Language Point lesson – Place hacking London Olympic Shard

I heard about Language Point via Twitter (HT @philwade), a resource site for lessons in English, French, Spanish, German run by @Marie_Sanako. It is a good outlet for teachers wanting to promote their lesson plans. The upload procedure is very easy (though I have only tried it with a text file so far).

At the moment  topical Olympic related content is being asked for, so if you have got a such a lesson why not put it on Language Point?

If they get 400 people registered on the site by 15 May, one member could get 50 Euros of Amazon vouchers.

You can find my Olympic related lesson here.


Woot! My lesson has been made a feature item for the week!


Point and click and describe – a lesson idea for engineering students

This lesson idea is based on what is called the Descriptive Camera, a camera which takes a picture and outputs a description of that picture.

Show students the following picture and say “Tell me something about this?”:

Follow up question – “What else can you say?”

Give them 3 minutes or so to respond. Write up on a board any engineering/interesting lexis.

Show them the next picture:

Ask them to label the above photo with the following:

  • Beaglebone(embedded Linux platform)
  • Thermal printer
  • Status LEDs
  • USB webcam

You could also elicit other electronic components seen in the photo e.g. power wire(red and black wires), signal wire (green, yellow, black wire), USB connector, power connector, Ethernet connector, breadboard.

Now divide students into two groups, A & B. Explain that each group will get a different text. Group A’s text will explain what the device is, why it was made and the results of the device. Group B’s text will describe how it works.

Group A text:

The Descriptive Camera works a lot like a regular camera—point it at subject and press the shutter button to capture the scene. However, instead of producing an image, this prototype outputs a text description of the scene. Modern digital cameras capture gobs of parsable metadata about photos such as the camera’s settings, the location of the photo, the date, and time, but they don’t output any information about the content of the photo. The Descriptive Camera only outputs the metadata about the content.

As we amass an incredible amount of photos, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage our collections. Imagine if descriptive metadata about each photo could be appended to the image on the fly—information about who is in each photo, what they’re doing, and their environment could become incredibly useful in being able to search, filter, and cross-reference our photo collections. Of course, we don’t yet have the technology that makes this a practical proposition, but the Descriptive Camera explores these possibilities.

After the shutter button is pressed, the photo is sent to Mechanical Turk for processing and the camera waits for the results. A yellow LED indicates that the results are still “developing” in a nod to film-based photo technology. With a HIT price of $1.25, results are returned typically within 6 minutes and sometimes as fast as 3 minutes. The thermal printer outputs the resulting text in the style of a polaroid print.

Matt Richardson, Descriptive Camera.

Group B text:

The technology at the core of the Descriptive Camera is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk API. It allows a developer to submit Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) for workers on the internet to complete. The developer sets the guidelines for each task and designs the interface for the worker to submit their results. The developer also sets the price they’re willing to pay for the successful completion of each task. An approval and reputation system ensures that workers are incented to deliver acceptable results. For faster and cheaper results, the camera can also be put into “accomplice mode,” where it will send an instant message to any other person. That IM will contain a link to the picture and a form where they can input the description of the image.

The camera itself is powered by the BeagleBone, an embedded Linux platform from Texas Instruments. Attached to the BeagleBone is a USB webcam, a thermal printer from Adafruit, a trio of status LEDs and a shutter button. A series of Python scripts define the interface and bring together all the different parts from capture, processing, error handling, and the printed output. My mrBBIO module is used for GPIO control (the LEDs and the shutter button), and I used open-source command line utilities to communicate with Mechanical Turk. The device connects to the internet via ethernet and gets power from an external 5 volt source, but I would love to make a another version that’s battery operated and uses wireless data. Ideally, The Descriptive Camera would look and feel like a typical digital camera.

Matt Richardson, Descriptive Camera.

After each group has finished reading ask them to find someone from the other group to explain in their own words their text. Tell them that people from Group A should start the exchange. Also tell them that Group A will need to ask Group B to explain to them two things – the word Mechanical Turk and the abbreviation HIT.

Monitor and feedback as necessary.

Then get the groups to swap their text, each now reads the new text and writes 3 comprehension questions. The groups now find a +new+ person from the other group to ask the questions to.

Again monitor and feedback as necessary.

Various lexis could be followed up e.g. ask the students if they know what GPIO is and if they can point it out in the second photo above.

Additionally the following  video (up to the 3:44 mark) could be shown:

Example video comprehension questions: What additional reason did the inventor give for developing the prototype? What extra information did you hear from the video?

Various extensions could be done e.g. students can find out more about Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, the origins of the word.  Or a  discussion on whether students would buy such a device if commercialised. Or get students to describe the three photos shown at Descriptive Camera themselves.

What’s that sound…?

In issue 63 of  TESOL France magazine an article by Mike Harrison (@harrisonmike) encourages teachers to use sound in the classroom. Inspired by this push I wanted to post this lesson idea.

To get students into the mood for focused listening get them to close their eyes and listen to their environment for one minute.

After a minute, ask the class to list all the things they heard in the school environment around them. Ask them to think about what the sounds might be, how near or far away they were, whether they were discrete or continuous, natural or man-made.

Then play them track 3. Dead Wood ‘Warming’ from below.

Ask them –  What kind of words could you use to describe the sounds? What images do you see?

Here work could be done on the language the class produces in response to the questions.

Some of the following words to describe sounds could be used to prompt students:


After the class has time to respond to the questions tell them that the piece of music was made in response to a photo. So what do you think the photo was? How would you describe the photo?

Again language produced here can be worked on.

Then four photos could be shown and students are asked to pick the one they think inspired the piece of music that they heard.

Photo number three of a wooden structure peeling and drying was the photo which inspired track number 3.

There can be many follow up/alternative activities should the lesson be a hit, e.g. play some more tracks from the INSTAGR/AM/BIENT project and match to photos already shown; students can draw a response to the sounds heard; they can write a story or a scene inspired by the sounds. See the one minute listening site for more ideas.


@mikeharrison recording at #vrtwebcon 2012 where he shows how to use sound effects in the classroom.

Contemporary process; even French students not into wine-making

I had been struggling to find an interesting and modern example to use to demonstrate the passive voice in writing about processes. Previously I had used a ‘how to make an X-wing fighter from two Paris metro tickets’ which  turned out marginally better than using wine-making as the process!

So I was glad to see a tweet (hat tip @chadsansing) which led me to an article on a project that turned a set of library steps into a giant game. And as a bonus the text accompanying the video used the passive voice. Authentic, interesting text, not made-up, stiff, out of date prose!

Lesson idea:

There are a number of great images to lead-in at Photos by Michael Newman and Photos by Kennedy Library.

For example using this image:
Taking a turn

one could start by asking – What do you think is happening here? This would then lead onto eliciting various vocabulary needed for the writing task – stairs, tin cans, (tennis) ball, balloons, game, etc.

Before, during  and after photos could then be used to encourage thinking about the procedure which goes from an empty staircase to a game via electronics and collaborative work.

This video of the event could be shown next:

Students would be told to write up a report of the event as if they were a journalist for a newspaper.

Finally a gap fill could be given of an actual write-up:

Four flights of seventy-two stairs ____  _______ into a giant game board using 1,200 feet of wire and 48 Internet-connected tin cans _______ with green and gold helium balloons at DIY: Physical Computing at Play. These were our targets.

The customized game ____   _______ after we invited designers and web developers Michael J. Newman and Scott Hutchinson to Kennedy Library at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, to present at Science Café, an ongoing community series. They made a couple of drives up from L.A. to find inspiration and check out our Brutalist building. The two saw our dramatic stretch of concrete stairs and knew they’d found their game board.

At the event, participants built and tested simple circuits then rigged our staircase using the wire, cans and balloons. Then we aimed and threw tennis balls down the stairs, hoping to knock over the cans, which acted as live switches on foil tape.

Cans _____   _______ to a breakout box by 25’ wires, and a live site updated the score whenever a can from either the green or gold team ____  _____  ____. Working with the library’s IT group, the site ___   ______ on digital displays throughout the building as well as on participants’ mobile devices. Cal Poly linked to the scoring site from the university’s home page.

Use these words: to be (x5), transform, decorate, conceive, attach, knock over, share

As an additional activity one could use the following interview as a listening quiz: