Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Teaching English with "Friends"

Who would have guessed that the popular television show Friends could be used to teach ESL? A company titled Spoken Skills provides resources for ESL students and teachers and hosts a contest titled "ELVIS" (English Language Videos by International Students) each year, and they use clips of popular television series and films. In 2007, the company used a clip from Friends.

Here is the original scene.

Here is a group of Korean students performing the scene.

This activity could be easily adapted by an ambitious teacher and would be a fun and exciting addition to any ESL course.

Overcoming Difficulty and Shyness

     Often educators are afraid, shy or unnerved by the prospect of adding dramatic activities to their ESL or EFL classes. Even those teachers who would be okay with using dramatic activities with children express concern when they must use the activities with adults. Why is this the situation? What can be done to change it?

     Judith Gray Royka presents some common issues and solutions in her paper Overcoming the Fear of Using Drama in English Language Teaching. Her primary suggestion for educators is to think of 'drama games' as 'communication games.' She urges instructors to remember that they aren't performing for their class, but facilitating activities. Furthermore, she notes that one does not have to be a "drama expert" or even spend much additional time researching drama activities, instructors merely have to consider what can be done to bring 'reality' and interaction into the classroom.

     David Schwarzer's article Best Practices for Teaching the "Whole" Adult ESL Learner provides support for Royka's suggestions, stating that "vocabulary in the second language (L2) seems to increase over time when learners engage with text in meaningful ways and are encouraged to actively negotiate its meaning with others" (26). He also states that interaction is vital, bringing the breakdowns between what learners want and listeners hear into the light.

     All of the above information can be condensed into one short key:

     Dramatic enactment doesn't have to be scary. The point is to bring 'reality' and real-life scenarios into the classroom so that students are able to view their communication strengths and weaknesses in a safe and friendly learning environment.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Theatre Production as an ESL Course

     Often drama activities with ESL students involve improvisational activities and individual monologues or short scenes. New York University professor Maria Guida suggests that this doesn’t have to be the case. Her article Creating Theater in the ESL Classroom discusses how to build a course around the production of a full-scale play.

     Guida suggests four guidelines for selecting an appropriate script. The first guideline is that the scripts must concern subjects that are relevant to the students’ lives. However, she also states that the script should contain many scenes for two characters and that the dialogue should be easy to navigate (these are particularly important guidelines since scenes may be too difficult to rehearse if there are too many characters or have complicated dialogue). The final guideline she states is that plays should be filled with quality vocabulary, as the script itself is the textbook for the class.

     The following plays, she writes, are particularly useful:

            The Glass Menagerie and Summer and Smoke, by Tennessee Williams
            A View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller 
           LUV by Murray Schisgal 
           Rocket to the Moon by Clifford Odets 
           A Loss of Roses by William Inge 

     Guida is quick to note that it’s not only the play that helps students to learn English, but that it is the improvisational language games she includes in each class meeting, and the discussion of the topics, language, and plot of the play.

     Though the approach Guida takes is unusual, her class is popular and successful with students. At the end of the paper, she includes an excellent quote from one of her students who says, "I thought that acting was a kind of lie, but now I think it's the best way of understanding other people.”

The "I Can See Me" Principle

The November 2010 issue of Learning and Leading with Technology puts a spin on the use of video technology in the classroom. The authors of the article suggest a new tactic for improving reading fluency, increasing the number of words read per minute, and decreasing the number of errors made by students. Additionally, the authors state that their idea improves students' ability to self-correct and identify error patterns.

Called the "I Can See Me" program or principle, the activity requires only a few simple tools: a webcam, a computer, a short script for the student to read from and a highlighter. Here is the procedure, as detailed by the authors:

"1. The teacher selects an appropriate text and makes two copies for each student. The two copies will be stapled together.
2. Using a webcam, the student records a video of herself reading the text.
3. While watching her videos, the student highlights any errors she made while reading the passage. She rates herself in the areas of rate, volume, and accuracy.
4. The student discusses the video with the teacher. The conference should last about three to seven minutes.
5. The student rereads the passage on another video.
6. The student watches the second video, highlighting her mistakes.
7. The student completes a reflection sheet that asks her to again rate herself on the rate, volume and accuracy. In addition, the student evaluates whether her reading improved during the second recording, explaining any differences and reflecting on any changes."
(Frey, 36) 

It almost sounds too good to be true - but the authors claim that it really works! They state that they've used similar procedures to work on other skills, including listening comprehension, social interactions (introductions, answering questions, etc), and spelling. An additional benefit of using webcams, they claim, is that it allows students to upload their videos to the internet or save them to DVDs to show family and friends (if the student desires)

This activity looks like it could be promising for teaching language to students of all ages.