Thursday, 30 September 2010

Group assignment on the English-speaking world

The last couple of weeks, my first year students have worked on a group assignment on various countries in the English-speaking world. I split the class into six groups, and each group was asked to prepare a presentation on an English-speaking country. For this project I also challenged the students' creative sides. I am just feed up with boring power point presentations, and therefore asked them if they could come up with something more creative. All in all I am quite happy with the results. A couple of groups had prepared role plays, two groups had made films, and the others tried to include creative elements in their, well, PP presentations. I must say that my favorite as far as creativity is concerned, was the group who had made their whole presentation into a "Who wants to be a millionaire"-show. The content of their presentation could have been better, but I was nevertheless happy to see that some of the pupils really stepped up and showed their talents as actors/actresses!

As far as assessment is concerned, I asked all the groups to hand in suggestions for assessment criteria, and I used these criteria when making this rubric for assessing the presentations. In addittion, I asked the students to assess themselves afterwards. They needed to say something about how the group had cooperated, how they themselves had contributed in the process, and also what they had learned from the presentations of the other groups. Here are some of the comments from the students:
  • The assingment was actually very nice. It was fun to have the opportunity to be creative.
  • I actually learned a lot about the English-speaking world from the presentations of the other groups, it was fun to watch, and I liked that it was a different learning method then we usually use. Eventhough I feel that I am going to forget a lot. This is not the way facts get stuck in my brain.
  • I think it was fun to do something different in our class. I think it’s good to use different kind of ways to learn English.
  • The assignment was interesting, but hard.
  • I enjoyed the assignment very much actually. I'm very interested in geography, and countries, so this project suited me perfect. Although I would have preferred a different country, like Jamaica or South Africa. The reason to this is probably my interests would have suited better to these countries. Like the World Cup in football (South Africa) or Bob Marley’s life and career. But it was interesting learning about Canada too.
  • From the other groups alltogether, I learned that English is a very common language. The presentations taught me that whereever I am, there is always someone who knows the English language, and that's why it's so important to learn English at school.
I may as well admit that not all the students were just happy about the project. Some were not happy about the country they had been assigned, others complained about groups that did not work. In other words, the usual stuff... My overall impression is nevertheless that they liked the creative part of the project, and that they had some fun working on their presentations. Time will show how much of the material they will actually remember though...

Monday, 27 September 2010

Teaching Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter"

I like to use a lot of oral activities when starting up a new class. There are, at least, two reasons for this. First, I believe it is absolutely necessary for the students to start speaking in class as soon as possible, or else they will remain silent throughout the year. Second, it is important that the students learn to know each other well in order to cooperate in class.

In addition to the oral activities, I usually start a new school year by reading one of more short stories that I know, or hope, the students will like. This year I decided to read Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" with my first year students. Most students are familiar with Dahl's stories for children, like Mathilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His short stories, however, are not all that well known.

I prepared both pre-reading questions and some questions that were to be answered as we read the story. I believe in close reading, but I also think it is necessary to give the students some questions to help them along. Most of the students could contribute in the discussion that followed the reading of this story; maybe one of the reasons was that quite a few had already read the story. I nevertheless think that this story has quite a lot to tell, both about the relationship between the sexes at the time the story was written, and about how you need to read between the lines in order to catch the author's message.

When searching the internet for material to use in class when working on this story, I came across a film version of the short story on YouTube. I guess the film can also be used in class in order to make the story more alive.