Sunday, June 08, 2008

You can always learn something new!

This past Friday, Paul Yung, a colleague in the Division of Adult and Career Education of LAUSD, co-presented with me in one of the monthly Technology Colloquium workshops that I organize and present. He presented techniques for using do-it-yourself multimedia for the first hour and I completed the session with simple ways to get your students to start using the Internet as part of the ESL curriculum. I'm pleased to report that the session went well and the participants were pleased by both presentations. The purpose of this post, however, is more to reflect on the fact that sometimes it takes the enthusiasm of another individual for a process or technique that causes you to re-evaluate your own processes and decide to try something new.

Basically, Paul's main point was that the Internet can provide easy access to a huge resource of images and since using images has always been a large component of language instruction, ESL teachers can access images on the Internet and easily integrate them into very simple PowerPoint presentations that can then be used as grammar or language practice in the classroom if the classroom is equipped with a projection system (LCD or TV) that enables the entire class to view the presentation. He compared it to the "old days" when he used to hold up pictures in front of the classroom that he had collected from magazines.

Paul's second point was that an ESL teacher can easily enliven or provide additional practice to the typical conversation practice found in typical textbooks. You know the type. A basic conversation is presented and the students, working in pairs, are supposed to replace various items or vocabulary words with alternate items or words. For example, the first student would say something like "I need to buy a book." The second student would ask "How much is the book?" there would be a response "It's $14.50" and finally a comment like "That's not too expensive!" Following the conversation there would be a picture of a "car" and a price tag "$24,500" and the comment "That's expensive!" The students are supposed to practice the first conversation, then replace all of the appropriate vocabulary with the "new" vocabulary. Paul's idea is to create PowerPoint slides containing all of the new information in image and text format. One one slide, he would insert an image of the new object, the price tag, and the final comment. As he goes through the slides, the students generate the new conversations using the image and text as cues.

Now all of this might not necessarily be a new idea (I used to use clipart in the same way) but his enthusiasm for the process and the demonstration about how easy it is to prepare the slides "on the fly" made me resolve to try it out at the first opportunity. That opportunity turned out to be the very next day when the unit I was teaching to my new Beginning High class turned out to be descriptions of people. The standard conversation was in the unit with the typical suggested replacement text. I instructed the students to practice the conversations in partners per typical practice. But this time, while they were working, I used Google image search to find online images with the key vocabulary featured in the unit (tall, short, heavy, slim etc.) and created a simple PowerPoint in the 10 or 15 minutes the students were practicing. When I felt that they had practiced on their own for a sufficient time, I turned their attention to the new presentation and went through the slides as a group. It was a tremendous success! I was able to find an assortment of images with enough contrasts that the students were able to practice most if not all of the adjectives or expressions introduced in the chapter, enthusiasm and participation were high, and it was clear that viewing and describing images of real people provided a realistic context for further practice. Best of all, I can continue to work on the presentation to add even more images and I'll be able to use it again at a click of a button.

Finally, the process is simple enough that students could do it on their own as a project demonstrating what they've learned. Click here to see the presentation! (it's the link labeled PowerPoint Slides in the section labeled Simple Ways to Start Using Web-Based Instruction

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