Monthly Archives: April 2011

At the deep end

  An On-the-Spot Scrapbook

 So. My first ‘learner’ blog post. Rather than launch into a description of dogme, unplugged or materials-lite teaching as the ideal option for teen learners of pretty much any level, I thought I’d start with a little idea I had today while waiting for my son. A teen if ever there was one.

At the moment, I’m helping Sandy Millin and Carol Goodey curate eltpics, a photo resource for teachers, so I carry a camera everywhere. Just in case. Today, I had planned to try out an idea I’d read on Paul Braddock’s blog (see blogroll) and take photos every two minutes as I walked to a particular place. I was then going to try this idea on my 12-13 year olds. But it didn’t quite work that way. No. I had a different idea.

I found myself standing outside the local bull ring (this is Spain, after all), at 5pm, in bright, too-hot-for-April sunshine. My son is 13, so speed is not his forte at the moment, and I had plenty of time to ponder a class idea. Maybe even a classy class idea.

Let’s face it, most kids have a mobile phone these days and almost all have cameras – and those who don’t have one (my own sons are the perfect example) can probably borrow a mobile or a camera for homework reasons – so using them to help the kids themselves provide the input for a lesson seems like the logical, learner-centred thing to do. So I tried it for myself.

I stood fairly still and looked around at stuff. When I spotted something that put a thought in my head (‘inspired’ being a strong word for this sort of thing,’made me think of something’ doesn’t quite do it), I took a photo of it. I moved slightly, but not a lot, and took several photos in the space of about 5 minutes (if you click on the photos, you get the full, huge version).

Now, I hadn’t gone to a particular place to do this, I just happened to have this idea while standing at that spot, so took photos there. I don’t think it’d be too much to ask a 14 year-old, say, to go and stand somewhere for 5 minutes and take 6 or 7 photos of things they see that spark a thought off in their mind.

I would then suggest that, afterwards, they looked at the photos again, and in their head, rehearsed what they could say about each photograph, with a view to reducing the pictures until they’re left with 4 or 5 they can safely say something about in L2, without getting in a pickle. As I stood taking my pictures, I ‘edited’ my thoughts by disallowing any thoughts with more complex sentences along the lines of ‘Gosh, she’s wearing too much black! She must be sweltered! Far too hot for this weather’…nah, delete that photo. When students have simplified their photos, they’re ready to write. They could write a blog entry, a powerpoint presentation, copy, paste and write a regular composition with photos, a script to read while they show classmates their photos….. Here’s mine:

Picture 1: I’m standing outside the bull ring and this is the symbol for the Camino de Santiago on its wall. My town is on the Ruta de la Plata, the north-south branch of the Camino. These are two great symbols of Spain’s past: the Church and bulls. I also notice that the window above the blue and yellow ceramic shell is a similar shell shape reminding me of another typical Spanish image: the fan. What a cliché photo, haha!

Picture 2: Sol means sun. The sign on the other side says sombra. But I’m next to the Sol sign because it’s in the shade and the sombra (shade) side is in the sun. And it’s really hot and sunny today. I’m staying here.

Picture 3: The sign says Portugal 106. Portugal is only one hour away, and that’s quite near. I love Portugal and I want to learn Portuguese. I’m going to look for classes. Maybe we’ll go to Portugal for a day next week. Yes, that would be a nice way to spend Easter.

Picture 5: It’s quarter past five, it’s the first half of April, and it’s 31ºC. This isn’t normal! Where’s the nearest café? I need a cold drink. I like the poster with the women and their fans – very typical image. What’s going on in Casar? It doesn’t look like a bullfight poster. Perhaps it’s for the fair. Casar is the home of the smelliest cheese you can imagine – an incredibly popular, smelly cheese. I nearly bought a house there, but I’m allergic to cheese, so I didn’t – the irony was too great.

It’s a simple writing activity, but I think it works. Like a slightly more sophisticated ‘show and tell’ that has the beauty of being flexible – you can ask students to swap photos, choose the one they like best, use one or two to illustrate a story, a tourist guide etc etc etc.

And of course, once you have your students’ photos and texts, you can get even more flashy and use their texts as dictogloss or as gapfills. Produce the gapfills yourself blanking words in your students’ written pieces, and use the photos to provide clues.

Or convert their texts into a wordcloud and use the pictures and wordclouds later on in the course to get students to reconstruct the original text, and then perhaps improve on it, add to it.

The possibilities are endless.

Now you know what I think about – day-dream about, perhaps – while waiting around for my own personal teen.


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