An Unkempt Garden of

TESL resources: Journal for Student Teaching

4 October 2010

Began gig at Duke International House, co-leading the weekly conversation hour with Kathleen Dittrich. Got form signed!

Kathleen planned the first activity with a little help from me. She got some idioms from a web-based list of idioms for ESL study, eliminated some of the more archaic ones, and put them into a two-column table in a Word document, with the "answers" in the right-hand column. I formatted the table into identically-sized cells (2 x 5 per page), made the answers a different color than the idioms, printed it out onto card stock, and had Staples cut the whole thing into identically-sized cards ($2/cut, total $10). Voila! Cards, with a few problems with text being shaved at the edges, and initial capitalization of everything (which I think might be confusing), but on the whole pretty cool.

Kathleen did a pretty good job walking around the "big circle" and introducing the activity (she is definitely confident speaking to groups), then we broke into four groups, each with about four attendees and one native English speaker.

I led a group of four people. Each group had a small set of idiom cards with corresponding answer cards, and each set was laid out on the table. The groups were to work together matching the idiom cards with the "answer" cards.

It seemed to work well, with good engagement from the group, and was educational too. I think it might be good to be a little more selective with idioms in the future (this set only contains idioms beginning with the letter 'a', 'b', and some 'k', with some being a little archaic), but this worked fine.

11 October 2010

Meghan's activity was a "You Did What" conversation prompt set. She had prepared a 4x5 grid of 20 different possible interesting activities, including things like "Been to the opera" or "Owned a unique pet" (again with the initial capitalization -- people need to learn to defeat MS Word, it's insidious!) Again she explained the activity to the full group, then we broke into randomly-assigned groups of 3-4 people like last week.

My group didn't get through the whole grid, but the discussion was wonderful and people really seemed to enjoy it. One of the prompts was "More than 4 siblings", and it turned out that one girl from Cameroon had 7 siblings, which the participants from China and Vietnam found fascinating (especially the guy from China, even though he was born before the one-child policy there).

We were also supposed to write the names of people who have done each thing in the grid, but that didn't contribute much to the activity.

18 October 2010

My turn! I'd been thinking for a long time about doing something both interesting and informative, and began working on something like "Jeopardy" (the popular and long-lived American TV game show).

Came up with five categories, and finally came up with five clues in each category. Laid out questions and answers in a grid, then transferred clues to a card template with category names on backs of cards, printed out, had cut (note: one day's notice wasn't sufficient for Staples this time; plan ahead! Kinko's was harried & cut them slightly unevenly.) Theme: Natural America, categories included native foods, animals, natural wonders, states & weather, "North Carolina". Also made a picture sheet with some of the more obscure (I thought) items labeled: raccoon, four kinds of spiders, geyser, etc. Printed out enough for each of four groups to have a set of clue cards, one picture card, and one answer key.

OK. Had a bunch of clue cards, now what to do with them? Paige (in charge of Int'l house conversation group) had convinced me that a full-on Jeopardy game was too complicated, so I came up with a simplified version: lay all cards on table clue side down with category name showing. Participants choose a card, someone reads question while hiding the printed version for a moment (for listening comprehension), after a few seconds put card down so everyone can read. Anyone can say the answer as soon as they know it.

I anticipated that this might be less interactive and conversational than preceding activities, but thought maybe the information about nature would be interesting. I also anticipated strongly diverging knowledge levels about the subject matter, so decided finally not to keep score.

Meghan's observations

I am grateful to Meghan for helping me with my observation homework. She took notes on my handling of expectations (she said I explained the activity and overall goal, demonstrated it, and briefed group leaders ahead of time); time (clear objectives but a lot of flexibility, including back-up worksheet & picture sheet -- OK, that's not what I meant to use them for, but they could work that way); and tasks (flexible model, didn't keep score but could still complete activity). She was very kind :)

25 October 2010

Kathleen sort of threw a very conversational Halloween party, and it was fun. There was music, there was a plastic jack-o-lantern full of treats, and there was Kathleen insisting that people _say_ trick-or-treat before being awarded said candy. She asked me to come in costume, but I wound up being way more flamboyant than anyone else. Which was basically her, since she's the only other one who dressed up. I later found out that she'd been advised that we _shouldn't_ come in costume, but wasn't able to contact me in time to tell me, so she dressed up mainly to keep me company. I cannot express how very much I appreciate that - thank you very very much Kathleen.

After a brief introduction to the whole group, we broke into four smaller groups again. Each group leader was given activity materials, but I have to say there wasn't much direction provided to me on what exactly to do with them. Given how the materials from last week's activity were turned into something that worked using a slightly different technique by each group leader, I guess that's OK.

The materials were: a sheet of open-ended questions centering on both Halloween customs in the USA and other cultures' festivals and traditions that were similar to Halloween; a handout of descriptive text about Halloween taken largely from Wikipedia (but heavily edited and with religion references redacted); and some cards with line drawings and descriptions that were hints to Halloween-related vocabulary.

Unfortunately, the day of the activity, I was feeling a bit under the weather and was not able to give the best presentation. I think the basics got across just fine, but I wish I'd been able to be more welcoming and engaging, and also more adaptable.

The activity was moderately successful, but largely because of the thinking of individual group leaders. Paige copied the picture sheet so that everyone in her group could have one - not only did this make the game easier, it probably provided a catalyst for discussion (alas, I wasn't able to observe since I was leading my own group). Kathleen made her own discussion lively, but wished the attendees had had to talk more -- a problem mitigated by my own approach, which had the attendees taking turns reading questions.

One problem was that one member of my group knew most of the answers, while the other two were unable to answer most of the time. That's not very fun, is it? But at least by reading the questions they got to do something. Still, I need to think more about inviting discussion for next time.

1 November

I planned an activity about fun and interesting things to do in the local area.

Goals: fun, lots of talking by participants to help them "acquire" English in a safe setting

Start by asking / discussing what participants like to do or have done in this area: parks, hikes, museums, concerts, etc.

Write down activities on cards with people's names?

Maybe segue into information about locally-available activities.

Don't forget that many have children.

Pair work: work together to plan one thing to do together (don't really have to do it). Write down any problems they run into trying to express themselves (full sentence for context); ask native speaker to help with at least two at some point.

Try to plan activity as a class?

Closing questionnaire: card asking whether they feel they talked enough, whether they'd like their English corrected more or less, pronunciation corrected more or less, kinds of things they would enjoy

The activity went pretty well, I thought. One drawback of having participants work in pairs is that they don't automatically get enough native speaker exposure -- many had specifically asked for more time with native speakers. So an ideal format might find a way to integrate the pair work with a lot of native speaker participation.

With the activity having one native speaker for every two pairs of participants, having a lot of native speaker exposure seems quite doable, but it's not obvious how to accomplish that.

We didn't end up doing a closing questionnaire, but I did get positive feedback from several students and a couple of the other leaders. Kathleen said her group didn't go that well, but I guess they muddled through.

8 November

Meghan brought her zodiac activity.

The group was really interested in pronouncing the various new words in the zodiac descriptions, and in learning the meanings of the words, e.g. comeback, intuitive/intuition, stable, systematic. This was a great i+1 activity for relatively advanced speakers.

Although Meghan forgot about it until the evening of the activity, she was game to try the variant I'd suggested of at first hiding which birthdates corresponded with which character descriptions. The participants read through the descriptions, then picked the ones they felt most corresponded to their actual characters. Amazingly, three of them picked correctly (including one guy whose English was a little more hesitant, so two of his friends helped pick for him). There were a disproportionate number of Capricorns.

Big minus for me: I started telling which animal corresponded to which zodiac, but didn't really know for several of them, in particular Sagittarius, Capricorn, and I was a little fuzzy on Aries.

There was a lot of interesting talk, a lot of pronunciation of new words, and we just barely touched on the Chinese zodiac at the end -- which was an interesting discussion, since we started talking about choosing spouses based on their zodiac.