Week 5, Fall 2009 – Students Take on New Personas – FACES

Faces

What?

I had the same activities planned all week, with every class, and every level.  It’s an activity that asks students to take on a new persona as a way to practice speaking. Each student got the chance to choose pre-drawn picture of a face from the book Faces created by my SIT professor Pat Moran.  I laid out each original face on the desks in front of the class and asked the students to choose one. It was fun to see them scramble for faces they connected with.  Some felt their pictures were too old, or too ugly.  Some said nothing and went back to their desks.  As homework, the students had to create an introduction for their characters. The introduction reviewed the language we’ve been studying since the beginning of the semester.  The only rules were that their characters be Keimyung students and that their introductions cover what we had studied. As a guide, I provided questions, and an example of my character’s introduction.  They also had the choice to design their character’s face anyway they wanted.

The idea was that during the next class these characters would interact with each other.  Of course each class had a different flow and feel, but I tried my best to keep the same structure to each class.

On the due date I checked each introduction to see if students used the language we had covered.  I only corrected mistakes pertaining to this.  I noticed that some students (L1) seemed to have used an online translation service.  The sentences made no sense to me and they used complex words. Some L1 students also complained that the homework was too hard.  When I checked what they wrote, they had hardly used any structures that we had studied. They had tried to use more complex sentences and vocabulary. Other students wrote introductions that followed the structure we covered and the extra information that added was understandable, although the structure wasn’t perfect. Again, this did not matter because I was just checking structures we had studied.

While checking homework I asked the other students to practice their introductions so that they could get comfortable with their character’s story. I wrote this instruction on the board. While checking, I also asked students to tie a string on their picture so their picture could hang off their necks.  Their introductions were behind the pictures.  The idea was that this would help them take on the role of their character and they would be able to refer to what they wrote if they needed to.

Introducing their new personas
Introducing their new personas

The next step I wrote on the board was: introduce your character (yourself) to your partner. Your partner will listen and try to answer these questions – Level 2: What does he/she love/hate doing? – Level 1: What does he/she do everyday? Once they were done with their interactions, I went to each pair, or as many as I could and asked them to reply to these answers.  Sometimes I asked other questions or they volunteered extra information. I was looking to see if they could reply using the correct sentence structure.

The next activity was the Cocktail Party.  The gist of it is that as their characters, students mingle and practice the question and answers we had studied.  I was the bartender (soda was served). In order to refresh the memories, in groups or pairs, students made lists of questions we had covered.  After, they shared their lists with the whole class.  I wrote the questions for everyone to see.  Before starting the cocktail party I told them they could use these questions or others they thought of in order to meet people. For some classes this was it and I told them to get started with the cocktail party.

What happened next depended on the vibe of each class.  In some classes the students lined up for a drink without talking to each other, and the only person they talked with, as their character, was me when they got their drinks.  After, they would then sit down with their group of friends, and some even sat alone with their cell phones :P In other classes students would start conversations after a few people had their drinks.  I could hear them laughing and discussing the lives of their characters.  Since I was the bartender, and spent time talking to each student that came to my “bar”, it was hard for me to notice what kind of conversations were going on.  I did notice that some were just speaking Korean.

Cocktail Party
Cocktail Party

After going through a few lessons where students only talked to me, but didn’t mingle much with each other, I realized that maybe they needed a better understanding of what a was a cocktail party.  I created a cocktail party powerpoint with pictures to give them an idea.  I also quickly noticed that they needed more specific tasks. On the board I wrote: Speak to 3 people. Ask 5 questions. Tell the teacher who you talked to after you are done. This worked magically in some classes. Students used their notebooks, or were able to clearly tell me about who they spoke to. Again, in some classes, this did not matter. They still sat down and talked Korean, or only spoke to their friends.

Why?

The Korean education system is set up in a way that does not prepare students for communicative activities. They are taught to sit quietly and not question the teacher.  From the time they start middle school they learn that competing with each other is the only way to make the grade. This means that for the most part they aren’t used to, and therefore are not comfortable with activities that ask them to work together even in their own language.  Then comes in the English teacher from Canada who asks them to pair up, form teams or work as individuals in a large group in order to practice their speaking skills. I realize that when I plan activities like this week’s, I can’t expect everyone to participate enthusiastically. I also need to remember that this is a mandatory class, and therefore the motivation isn’t always there.

Since this lesson plan spanned over a week and various lessons, I was able to reflect quickly and modify my plan from class to class.  I felt that with each lesson my plan got better.  This didn’t mean that the lessons were a success. Maybe if I had encouraged student to speak to ten people instead of three, I would have seen more talking. Maybe asking them to talk to three people kept them in their circle of friends.

Was the lesson a success? I felt it was a success when I could ask a student who they talked to and they could respond. I’m happy to say that this happened on many occasions.

In relation to the L1 students who wrote confusing introductions, I realized that the example I had given them may have been too complex. My example introduction had some creative sentences, although still simple, they did not follow the exact structure we had studied. I did this because I wanted to give some students the chance to express themselves creatively.  I realized this backfired because it may have given some students the impression that I was looking for creativity.  In other cases maybe students wanted to be creative with their characters, but still didn’t have the ability to do so.

I’ll do this activity again, but may refrain from being the bartender so that I can get a better picture of what’s going on at the party :)

Questions

My friend and colleague Kevin Giddens and I had this discussion this weekend: what message are we sending to our students when we encourage communicative activities? Is it possible for them to take the activities seriously and see their value?  How do we help students who grew up with the kind of education mentioned above, understand the value of communicative activities like the cocktail party?  How do they really feel when they are asked to communicate freely with their teacher when all their lives they’ve learned to keep their distance from teachers?

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10 thoughts on “Week 5, Fall 2009 – Students Take on New Personas – FACES

  1. Hello, Josette,
    I found your blog through WordPress, Erika sent it out to me for some reason. I looked around and landed, fascinated, right here.
    I have taught ESL in the US on many occasions. I have training in the Laubach method, also. None of that really matters, as I am just happy to help folks learn English, so we can all communicate better in this country. I first checked your EFL categories because I thought it meant “English as a First Language” which many native speakers need, here, in my opinion.
    Okay. You asked a question and I think it deserves an answer: What message do we send when we require students to use the language socially. We SHOULD send the message that language is a method of connecting and rarely happens in a rigid, prescribed format. To fully learn it, we must be able to speak in an impromptu setting. To stop translating in our heads and just SPEAK, we must practice dropping the outlines and rigidity. If our learning is useless outside the textbook, it truly is useless.
    I don’t know everything, and certainly do not have your level of expertise, but I have learned language and I know that my teacher, who barely knew English, herself, was a gift to me. We had to speak to her in her language most of the time, and she gave us many exercises that required us to drop English and get going. That is what we need.
    I shall return to this blog often. I love languages and I love English. This blog will be my little treat to myself when I have worked hard and need a boost. Thanks for it!

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful reflection on this post Katharine! I agree that language is truly meant for communication. It is through our sharing of ideas via words that we grow and evolve as human beings. I feel sad when I think of people learning languages for purposes other than communicating.

      And thank you for bringing my attention to how EFL could be misinterpreted. I realize that like many others, I took this acronym for granted. As you may have realized, it means English as a Foreign Language.

      I appreciate your subscription and look forward to your comments down the road.

      Happy teaching and blogging!

      Like

  2. Thank you very much for your comments on the book FACES written by SIT professor Pat Moran and published by Pro Lingua Associates. Your comments are very interesting to me and will draw much attention who teach English to Korean students, especially those who teach at middle and high schools or colleges and universities.

    We are the distributor in Korea for all the Pro Lingua Associates publications.

    Please visit our website:http:www.fll.co.kr
    and if you find any other books which are interesting to you, please send me an e-mail to the address indicated below: youngjl@unitel.co.kr
    I will send you free complimentary copies of any books you choose in order to teach at your classes. And your students will be allowed to buy the books at reduced prices when you order more than 10 copies for your students.

    Please contact me at: youngjl@unitel.co.kr
    I am also interested in publishing a teacher’s resource book for the Korean teachers who teach English at various levels of schools and who are not confident in polishing up their students’ writings.

    You or your colleagues may join me in writing this type of teachers’ manuals or resource books for Pro Lingua Publications. Pro Lingua published many helpful teacher’s books and Answer keys which are very helpful to the native speakers of English, but not to the Korean teachers so far as the teaching English Composition or Wiring is concerend.

    With best regards,

    Young Jae Lee
    Chairman & CEO
    Foreign Language Limited

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    1. Hello Mr. Young Jae Lee,

      Thank you very much for your kind reply. Your generosity in regards to providing complimentary books is a much appreciated gift. I will look through your catalogue to see what might work for my context.

      I am also interested in your idea about publishing a writing book for Korean English teachers. Actually, this winter vacation I will be teaching a writing class for Korean English teachers in Keimyung University’s TESOL training program. This might be a good chance to gather information.

      I look forward to continuing our communication.
      Josette

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  3. I really like this activity. It is fun and creative. I think it would work better with higher level students and students that are more socially and emotionally mature, out going and creative. For some majors like the art, foreign languages, music, and social sciences, it could work well with high level classes. For majors like engineering, hard sciences, or low level classes it would stall pretty quickly I think.

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    1. Jeff I appreciate you reading and your comment. The Faces activity was fun experiment. You are correct in saying that this activity wouldn’t be successful with students who are shy or less motivated. I’m happy that I tried and that I at least gave them the opportunity to communicate freely. They are so rarely given the chance and I could tell that some students appreciated the opportunity to show off their English skills in a free environment.

      I just saw that you also have a blog. Is it a diary style blog? I look forward to reading more.

      Like

  4. Loved the “faces” lesson plan. Also loved your final questions about communicative activities. I don’t have an answer- but I do think that we have to be careful when designing our communicative activities. Too often they take on a synthetic quality (role playing, etc.) and I think this might lead students to think of our classes (and even our ‘selves’) as a sort of “game” that is divorced from real life. I haven’t figured out how to deal with this yet, but I’m trying to incorporate activities that are communicative but also authentic- in other words- trying to make activities relate to the world outside the classroom. Haven’t had much luck yet, but I’m still trying.
    Anyway, thanks so much for sharing. Really loved your ideas.

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    1. Thank you for the feedback Curt. You are correct about the “game” aspect of these communicative activities. what kind of authentic activities have you tried? Maybe we can brainstorm a bit and find something that works for both of us. I’m curious about your context. Where do you teach? I’m also curious how you learned about my blog? Looking forward to your comments.

      Like

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