Name plates revisited

graphs on name plates

Instead of traditional links, I’ll just show you one way I’ve been re-using name plates this week. If you have graph descriptions as the lesson focus, it’s a perfect place for making a graph about how your mood has been changing this week (or today). Personalisation? Check. Visual support? Check. Also: tangible and hands-on, good for ice-breaking and mental health discussions, and last but not least, provides a review of key vocab. And yes, saves a bit of paper.

P.S. Compare with other uses for nameplates here , here and here.


Teaching paperless 7 of 7 (putting it all together)


So, here’s what I think at the end of this week, after all the reading and experimentation.

Why aren’t we all teaching paperless?

Not because English language teachers are a bunch of luddites (who love their cutesy stationery).

  1. Paper gives us convenience and safety.
  2. Paper helps us look good in front of our customers.
  3. And, last but not least, paper helps our learners to learn.

So, if we want to go paperless, we need to stop and think for a bit.

For example, for (1), we need to consider the disadvantages of paper: it’s difficult to carry around, it gets lost, you can’t find things quickly. Perhaps the convenience of paperless techniques is even greater than that of paper?  As for safety, if we have a good range of techniques to revisit and re-use coursebook materials, we’ll never run out of things to do in the classroom and won’t have to make all those extra copies.

About looking good (2): if we fear that customers won’t appreciate stingy-looking nameplates and reused copies, we can get organisational support (e.g. nameplates could have marketing information and shared with the student once they sign up – then they won’t be tempted to throw them away after each lesson) and the support of the customers! Being environmentally friendly is kind of cool, isn’t it?

And, finally, (3): not all tech provides enough depth and concentration. So, we need to know which apps are really worth it – or use non-tech solutions. Visual support is nice, but alternative approaches create ‘desirable difficulties’ and may give even more opportunities for learning. (And then there are things like story cubes and board games…)

Well, a paperless week is an exciting constraint that makes one think of all kinds of creative solutions, but it doesn’t mean we have to go off paper once and for all! What I’m going to do now is just try to use this resource in a more principled way – and see where this road takes me.

Teaching paperless: 6 of 7 (personal experience)


For a practical treatment of the topic, here are all my work-related contexts this week. I’ve been trying to shave off a bit of paper here and there, and this is what I’ve managed to achieve:

1) Lower Secondaries:
A set coursebook and a notebook, so no need for too much photocopying. Still, because the book does not give enough treatment of the Past Simple vs Past Continuous, out comes the Timesaver Visual Grammar, and 14 copies… I suppose I could have put the extra handout on the interactive whiteboard, but then the lesson would have become too teacher-centred and they would have got bored or tired too quickly. So, we had pair discussions, drilling, writing, again speaking, all around the same sheet of paper.
We made posters last week which didn’t have much language on them, so I brought the posters back and the learners wrote more on them, and then evaluated each other’s ideas. So, 4 rounds of activities with the same sheets of paper – very ecological, and good for learning! I even took the posters to another group to encourage more discussions: round 5 🙂

Paperless: 70%, with quite a bit of recycling

2) Upper Secondaries:
A set coursebook (magazine) and a notebook. We’ve been using Edmodo, Quizlet, Padlet, the works – and yet when I handed out printed self-assessment sheets, they worked sooo much better than anything electronic! I definitely learn better on paper, perhaps it’s true for those younger people as well? Still, my paperless pursuits did not end there: since the new unit is about storytelling, out came Rory’s Story Cubes, and my digital natives didn’t even notice that the lesson had finished 🙂

I had a few new groups to cover this week, and I found myself making more copies than usual. It was because I couldn’t predict how fast the new learners work, and how engaged they would be, so I needed this extra padding for safety. A few role-playing games are still sitting in my envelopes, but I’ll have them for the next lessons.

Paperless: 50%, with props, but new groups complicate things

3) Adults:
Students get together just for this lesson, and there is no group. No coursebook, so I can’t go paperless: no copies means bad customer service, doesn’t it? Well, at the very least I halved the sheets of paper I give them to make name plates.

Paperless: 15% only, need institutional support for bigger changes

4) Teacher training:
Delta tutoring is great for electronic solutions: all forms are digital, and a tablet can type silently in a lesson obs. Win for the paperless 🙂 But – I had a teacher training session yesterday, and handed out one page. Could I have avoided the printing altogether? Probably, but I needed to have a memory aid for the practical task, and something tangible to take away.

Paperless: 80%, a bit of paper still necessary for learning

5) Writing and productivity:
I love all things digital, but I can’t think without paper. A course I’m writing – 2 printouts, countless sheets of notes. I went to a stationery shop and bought more pens, too! I’ve managed to keep my to-do lists on my phone this week though, and I’m writing this post on the screen too. That’s why it’s a bit too long 🙂

Paperless: 10%, guilty as charged

What about you?

Teaching paperless: 5 of 7 (reasons not to)


To continue the paperless theme: here is a blog post by Susannah Holz that can help understand the reasons for not going paperless. Why do teachers resist going paperless? Why do learners go back to paper? Why don’t productivity apps and digital offices work as well for us as they probably should? There’s a lot about this in the post, but the main idea is that using screens and typing may not be as effective for learning as handwriting on paper. So, we need to be very selective about which activities should be paperless, right?

P.S. I linked to a post about longhand note-taking some time ago. It still rings true to me.

Teaching paperless: 4 of 7 (non-tech solutions)


We talked briefly with several colleagues about how paperless doesn’t always has to be tech-based, so I’ve decided to look into really paperless activities available to any teacher anywhere without IWBs, mobiles, TVs – in short, teaching with minimal resources.

Here is the most interesting collection I have found, with activities described by Serbian teachers taking part in a competition. They experimented with ideas suggested by famous authors like Penny Ur and added their own descriptions and variations – really good stuff that will let you teach off the page. There is the good old dictogloss (well, you do need a bit of paper for this one!), ‘Feel the object’, an original activity called ‘Radio Programme’, ‘The colourful race’ (to be truly paperless, this should be done with mini-whiteboards I think), ‘The wise man’, ‘Silly questions’ (another original, it’s really great and doesn’t have to be done on mobiles) and a lot more. Now that’s a top-notch fallback binder!

Teaching paperless 3 of 7 (disadvantages of tech)


To continue the topic from another angle: learners prefer books –  don’t they? Here’s a blog post by Michael Griffin who was talking to a Korean student about why they don’t really use learning apps on their phones. Some really interesting insights there: for example, the student said that the phone is a personal thing that is used to relax after a hard day of work or studies, so no one uses it for more studying. Could that be true for your learners and for you as well? Is this why we don’t really use tech for learning as much as we probably could?

Teaching paperless 2 of 7 (activities)


Now, a quick search for paperless teaching yielded this – an interesting collection of ideas for English language teachers by Scott Mallory. It’s not a real book and can’t be compared to the wonderful Humanising your coursebook . There are variations of tried-and-true ideas like ‘ball of fire’ or ‘talking lines’, and little gems like the TED circle, but all in all it’s just what says: a fallback binder, a thin folder of a teacher’s favourite activities to use when the printer’s out of order. And this is what makes it particularly valuable – it’s an inspiration to create a binder like this, update it regularly and share in its entirety with colleagues. Something to do on a rainy day, perhaps?

Start of a new series: Teaching paperless 1 of 7


Guess what – we have a paperless teaching week at our school. It’s a difficult time for me: much as I love all things techie and digital, I also find glossy coursebooks quite irresistible.  I’ll say more: nothing beats this feeling when you shuffle a hefty stack of vocabulary cards… It’s a challenge. And where there’s a challenge, there’s an opportunity for development. This is why this week I’ll be reading all I can find about paperless methodology and sharing the best pieces with you.

To start with, here is a post at the OUP blog by Robert McLarty about how digital media can be part of education. He mentions how research showed that a digital app for studying algebra was more effective than a traditional coursebook, with a caveat that the app offered a great learning experience. Do we have apps in ELT that offer the same? The post was written in 2013, but do we have this great digital content now? In my view, the situation is still the same as Robert described it then: “A lot of great content is available on the internet but there is too much for a busy teacher to deal with and most of it is raw and unedited.” 

Do you agree – or am I behind the times?