Jamie Keddie on using authentic materials, video and storytelling in class

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Jamie Keddie in action

Today we speak to Jamie Keddie – author, international speaker, teacher trainer and storyteller.

Jamie got into teaching English by accident. Starting out as a musician, he had just embarked on his dream of playing piano and singing on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. However, after only a few weeks he got tendinitis and the doctor told him to take some time off. That’s when he decided to take his mum’s advice and do a CertTESOL course, which he took in Barcelona in 2001. After a successful teaching career of nearly 20 years he doesn’t regret a thing.

In this interview he tells us about the inspiration behind his lesson sharing site Lessonstream, why he loves using video and other authentic materials, and how teachers can use storytelling effectively to engage their students in class.

You had quite a change of direction in your career, from musician to teacher. How did you find it?

I always intended to get back to music, but I really enjoyed teaching. For me it was an introduction to the world of communication. I love writing, presenting, communicating and teaching and all these things just kind of go together. Most classes I taught were 1-to-1s for business people, hoteliers, scientists and doctors. However, I’ve also taught groups of teenagers and adults and even tried my hand at very young learners.

What was your inspiration behind Lessonstream?

At the time it was a way to explore the new possibilities we were being offered as teachers. The internet was becoming more and more accessible and as it became more visual (first text, then image and then video) so did the materials available to teachers.

I became very interested in the possibilities for using these new materials and as the internet also provides us a way of sharing content with others I put it all together and created Lessonstream.

The idea of the website was to share lesson plans that I had created using the visual materials I found online, which at the time was mostly on YouTube. 

Do you offer any other resources to teachers?

I have a bimonthly newsletter (my Sunday Post) which goes out to teachers all around the world – and often I send out a lesson plan based around a video.

I also have a Storytelling Membership which teachers can subscribe to. They get weekly content, a monthly webinar and access to a private Facebook community where I interact in discussions and regularly provide feedback.

Sounds exciting! What is it you like about using video and authentic materials with students?

In one word, it’s all about story. This is something that I didn’t realize until recently. I’ve been giving talks and workshops on using images and video for years. But everything I’ve ever done has been centered around the story that the material offers. Through stories and narratives – visual or otherwise – we can engage students and motivate them to get thinking, speaking, reading, writing, language learning, problem solving and sharing their own stories.

What interests me is using the stories which are available through authentic materials and looking for ways to make them more palatable for students to digest.

What advice do you have for teachers using authentic materials so they are manageable for their students?

Adapt them. If you are using a text – adapt it. If you are using a video which comes with a dialogue, transcribe it and adapt it. That way you’ll have two different versions of the material (the adapted text on paper and the spoken text on the video). If I’m focusing on video, I’ll start with the adapted transcript on paper which we’d look at and discuss who we think the people are and what we think is happening. We’d then watch the video, see how much we understood from the transcript and go from there.

Also, when we adapt a text we are not just making it more simple – what we really want to do is make it more useful for your students’ needs and levels. So each text may need to be adapted differently depending on the class you use it with.

What are your favorite resources for finding stories to use in class?

Jamie Keddie on stage

In the past, I used to focus a lot on video and got most of my inspiration from YouTube. But these days the human beings in the classroom are my favorite sources for stories.

Stories are what define us. I spend a lot of time working with teachers and showing them how to recognize their own stories and what to do with them.

The stories don’t necessarily need to be special or awe-inspiring. In fact, those which are quite unremarkable can be much more meaningful because the students can relate to them more easily.

Here’s an example:

During my online course, one of my teacher participants described how she began a lesson: she went into the classroom one morning and wrote five ingredients on the board. She told her students that the previous night, these were the only things she had to cook with.

She then got her students to guess what she made and how she made it. The students came up with lots of weird and wonderful ideas. Being proud of her cooking skills, the teacher then showed photographs of what she actually made.

And from there the possibilities are endless. The students are engaged in the topic and ready to participate in the rest of the class. This is an example of how a story can be unremarkable yet extremely meaningful and engaging for students.

How can teachers use their own stories when working from coursebooks?

The easiest way is to find a link between the topics and your life. For example, if you have to teach a topic on dangerous pets, instead of just going on YouTube and finding a funny video (which is what I would have done in the past), my advice would be to turn to yourself and find a memory or experience you’ve had which links to dangerous pets.

If you can’t think of anything, you could even invent a story and start the class by telling your students about a mystery dangerous pet you used to have. Describe it, but don’t tell them what it was. Have them guess and while you are doing it try to incorporate some of the language from the coursebook into your story. It’s all about finding your own story which relates to the coursebook and then getting students to do the same. And for me, that’s what personalization is all about.

What are your top three tips for how teachers can use storytelling effectively in class?

  1. Keep your stories short – no more than a couple of minutes.
  2. Make them interactive – include questions while you are telling your story and bring up issues which can be discussed after.  
  3. Be prepared – decide how will you tell your story? What will you say? Are you going to create a text? Do you need images or other props? What questions will you ask? What activities will follow?

Any final pieces of advice for us?

I’ve since started working with other professionals – not just teachers – and my single piece of advice for everyone in the world is to collect your stories. Become aware of your stories because your stories are what define you. Keep a notebook and collect your experiences as and when they come to you so that you can recall them in the future.

How can people get in contact with you?

If you have any questions about using authentic materials or storytelling in class you can email me at hello@jamiekeddie.com. You can also sign up for my mailing list here and get lesson ideas directly to your inbox!

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