Category Archives: Materials design

A Lesson on Nature: Working on a Video Project

Topic: Nature; The Environment
Level: Intermediate to advanced
Grouping: individual or in pairs

Let’s face it, there are always some topics teachers don´t like teaching. However, that doesn´t necessarily have to do with how good you are at teaching the topic but with the fact that you are just not keen on it. Period.

Well, this is, in fact, what happens to me when I start a lesson about “nature”. Or at least it was until I found an inspirational set of videos about objects from nature talking to people that made me eager to start teaching lessons about “the natural world”. The reason for this was that I knew that at a certain point in the lesson I could introduce this awesome project I’m going to tell you about.

About the background of the videos: a series of videos was launched by Conservation International in 2016 with the hashtag #NatureIsSpeaking and the slogan “Nature doesn’t need people. People need Nature.” Each of them is about a natural feature talking to human beings. However, what makes them so special is the tone of the voice who speaks, which generates a poetic and moving atmosphere which makes it impossible not to keep on watching and listening the videos. What’s more, the whole thing is, in turn, a celebrity voice-over campaign, which makes the videos even more far-reaching or engaging for the audience. That is, we have famous people as narrators who are advocating for this movement to raise awareness of environmental protection. To see these inspirational videos you can click here.

What I did to turn this into a class project was use some of these videos as a warm up activity for the lesson. Then, I dealt with the rest of the unit as I usually do by doing the tasks on the coursebook and workbook so that students could get a better insight into nature issues and so that they could acquire specific vocabulary about the topic. The idea is to make them have enough content and specific lexis to make the most of the project.

When we reached the end of the unit I told them about the project which is the following:

  1. Get in pairs (it can also be done as an individual task, though)
  2. Choose an object from nature: the sun, the moon, the sky, the water, the forest, etc.
  3. Start looking for images related to that object and how human beings are threatening it through their actions
  4. Create a script: a monologue about that object standing for nature talking to humans or a dialogue between that element and another one to raise awareness about the impact of people’s activities on nature
  5. Sequence your pictures so that they match your script.
  6. Practice reading the script so that you make sure it lasts at least one minute (maximum a minute and a half). Make the necessary pauses to time this.
  7. Practice reading the script with an emotional tone: the audience has to be moved by what you are saying
  8. Use an app or software that you have on your phone or laptop so that you can create the video to edit the sequence and transitions of the images and the audio you are going to record
  9. Choose background music for your video. Again, it has to contribute to the mood of the topic
  10. Optional: you can include close captions in your videos
  11. Present your video to the class

The whole thing can take about two lessons. First, you can watch some of the other videos to remind them what you expect from them. Then, they decide which feature/object they want to be and start looking for related pictures. Once they are ready with that, it’s time for them to become scriptwriters: again, they must be reminded of the importance of the mood of the whole process; nature is being “hurt”, so they need to make people feel guilty but sorry about this which, ideally, would lead to them changing their attitudes and actions towards how they relate to the natural world.

The next step is to choose the app they feel more confident about; one that is as user-friendly as possible. And here, my students themselves came up with the idea of using VivaVideo, which they used directly as a phone app.

Now it’s time to decide on the sequence of the pictures that matches the script and also on the background music to be used.

Last, here comes the part in which they have to record the voiceover for their videos. If they need a quiet place so as not to bother the other pairs, let them scatter around the classroom, the playground or whichever place they find to feel at ease when recording their part. Remember, they are voice-over actors that are not going to be seen but heard so they need to feel as confident as possible; if they are shy, it is a good idea to let them do the recording in a remote place so that their partners don’t hear them doing it.

What can I tell you about the result? Well, that the outcome went beyond my expectations. I was amazed at how even one students that is generally so quiet in class was so engaged since she turned out to be an expert at using VivaVideo and a convincing voice-over narrator. She felt so good that she helped other students to learn to use the app and the special effects of the app. It’s incredible how much an activity like this can generate such involvement and compromise. I got the feeling they forgot about the fact they were in an English lesson since they focused directly on the content and on the environmental problems we were addressing. Undoubtedly, they felt the responsibility to do this seriously, since they got the point was to lead to a deep change of attitude on people’s behavior.

Have a look at two of their productions below:

The Ice

The Forest

“If I had a world of my own everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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Filed under EFL teacher, ELT, ELT activities for teenagers, Materials design, Motivation, Teaching with technology, Uncategorized, Using videos in EFL, Using videos in ELT

A “keep talking” activity

Jobs

I’m the teacher of this group of pre-FCE level students who are very enthusiastic about their English lessons. Once, we were dealing with a speaking activity about “jobs” and as a warm-up activity they had to match a set of questions with their answers. The questions were: “What do you do?”, “What’s a typical day in your job?” and “What do you like most about your job?”, among others. The focus was on using specific vocabulary for different professions/occupations and typical verbs to describe the duties and responsibilities related to those jobs.

To my surprise, they really enjoyed doing that activity so, on the spot, I assigned some other jobs for each of them to talk about based on their parents’. They had so much fun that I decided I had to take advantage of their interest and think of something else. And that is how I came up with the idea of preparing a PowerPoint presentation with images of different and unusual professions together with images about what those jobs involve so that they would keep on talking for as long as the presentation for that job lasted.

My intention was to recycle the vocabulary and expressions they already know (I’m in charge of, my job involves + “ing”, I’m responsible for + noun/-ing form, I’m involved in…) but to introduce new words as well, depending on the job shown on the presentation.

This is a language-generating activity that also aims at contributing to students’ fluency. As you change slides, they have to think of specific verbs to use with the nouns and phrases shown. The teacher should wait until they have finished describing each slide in order to move on to the next; the students are the ones that will set the pace of the activity as they describe the slides. To round off the activity there is a gag at the end that students can also describe.

As a teacher, you can plan ahead which jobs you want to deal with and make your own presentations with text and images of your choice. You will see how interest-grabbing this activity can be. Here’s an example of one of the jobs we’ve worked with: Speaking task_Pre FCE

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Filed under ELT activities for teenagers, Materials design

“I’m investigating things that begin with the letter M”

The Mad Hattter (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

5

There are some things which always seem to happen in the same way. In the context of ELT we can clearly think of typical examples in terms of how some lessons are structured. That is, it’s common for a lesson on the topic of food to be related to the grammar point on imperatives. Can you guess the rest of the context? I’m sure you’ve done it already. Yes, a recipe with activities such as putting it in order, filling in the blanks with ingredients and completing with imperative verbs, among others. That’s quite predictable, right?

As a teacher, I’m not that much into predictable things and most probably you aren’t either. The chances are that if we get bored with some tasks so will our students. So, what if we find the way of giving those activities a twist so as to make them more engaging for them? While I was teaching my 3rd grade students they suggested bringing their own ingredients and following some of the recipes from the course book in class, which I thought was a very good opportunity to make use of the language in an authentic context and for a real purpose.

By now I guess you must be thinking: “where’s the new twist?” Well, here it comes: a kind of MasterChef Junior workshop but with a different aim which is not to compete but to work collaboratively to put the steps of a basic recipe in order and then follow them altogether, as participants of the show.

Children love watching the reality show so it would be a plus if we could recreate the setting so that they feel part of that TV cookery show. By that I mean: designing badges with the name of the show and their own names, making sure students bring their own aprons or toques (chef’s hat), sticking posters or signs on the walls with the name of the show, and also having all the ingredients and kitchen utensils at hand. Don’t forget to take the mobile phone or (video) cameras, too. That will allow you to take pictures or film the process so that they later watch what they have done altogether.

Since this activity was prepared for 3rd grade students and we don’t have an oven or a cooker at the academy, the recipes are of very basic food: a giant sandwich, a banana split dessert, a choco-cake that requires no baking -nothing too complicated.

So, how do we put these ideas into action? Here are some tips:

  • Decorate the classroom with MasterChef logos and stick a poster on the wall with the logo and the name of all the students. If you have a whiteboard and a projector, then you can prepare the sign on the computer and show it on the board during the workshop.
  • Give students their toques and participant badges.
  • Make sure you have a desk where all the ingredients are placed. On that table, there you should also put two envelopes: one with a recipe of how to prepare a snack and the other with a recipe of a dessert.
  • The students will have to read the title of the recipe and the ingredients they need. They will go to the desk where the ingredients are and take them another desk.
  • The envelopes also have the steps of the recipes on different pieces of paper which indicate which step it is. Each of the students has to pick one piece of paper and then they have to put them in order.
  • After that, they will start following the recipe by performing each of the tasks in the order the pieces of paper specify.
  • Once they have finished with the snack, they will do the same with the dessert envelope.
  • To set the atmosphere, use phrases taken from the show, such as: “Is everyone ready?” so that the students can answer: “Yes, teacher/chef!!”. They simply love this part. It gets their adrenaline going!

So, going back to the intertextuality in the title: I investigated a thing beginning with the letter “M” in class, namely MasterChef Junior, and it worked!  You are welcome to try this activity and then let me know how it goes. Good luck 😉

You can find the recipies and instructions and related MasterChef Junior Workshop materials for this lesson here.

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Filed under ELT, ELT activities for children, Materials design

Designing my own material: Have I gone mad?

Designing materials

How good are you at designing your own teaching material? Are you always on the lookout for new ideas or resources that you can later modify and turn them into feasible lesson plans?

I am one of those, in fact. That is, every time I’m watching a movie or a TV series, reading authentic materials I got on my last holidays or even when someone posts a picture with a text in English I cannot help thinking about how to exploit them in my lessons with my students. To illustrate this at work, here’s my latest example.

I was just browsing through my facebook newsfeed when all of sudden I came across this video about two of the most important universities in the UK Oxford vs. Cambridge

The moment I started watching it, I realized I would be using it in my lessons since the content is educational and it is presented in a very innovative and catching way. As you may have seen if you watched the video, it is a point by point description of relevant facts to show which university has achieved the highest number of things or the most successful ones throughout their existence, only to arrive to the conclusion that both are equally important and there is no such thing as a winner.

I spent some time thinking of possible activities to be used with this video until I came up with one which was the following one:

Title: The War of the Titans

Possible objectives? Well, lots of them:

  • To introduce CLIL to my lessons
  • To make students work in pairs on a CLIL project
  • To combine learning English with fun activities
  • To make students work with technological resources (Power Point docs, video making programs, screen capture softwares, projectors)
  • To involve students with their own learning by engaging them in research to find relevant content (and of their own choice) to make their own videos.

Here’s a detailed student’s worksheet:The War of the Titans_Students’ worksheets

Note that this activity was intended to be done with intermediate and upper-intermediate students to give them more freedom about what to say. However, I bet you can adapt it to lower levels as well since the difficulty here lies on how well they manage to use the resources involved. The technological resources used are: mobile phones, tablets, laptops, search engines, PowerPoint, aTube Catcher (for screen capture) and a projector.

Other factors to consider

It’s worth mentioning that if your students are not tech-savvy or if they don’t have mobiles or any other of the resources mentioned before then you should consider using this activity in a more traditional way. One alternative would be to make them look for useful information and just distribute it as a pair so that each member of the pair reads his/her part. You would be working with content all the same and it would still be a game.

So, if while talking to other colleagues about materials design they seem to suggest that you are mad because you waste time creating your own material when there are so many ready-to-use resources, then you can come up with what I call a witticism,

Hatter, “Have I gone mad?”

Alice, “I’m afraid so; you’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret: all the best people are.”

Alice in Wonderland. Watch it, here.
Source: Film: Alice in Wonderland, 2010. Directed by Tim Burton and written by Linda Woolverton

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Filed under ELT, ELT activities for teenagers, Materials design, Teaching with technology