I thought I would share with you an attempt at a poster project. Whoop of triumph, cry for help or death rattle? You be the judge.
I have a class of four 10 year-old boys. Although the boys are no trouble whatsoever, I always feel at a loss trying to find appropriate content or materials for them - I have absolutely no formal training for YL. Or put another way, we all enjoy ourselves in class, but I have the sneaking sensation that they're not learning any English :)
Recently I thought we would try to make a poster in class. It would be about a single country, since we've done a few online quizzes in class and they generally like geography. We had a few goes at an online geography quiz as a warm-up. I specified that it couldn't be a European or Spanish-speaking country. The most geographically-curious student, A, plumped for Papua New Guinea, and the others were fine with that.
Now this was a bit of luck, because my old friend Tiziana had spent a few weeks there some years back. Did the lads fancy composing an email to her asking for her impressions and maybe a couple of her photos? Fine. So we team-wrote the email and I sent it.
Come lesson 2, Tizi hadn't let me down. So we looked at her text and photos, doing a little language work on them and composed a short reply, with thanks and a couple more questions.
What to do now in the rest of the lesson? Clever Alan hadn't given the slightest thought to this bit. In the end, we stumbled rather untidily to the end of the lesson, looking and reading snippets from YouTube and Wikipedia. Wish I had put more thought into this. (Surely the third conditional is the saddest tense...)
For the next lesson, I had found a couple of short relevant You Tube videos, although in the end they didn't make much impact on the lads. What actually crystallised them more was the results from Google Images. PNG is visually arresting, with spectacular flora and fauna,and dazzling cultural artefacts like carved masks and face-paint. It's also one of the least Westernized countries in the world, in whose highlands many people live largely stone-age lives, complete with terrifying inter-tribal violence, and the occasional practice of head-hunting and ritual cannibalism. Things which ten-year old boys love.
So by the end of lesson four, we had the poster wrapped up, complete with a few printed photos, their own hand-drawn illustrations and a couple of short texts.
Lessons learnt? Well, it was useful to find out the effectiveness of Google Images. And secondly, posters are fairly easy to do in class, logistics-wise - just some rudimentary art supplies. Thirdly. the reality of writing to a real person did make a difference, even at this young age. Fourthly, they seemed to enjoy making their own drawings more than I expected - I thought they'd opt for the slicker printout rather than the hand-drawn stuff.
And maybe most encouraging of all, the kids responded well to WEIRD STUFF. The little glimpse into a faraway place. I'm not especially anti-coursebook, but I would like to see more weird stuff in books. Stuff that extends people's mental horizons more, rather than opting for the lowest common denominator.
But, I'm not all that happy about the amount of English used and produced. Essentially we spent four hours to produce a few short snippets and two emails. (And the emails were the result of a lucky coincidence.)
And I have no idea how to go about scaffolding or recycling the language generated.
And the poster itself can't be taken home to show to parents, either :(
Would I have been better preparing texts for them beforehand? I would love to find a more learner-driven way of doing research during class time, but with four young students, I just couldn't think of a way to do it. Any ideas?
*" I don't know how to make posters." in Tok Pisin.