Sunday, October 29, 2017

Parallel Paragraphs

Before I began implementing Back to the Well in my classroom a few years ago, my usual practice would have been to spend some days scaffolding a pharmacist-patient role play and other days on the use of modal auxiliary verbs using pages from an Azar grammar book.

Now, however, the audio or written text of authentic language becomes the basis of further linguistic exploration. That one text can give us semantic exercises, syntax practice, discourse activities, pronunciation and prosody lessons, as well as being a springboard for presentations, posters, field trips, and invitations to guest speakers.

One of the discourse activities that John and Chirawibha Sivell mention in their article "Sending Them Back to the Well: Slowing Down, Turning Fewer Pages, and Engaging Learners More Deeply" in the Summer 2012 issue of Contact Magazine is parallel writing.

I have had success using this activity with the seniors. During one module on home remedies, we read a chapter in More True Stories by Sandra Heyer about the strange foods that are believed by some to cure ailments and keep us young.

(c) 2009 Pearson Longman

After reading the story and doing the five or six activities that are provided in the book, I asked the students to use the bones of the paragraph to write their own article about a weird health concoction they knew of. Through colour coding with markers while the passage was projected onto the board, I helped them notice which words they would need to replace with western allopathic over-the-counter remedies and which vocabulary they would replace with their own unusual cures.

It took a few runs at it before they completely grasped that they were to re-use the syntax and function words in the same tense as in the original while changing out only the content words, but once they got it, they were thrilled to have a model that made their compositions sound so natural.

The students were very engaged, motivated perhaps by a wish to share with me and their classmates folk remedies that had been passed to them through generations. Their essays were so good that we ended up turning them into presentations for the class. Our pet name for this activity is "hanging new flesh on old bones." It is a fun way to get learners re-using lexical chunks of English at the discourse level.

Update: I was asked to give another example, so...

Last week, as part of our Canada theme and on the topic of Canadian culture and cross-cultural friendships, my multilevel class read this section of Joan Acosta's Best of the Reader Series - Canada:

The following took place over a period of twelve classroom hours.

After reading this every way we know how (chorally, individually, writing in the C-V link lines), doing the activities that come with it, and playing this game with it, I asked students to get into groups while I wrote discussion questions on the board to get them thinking about whether we have a similar program in our community. In fact our new Conversation Cafe initiative did come up in conversation. I added a few questions to the board to encourage comparison and contrast of the two programs.

They crowded around the one student who had attended that inaugural meeting to find out the details of her experience. She felt like a rock star, I'm sure.

Next I passed out blank paper and showed them how to make a Venn Diagram. We brainstormed; I elicited from them the ways the two programs differ and are similar.

Finally we were ready to write our parallel compositions using the existing format, structure and a lot of the language from Joan Acosta's article. Together we decided which bones to keep and which parts of each paragraph / sentence would need to be replaced with our own ideas about Conversation Cafe.

After students worked on their individual compositions and those were reviewed, we compiled the best ideas from all of them to publish one story to share with the whole school.

What do you think? Might you give parallel writing a try in your classroom soon?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Take Them Back to the Well

Here is an activity you can do with your learners to allow them to get more ROI from a text they have already studied, including having done any and all activities that were included with a given written or audio text.

This activity requires no paper, just one die per group of 3-4 students and a board on which to post the directions. You can modify the requirements of each roll of the die depending on the level you teach.

Remind students to ask their peers in the group for feedback after they have completed the task on their turn. Play proceeds clockwise.

One thing I like about this game is that it has an element of choice and an element of chance.

How do you guide learners back into a familiar text to take advantage of their having crested the initial cognitive burden of learning all the new terms? Do you think it's important to do that as a rule?

If you would like to know more about taking learners 'back to the well,' consider joining me and John Sivell on December 10th from 7 to 8 p.m. for a webinar on the topic. Save the date. :)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Connection, Collaboration, Creation!

I don't believe that planetary alignment has any bearing on human activity, but if I DID believe that, then I would be asking myself right about now, "what is going on up there?"

Lately I'm feeling a lot of shifting, shedding of old, opening up to new, and lots of connecting.

In my personal life, I just finally--after 32 years--reconnected with the Japanese woman who was my best friend during the year I lived in Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido.

On the professional front, I'm feeling more connected each and every day to my peers in the field of language teaching--not just locally but also globally! For example:
  • After hearing two of my morning students rave about a wonderful class they took at WWWWIW over the summer, I contacted the instructor to find out what sort of magic she is working in her classroom. She generously shared a detailed run-down of a typical lesson structure. I copied this structure on Thursday, and the lesson was more engaging than usual.
  • Two new teachers at my agency are finding useful materials on my website and have thanked me for that.
  • One teacher in another province who has found my materials helpful has reached out to me to see if our two classes--my literacy and her CLB 1--might become pen pals. I'm thinking Flipgrid!
  • I have joined #LINCchat on Twitter two times in a row! It helps that the day and time has stabilized (every other Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. eastern), which is a time I'm usually free.
  • The TESL Ontario Conference is right around the corner. I feel so grateful that my employer is sending every teacher who wishes to go. Conferences put new wind in my sail.
  • Someone in a Facebook group I've just joined called Global Innovative Language Teachers shared a link to an article called "Principles for Resource Writing." It's good to share ideas with other language teachers around the world.
More and more teachers across Canada are letting me know that they use and appreciate the resources I share freely, the links I have curated, etc. Yay!
The verb TO BUY
Speaking of sharing, today I published an activity pack to complement Bow Valley College's ESL literacy reader "Food from Home." It's under LITERACY - FOOD on my website. I am also one step closer to finishing my alphabet line customized for adult settlement English learners in Canada. I finished D today, which means four down and at least 22 to go since I hope to do one card for every letter, plus one for a few of the most common digraphs.
D is for DOCTOR
How are YOU doing, dear reader? Surviving you-know-what?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Get More Bang for Your Lesson Planning Buck

One thing that I love about the principles of Back to the Well is that both teacher and student get something out of it. If you're interested in what the students get out of it, you can read a whole whack of posts on this blog under the category label of 'Back to the Well.' You can also read A Year of Slow in the Spring 2015 issue of Contact, an article I co-wrote with John Sivell, recently retired from Brock University's Department of Applied Linguistics.

What I want to talk about today is one of the reasons it is teacher-friendly, namely that it increases the ROI of my lesson planning time and energy.

This week the seniors, for example, were studying The Battle of Vimy Ridge. This topic was being explored in response to their request for more lessons about Canada. They also have requested more field trips, and I thought that studying an historic event like the victory at Vimy would be a great way to prepare for a trip to Jackson Park, where they will encounter many war memorials and monuments.

I invested my time in the creation of a short text about the battle. It is a simplified combination of two texts I found on the Internet. It was not easy for me to get the story down to five short paragraphs with pictures. It took the better part of an evening.

But now that we have it, there are so many ways we are able to milk this text for many types of linguistic affordances. Here is how our week played out in a class. (It is for the most part a listening/speaking course.)

Monday we did a KWL warm-up followed by my pre-teaching new vocabulary and introduction to the text. We did choral repetition, which they repeatedly ask me for. I threw out some discussion questions to give them their daily dose of oral practice and to up the student talk time.
Tuesday they read the text again individually and for a partner. After break I circulated some trench image cards that I had been able to download for free from the Internet over the weekend. In groups of 2-3, students had to ask one another, "What's happening?" The lower level students were able to participate easily since pictures were of familiar activities (a soldier is cutting his friend's hair in the trench; a soldier is eating bread in the trench; the soldiers are washing their feet in the trench).
trench image cards - soldiers in the trenches engaged in daily activities

Wednesday I distributed one trench image card to each student and gave them 15 minutes of dictionary time. Next I gave them ten minutes to practice telling a partner about a photo card. Finally I had each student come to the front of the class to tell about his/her card. NB: I took all cards away from students so that they would give their full attention to the person at the front of the room instead of nervously continuing to look at their translators, study their card, etc., in preparation for their turn. As each student came up, I held up his/her assigned photo card for all to see.

Thursday before the break we went back into the text with two discussion questions and two vocabulary exercises:
1) When we studied Confederation, we learned that Canada's birthday is July 1, 1867. So then what did Brigadier-General Ross mean when he said that at Vimy he had seen 'the birth of a nation?'
2) Can you think of a historic event that contributed to a sense of nationhood for your first country? What is it? (Not all compatriots will agree.)
3) Choose 3-5 useful words or chunks from the text and use them in new sentences.
4) Choose one interesting word from the text and look up its synonyms. Can any of the synonyms be substituted for the original word? Discuss your answer with a classmate.

Higher level students tackled all four items while lower level students skipped the abstract discussion questions and did the vocabulary study.

After break was a dictation with short, simple sentences on this now very familiar topic. For example: The trenches were cold, muddy, and full of rats. Soldiers could get trench foot. German prisoners helped carry out the wounded. And so forth.

After taking up the dictation, I then had them do another activity with the same sentences. Students got into small groups and I gave each group of 3-4 students one die.

On the board I wrote, "Start with the first sentence. Take turns rolling the die. According to your roll of the die, do one of the following:
1 - Read the sentence.
2 - Change positive to negative / negative to positive.
3 - Change the tense of the sentence.
4 - Make a question that the sentence answers.
5 - Change one word in the sentence to a synonym that works as well as the original word.
6 - Say "Really?" and then the sentence with surprised, questioning intonation."

Friday we had to postpone the field trip due to rain. Instead students used Flipgrid for the first time. I enticed them to give it a try by offering them a video tour of my apartment that I had created on the weekend. Each student recorded an introduction under that thread and then moved on to reflections on the week's learning. I wish there was a quick and easy way to convert the URL of our grid to a QR code for inclusion in their portfolios.
Seniors can use Flipgrid!

In short, not only does going 'Back to the Well' allow students' brains to make more neural connections with the lexis, but it frees up many evenings for a teacher who wants a life outside of eternal lesson preparation.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Google Slides for Quick and Dirty Desktop Publishing

I am so OVER using a word processor to quickly create newsletters, Language Experience Approach (LEA) books with literacy students, and multi-page worksheets for my classes. Thanks to Tony Vincent and his Classy Graphics course that I took over the summer, I now turn to Google Drawing for one-page worksheets, handouts or posters. Google Slides can be used in the exact same way when you need a document to have several pages.

To use Google Slides to create a series of worksheets or a booklet, you simply change the page settings to 8.5" x 11" or to whatever your page dimensions need to be. One reason I love using these tools in the Google suite of tools is that I no longer find myself searching through a bunch of (not very intuitive) menus to find the setting I'm looking for. I'm tired of fighting with Word over headers and footers that need to start after the cover and inside front cover, or which need to be different section to section. I'm a smart person who has taken MANY classes, and after twenty years, the software should NOT still be giving me headaches. The interface in the suite of Google tools is easy to learn to use. It's more intuitive than a word processor and makes editing or making small and large changes to layout a breeze.

A few features that I enjoy in Google Slides and Google Drawing include the following:

  • Images stay where I put them. I can easily resize using handles.
  • Double clicking an image allows me to CROP IT IN PLACE! (Be still, my heart.)
  • Columns of text stay where I put them, do not run onto the next page when my back is turned!
  • I don't find myself needing to turn on REVEAL CODES to see why my document's content is 'acting up.'
  • All my creations reside on my Google Drive, available to me from any computer hooked to the internet. No more carrying around a flash drive!
  • I can easily share with my colleagues and with you.
  • By embedding the document in my website, any improvements I make to the original on my Google Drive automatically feed through to the one on my website!!! (This is so time-saving since I am a tweaker.)
This week I used Google Slides to create a variety of activities to enrich an upcoming field trip to Jackson Park / Queen Elizabeth II Gardens that my multilevel seniors class has requested. 

If you teach LINC in Windsor's downtown core (or just want to see a booklet that was created in Google Slides), you can download this activity pack for use with your own class. With Bloom's Taxonomy in mind, I provided at least one activity for each level of this pedagogical hierarchy. This week I will show my students the choices and allow each student to choose the task with which he/she feels most comfortable and which promises to boost his/her engagement and challenge language use the most. All of this ties into the theme of Canada and Canadian history, which got a large number of votes during our recent needs assessment.

How do you use Google Docs, Sites, Drive, Drawing, Slides and other tools in the suite with your classes? If you don't yet, are you tempted to try?