Tag Archives: webinar

Motivating young teenagers – a webinar for OUP Croatia

This evening’s OUP webinar for teachers in Croatia was particularly memorable – and enjoyable. It started off with an unwitting Elvis Presley impression, gathered momentum with a serendipitous mug of tea and peaked with a fun activity involving smartphones. A big thanks to all the teachers in Croatia who took part.

My unfortunate Las Vegas moment

Twenty minutes or so before the recording started I thought I would turn on my mic and camera to check the video and audio. Guess what? My younger daughter had been skypeing on my laptop earlier in the day. When I switched my video camera on the people already in the room (mercifully, there were not many of them) were confronted by this:

elvis wigWhat do you think? I’ve been known to do Elvis impressions during karaoke – but in a professional webinar? Luckily, everyone saw the funny side, and I banished the King back to Graceland.

Lucky (tea) break

Other things turned out perfectly. After our embarrassing Elvis moment, my daughter was sweet enough to bring me a cup of tea. Only after the webinar had started did I notice she had made it in our summer holiday souvenir mug from the Dalmatian coast – complete with the chequered red-and-white motif of the Croatian flag. All the participating teachers were from Croatia, so there were plenty of appreciative thumbs up. That was nice 🙂

Smartphone activity

The focus of the webinar was motivating young teenagers and there was quite a bit of discussion about  the best way to make lessons engaging for young digital natives. One of the most popular ideas uses the technology that all our students carry around with them in their pockets: mobile phones.

For these activities based on describing photographs, all you need is a mobile phone.
using smartphones pictures in class

The point of the activity is to get students interested in describing pictures. If we ask them to bring in a picture of themselves and their family from home, they often forget. These days, however, most of them carry about entire galleries of photos of friends and family in their pockets.

Here are four simple activities using the photographs stored on students’ phones.

Ask five questions: Work in pairs. Look at the photo on your partner’s phone and ask five questions about it.

Listen and draw: Select a photo. Describe what is in the picture. Students draw. This picture dictation activity can also be done in pairs.

Guess what is happening: Look at your partner’s photo and guess where it was taken, when it was taken, who the people in the photo are, and what they are doing. Your partner will tell you what you were right about.

Tell a story using everyone’s pictures: Work in a group of three  or four. Everyone selects a photo on their phone and places it on the desk where the others can see it. Together, construct a short story that includes and combines what is in each of the pictures.


Webinar – Good to go: Engaging one-off lessons with teenagers

Thanks to those who took part in this webinar. Being called on at short notice to go in and cover for a colleague is one of the “known unknowns” of teaching – we know it is bound to happen at some point, but it always manages to take us by surprise. It was enjoyable for me to have this opportunity to share some of the ideas for coping with these situations that I have managed to scrape together over the years.

Here is a link to a recording of the webinar for those that missed it.

A virtual trip to Russia

So far all of the one-day teacher-training sessions and seminars I have done have been face-to-face. I’ve gone somewhere, set up, settled in, done my stuff, said goodbye and gone home. Sometimes I’ve done the same seminar in several cities in the same country. Something like that can involve a bit of travelling, which can certainly be fun, but if the country is the size of Russia, then the sheer scale of the place means that we’re talking about a LOT of travelling. At least for a non-Russian, that is. Russians themselves think nothing of travelling twelve hours on a train to visit a ‘nearby’ city for a day. It’s all a question of perspective.

I once took a train from Astrakhan to Kazan. You can Google-map it if you want to know where those particular cities are. I wish I’d taken the trouble to do a bit more research myself, because I had no idea what was in store for me. The train left Astrakhan at about midday. My hosts took me down to the station to see me off, and gave me a substantial bag of supplies for the journey (a loaf of bread, masses of salami, a wedge of cheese, water, etc.) I didn’t understand. According to my itinerary, the train was due to arrive in Kazan at 8pm. Eight hours is a long time, but I was hardly going to starve to death. Not wishing to appear ungrateful, I accepted the bag and prepared to get on the train.

If you’ve ever been on  a train in Russia, you’ll know that speaking the language helps a lot. I don’t speak Russian. Typically, you’ll find yourself in a compartment with up to three fellow travellers, none of whom usually speaks any English. The extent to which that makes the whole experience uncomfortable is in direct proportion to the length of the journey. There’s only so much smiling and shrugging you can do before it becomes darkly absurd. If you can’t read Cyrillic script (I certainly couldn’t then) you will have the added challenge of trying to work out where you are each time the train stops. It can be a bit nerve-wracking, to say the least. So anyway, about to get on the train and realising that my hosts were probably the last English-speakers I would encounter before I got to Kazan, I blurted out a last-minute question:

“Does the train stop in any other big cities before Kazan?” After all, I didn’t want to get off in the wrong place, did I?

“Uhh,…not today, no…” my host replied.

“Not today? What? The train arrives at eight o’clock doesn’t it?”

“Eight o’clock tomorrow, yes.”

“Eight o’clock tomorrow morning?!’ I almost choked.

“No, eight o’clock tomorrow evening!”

I reeled. And the killer is, If I hadn’t asked, they wouldn’t have told me. They (rightly) presumed that I already knew. Stupidly, I didn’t. They, meanwhile, had been completely blasĂ© about my upcoming 30-hour (!) megatrek. There was certainly no fretting on their part or any of the oh-no-will-you-be-OKing that I would normally expect in anticipation of a journey of such length. But this, of course, is Russia, where it takes longer than a week to get from Moscow to Vladivostok on the train. So what’s 30 hours? Nothing.


A long trip up the Volga


Speaking of Kazan, it was there that I had my first-ever taste of high-tech teacher-training. After the seminar I was asked to repeat one of my sessions in a specially equipped video conference  room with a ‘live relay’ to groups of teachers watching in two other cities. That was pretty weird, but at least I had an audience  in the room, as well.

Recently, though, I was asked by OUP to lead a webinar for teachers of English in Russia. That is to say, they were in Russia, I was in the comfort of my own home. That was a totally new experience. Not being much of a techie, I was extra-nervous on the day. The topic was writing and exam preparation, but it was the delivery rather than the content that I was worried about. I found the experience exhilarating – but exhausting. It’s quite a challenge.  You have to battle with the essential weirdness of speaking ‘into the void’ via webcam for an hour, somehow trying to sound engaged and conversational even though you’re alone in a room. At the same time, you have to manage all the slides, keep an eye on the clock and also check the comments coming in from participants in the chat window and the direct messages coming in from the moderator. I’m sure one gets the hang of it after a while, but as a draining attempt at multi-tasking the only thing I could compare it to would be my first driving lesson. (Now, that was ugly!)

Towards the end of the my first-ever webinar


There’s nothing better than face-to-race sessions, I’m sure of that. But I can also see that webinars are here to stay. How convenient for both the speaker and the participants that they can take part without having to leave their own homes or workplaces. Great, too, that each session is recorded: no need to take notes, you can watch it as many times as you like afterwards. And there’s something about the interactive format that makes it so much easier to get involved. As a participant, it can be quite daunting to put your hand up in the seminar room, whereas in a webinar all you have to do is type your comment or question into the chat window.

And no 30-hour train journey home afterwards!

P.S. I’ll be going back to Russia again (for real) in March. Should be an adventure!