedia. Don’t know where to start? Try fixing up the page for your hometown or current neighborhood, translating an article that only exists in the local language, or editing a TESOL-related topic.
  5. Set up Anki according to the vocabulary-teaching principles that you know, and study.
  6. Try the novel-like, grown-up versions of “choose your own ending” games at Choice of Games.
  7. Finally get around to joining that professional organization in your area or seeing what they actually do.
  8. Watch those TED Talks that you’ve been meaning to (with subtitles, even).
  9. Read about fascinating things on Metafilter and the endless international help column of AskMetafilter (see orientation if you get distracted by in-jokes sometimes used on the site).
  10. Improve your CV and your chances of getting that next job/getting into that PhD program by submitting an article/activity/etc. for publication at an online journal (yes, it’s the same link as above, but it’s worth saying!).
  11. Play the devilishly cute, misleadingly simple games at Eyezmaze Games.
  12. Start a Facebook fan page for your English program (get permission!), blog, etc.
  13. Get started on Twitter, which can be a great source of support for English teachers, and join me (my multi-post Twitter guide for English learners mostly applies; find people to follow via my lists).
  14. Finally start that blog about your adventures overseas, or the local restaurants, or your hobbies.
  15. Find a site like Just Hungry, Maangchi, or Cooking with (the) Dog (Youtube channel; video starts automatically) to learn to cook like a local.
  16. Get pulled into the underlying threads of fiction at TV Tropes–if you’re not sure where to go, look up a favorite TV show and wander around from there.
  17. Watch streaming media in Korean and Japanese to improve your language skills will entertaining yourself: Crunchyroll, MySoju, Drama Fever, Viki, and relevant searches on Youtube and Veoh (e.g., for example.) Whether the content is legal or ethical depends on the site and content, plus your location and perspective.
  18. Set up Google Reader and add the blogs you want to keep up with (check my sidebar for great ones like The Grand Narrative and English Raven), web comics, etc.
  19. Read fiction–from classics to cutting-edge sf, there’s plenty online. Try my list of free fiction bookmarks for more. (And if you skip the one fanfiction link, you’ll miss “No Reservations: Narnia.”)

Lots more things to do at my timewasters tag on Delicious.

If you like any of these or know of some better ones, pass them along…

(Not responsible for your boss walking in on you while playing Grow!)

Post-Holiday Link Roundup

I wasn’t able to post here during the holidays, but I was somewhat active on Twitter. Here are a few links that I shared that may be of interest to you, rewritten a bit for context and easier clicking.

Twitter for English Language Learners (and Teachers)

At CATESOL this past weekend, @blythe_musteric gave a great presentation about how teachers could use Twitter. Later, there was the very first CATESOL tweetup (a meeting of Twitter-users, often at an event), featuring @blythe_musteric, @pearsonlongman, @rogerdupuy, @joemcveigh, @leejeylee, @compellingtalks, @ohsanderella, @talkclouds (me), and possibly other people I’m forgetting.

During @blythe_musteric’s session and later during the tweetup, I mentioned that, particularly in Japan and Korea, English-language learners are using Twitter as a self-study tool. I have another Twitter account, @readable, which is for ELLs. I use it to post relatively simple tweets on topics of interest to English learners, links to news posts, and links to self-study tools. Eventually, I started seeing posts from my readers using the hashtags #twinglish (Twitter+English), #eigodewa (“as for English…?”), #engtwit (English+Twitter), and #kor_eng (Korean+English). Putting a hashmark (#) in front of a word makes it clickable; when you click on it you see everyone’s tweets using that hashtag, I was impressed by how many users there were experimenting with English and chatting with each other in a second language.

Some of my followers’ (connected users) responses about why they are using Twitter in English (minor mistakes corrected for one user by request; others exactly as written):

@[anonymous]: 1) Expect to meet people from all over the world and share ideas or talk with freely 2) Need to practice English regularly
@oxwinter: That’s because… I learned English at school, but few opportunities to use it here, Japan. Twitter gives us that opportunity.
@akaSEANJUNG: in ma case.. it’s just 4 fun. tryin to not to forget how 2 use…too.
@noelsora: It’s a good tool for driving me to to think in English.

As I mentioned at the conference, I also discovered some Japanese ELT professionals, including teachers and publishers. In particular, @MakotoIshiwata and @mayumi_ishihara do a good job using Twitter with ELLs. @Makoto_Ishiwata is actually Mr. Makoto Ishiwata, the president of Kaplan Japan. He’s written a great short post about how Japanese learners of English can benefit from using Twitter: “Suggestion: three easy steps for the Japanese to start tweeting in English.” He writes about the difference it made for him years ago when he began to think in English, and feels that Twitter can help Japanese English learners, who study English at school in an artificial way, start really thinking and communicating in English. He says that “Twitter is easy to use. The limit of 140 words is a great plus for English learners too because they don’t have to think too seriously before typing. Above all, we can share what we tweet. We can start communicating with each other. We can make new friends, including people from abroad, when we tweet in English.” (Actually, a lot of that goes for teachers, too…) Check out his post.

@mayumi_ishihara is Ms. Mayumi Ishihara, an English teacher and author. I’ve seen one of her previous books, 『英語で日記を書いてみる』Try Writing a Diary in English!, at my local Kinokuniya. She has a new book coming out in May, 『Twitterで英語をつぶやいてみる』Try Tweeting in English on Twitter! (Oh, Japanese book prices…it’s only ¥735–about $7.80 US–and it’s 200 pages!).

Both of them regularly interact with their followers in English, and their/our followers interact with each other, too. I don’t think Twitter is perfect for learning English–for one thing, there are certain grammatical structures that I just don’t even use because they take up too much room. I’m not sure if @mayumi_ishihara will address this in her book, but I hope so. [EDIT: Another drawback is that many of the English-teaching accounts that post vocabulary and so on are regularly sharing information that is archaic, useless, or downright incorrect or ungrammatical.] You also have to deal with learning abbreviations such as w/o, b/c, wknd, and so on. There are also some differences in Twitter culture between most of the fluent English-using Twittersphere and the English-learning Twittersphere: #twinglish users usually use RT in replies, not just retweets (like forwards), leaving a truncated piece of the original tweet at the end of their reply; they’re generally not familiar with things like Follow Friday/#FF; they often send a reply to thank people not just for following them but even for responding to them; and so on.

I don’t think the differences between other modes or registers of English and Twitter constitute a deal-breaker. Every mode and medium is different, and I’ve noticed that many ELL twitterers use it to share other recommendations for input, such as TV shows, books, and websites. No one is trying to learn English solely from Twitter that I’ve heard of. [EDIT: And the problem with the useless, archaic, and ungrammatical/incorrect teaching accounts is also quite true for many textbooks and commercial texts sold overseas and in the US, as well. It’s not just an online problem.] Learners in countries such as Korea often feel starved for spontaneous, unstructured English input, and Twitter provides that, even if it’s not perfect. It may require access to a phone or computer, which is a time-and-money barrier that makes it somewhat less useful for the average ELL in the USA, but for East Asian learners with extensive access to sophisticated cell phones, it’s a cheaper and more flexible alternative or supplement to expensive English lessons.

I’ve had some great conversations with my followers. We’ve discovered cultural misconceptions about beer and weather, made jokes with each other, commiserated about everything from procrastination to language study, and helped each other with grammar and vocabulary (since I’m studying Japanese myself).


[EDIT: Overall, I think Twitter is a useful additional tool for English learners, particularly EFL learners and others with limited access to spontaneous English interaction, authentic English input, and an English-understanding audience. It contributes to learner autonomy, lowers the affective barrier, and promotes the idea of English as a tool for communication rather than an abstract object of study--goals that many teachers struggle with even partially achieving.]

What do you think?

Korea 101 Plus

jp_draws_south_korean_flag1Chris in Korea (a great blog if you’re interested in teaching there) brought my attention to “what may be the most comprehensive guide on living and working in Korea”, published by the Association for Teachers of English in Korea. Chris recommends this book for anyone interested in teaching in Korea and anyone who’s already there. It has sections on finding a job, your rights as a resident and employee, working with Korean co-teachers, making lesson plans, and even the average nutritional content of common Korean dishes, totalling nearly 350 pages. Wow. I wish other countries had resources likes this–particularly for free! (If you know of one, please let me know in the comments!) I’m going to read it, not because I’m planning to work in Korea, but because I’m curious about the place where my friend has just started working.

It’s apparently not fully linked on ATEK’s site yet, but Chris and another blogger spotted it and provided links to the PDFs (and there are some problems with ATEK’s website at the moment). Notably, though, the book is being provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works License, which means that we’re free to share and copy it as long as we do not alter it, sell it, or remove its attribution. (The principle author, Tony Hellmann, has kindly reassured everyone that this is OK.) Therefore, to make your life easier, I’ve put all the PDFs in a single .zip file, which you can download directly right here: ETG2K.zip (11.3 MB). If you have any problems with it, let me know. (Remember, I just created the .zip file and am hosting it; the work was done by the listed authors and ATEK.)

Major kudos to Tony Hellmann, Tom Rainey-Smith, Jason Thomas, Matthew Henderson, and everyone involved with putting this together! What a fantastic labor of love. Please send them your thanks if you download it and use it.