Selfies in the classroom

Natilly Macartney

What do Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres and a macaque monkey have in common with your teenage students?

What else could we be talking about other than selfies? They may be controversial – critics suggest they show that we have become self-obsessed, and the craze has been blamed for many deaths and injuries. However, others say a photo is worth a thousand words, and just like language, selfies share a message and keep people connected. So why not take a different ‘angle’ on selfies, and show your learners how they can be a way of communicating?

You can start a lesson on selfies with a class debate – are selfies a positive, or a negative thing? The first recorded self-portrait dates back more than three thousand years, so you could choose a few famous selfies, including photos and paintings, and place them on the board. Set your learners up for success by introducing some relevant vocabulary for describing pictures, for example, foreground and background, and then discuss with them what they can see. You can ask higher-order questions such as, ‘who looks the happiest in their selfie, and why?’ or, ‘do you think these people are successful?’

Another activity you can try is to use learners’ own selfies to encourage them to think in English about their ‘ideal selves’. For five minutes, your learners can make a mind map around their selfies using hashtags for all the things they would like to achieve in the next ten years. For example, if they would like to pass their exams, they can write #exams, or if they would like to study at university, they can write #university.

After they have finished their mind maps, students can think about how they will achieve their goals, and develop their hashtags into full sentences. For example, ‘I want to pass all my exams this summer, so I am going to study very hard in school.’ Afterwards, students can share their sentences with the rest of the class. You can encourage the class to think about how they could categorise all their goals, for example, academic goals, personal goals, career goals, etc. To wrap up your lesson, you can ask your students to reflect on the task with questions such as, ‘Did you learn anything new about another student?’ or ‘Do you think your goals will change in the future?’

Using the concept of selfies in class is an effective way to engage with young learners, because selfies are likely to be present and important in many of their lives. Selfies may get a lot of stick, excuse the pun, but for many teenagers, taking selfies and receiving positive comments on social media can boost their self-esteem. Popular linguist Stephen Krashen identified the importance of self-confidence when learning a foreign language in his famous hypotheses of second language acquisition. Therefore, promote positive can-do attitudes and critical thinking in your English lessons, with some fun selfie activities that will encourage your learners to realise their full potential!

And while you and your students are taking and talking about selfies, why not visit our new THINK values site and help us reach our target of raising £15,000 to help support education around the world by posting your selfies there? For every selfie posted, we’ll donate 50p to UNICEF.

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