Archive for December, 2011

December 27, 2011

New York City’s “Tweed-Run:” Linking fashion to language teaching, perhaps?

Just as Sherlock Holmes is universally loved, the fashion of the bygone time is universally appealing.

Since clothes and ways of dressing are staple components of the foreign language curriculum, is it possible for the classroom to use fashion as input and engage students in something more fun, more beautiful, and richer in meaning?

For example, this video (click the link to watch) by New York Times’ lengendary Bill Cunningham is a report and reflection on a “tweed-run” in New York City (sponsored by Ralph Lauren) where city dwellers gathered for a bicycle-run, dressed in fashion pieces of the 30s, 40s and 50s (tweed jackets, caps, bow-ties, luggage-colored leather oxfords), and drinking tea in real tea-ware. The video can’t be embedded here but the few images I cropped from the video show a glimpse of how lovely the concept is.

The potential for the classroom is obvious:

1) the format of presentation (in the Bill Cunningham video) is something that is often used in the language classroom–powerpoints with narration, which is now easily done at such sites as and tools in Learning Management Systems such as wimba voice presentation. The video provides a model of how to build a 2-minute voice presentation centering on an interesting theme. The narration part of the voice presentation is a good outlet for building fluency and speaking skills.

2) the concept is interesting and is authentic input with many legs: a theme (vintage clothes, fashion of the bygone times, individual styles and personal fashion pieces) to provoke discussoin, potential for practice with comparison and contrast language skills, images for vocabulary building about clothes, easily motivating a language learning task (explaining one’s favorite clothes items, something in the wardrobe that’s meaningful, interviewing others about fashion pieces, or web-based research on fashion of bygone times).

But the nitty-gritty of how to incorporate the authentic input in the classroom and build an intergrated lesson unit is a daunting task. there has to be sufficiuent teasing-apart of the input with good discussion prompts and vocabulary support, and sufficient practice with form and relevant linguistic skills before the output stage.

I leave this post as an idea to be followed up in a later post with more concrete steps and materials.

December 21, 2011

Writing prompt: cultural differences

A good writing prompt motivates thoughtful responses and is a prerequisite for meaningful reaction piece. Prompts using multimodality (movie clips, songs, images) often provoke reactions more concrete and complex.

I came across the following images depicting stereotypical differences between the Chinese way of life vs. other cultures. Cultural comparisons necessarily build on scripts and stereotypes, so they tend to over-simplify, but the facts depicted here are quite humorous and not without insights.

The images below are from Xu Cui’s blog at

Cultural Differences

Sample writing prompt based on the images:

Prompt in Chinese:


  • 如果你曾去过中国,你觉得哪几组对比准确,哪几组对比不太准确? 你有过相似的文化差异的经历吗?选择你觉得准确或者不准确的几组对比,写一下你的经历和感受。
  • 如果你没有去过中国,凭你自己的感觉,你觉得哪几组对比比较有意思?为什么呢?你有过相似的文化差异的经历吗?

Prompt in English:

These images depict differences between the Chinese culture vs. other cultures. In your essay, please consider:

  • If you have been to China, based on your experiences, which pairs of these comparisons do you find most accurate in depicting the cultural differences you felt and which are less so? Please elaborate on your answers drawing on your knowledge and personal experiences.
  • If you have not been to China, which of the pairs of comparison do you find most interesting? Why so? Have you encountered similar cultural differences as depicted?
December 20, 2011

Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern (Chengdu -China Episodes): Sample Lesson Outline

The Travel Network’s hit show, Bizarre Foods, has episodes shot in Chengdu, Beijing and Hong Kong. Although  the show is in English, the rich images, authentic food locales, cultural contexts, and the cross-cutural perspective, provide authentic materials that will spark lively discussions and motivate food-themed project work.

Suggestion: if the learners are young adults (or children), or are animal-rights activists, the episodes may not be appropriate, or should best be situated in introduction of a variety of countries and cultures which all have their share of “bizarre foods” and some discussion on cultural pluralism. The teacher may also pick-choose clips that are “tamer” and leave learners to explore the rest of the show on their own.

Below I provide a rough lesson outline using the first 15-minutes of the Chengdu episode. At the end of the blog, you will find links to the video clips of the Chengdu episode, the Hong Kong episode, and the Beijing episode.

Sample Lesson (for advanced proficiency or heritage learners of Chinese), to be conducted in Chinese


Ask students to give examples of foods that they, or someone they know, have eaten and may be classified as “bizarre” for themselves or from others’ perspective. Based on what students say, the teacher writes on the board names of the food items given. Teacher needs to prepare her own answer as she may need to use her example to encourage participation.

Ask students to rank the food items listed on the board according to a “bizarre-ness” scale, “零” being the least bizarre, “十” being the most bizarre.

Ask students to compare their lists with each other. The class is likely to differ on the answers, but generate a consensus as what’s most bizarre and what’s least.

–Transition to Main Topic

Now segui to the actual video. Ask the class if anyone has watched the show called “Bizarre Foods”. Ask how this title should be translated in Chinese. Follow up on the answer: e.g. what episodes students have watched, whether they liked the show, who the host is, and other basic show-related questions.

Explain that the show has shot an episode in Chengdu. Write the pinyin and character of “Chengdu” on the board. Generate knowlege from class regarding Chengdu: where it is located (bring a map if you have it handy); weather conditions there; language spoken; food characteristics (this could be done in a very quick game-show like activity).

Ask the class to list a number of food items that they think will be featured on the show;  write the words on the board.

Watch the first 5 minutes or so of the show. Provide a vocabulary list that gives Chinese names of items featured on the clip.

Discussion ensues. Most likely, the teacher uses the chance to clarify items portrayed on the show and explain cultural notions. Assign students to watch the rest of show, and provide homework:

-Ideas for produtive-skill building homework assignments:

Speaking: 1) using; ask students to work individually or in group to create a presentation of bizarre food items from a particular episode of the show (of a country of their choice). The images come from the show but they add Chinese narration. 2) using, ask students to create, in a mock clip as Andrew Zimmern’s “5 top moments”, their version of the 5 most memorable or impressive moments” of the episode they watched, including their Chinese narration.

2) wiki–collaborative writing. If your writing assignments regularly involve wiki (useful in a heritage language class), possible topics are:

  • assign students to explore foods of major areas in China and write introductory wiki pages.
  • assign students to collaboratively generate a synposis of the episodes involving Beijing, Hong Kong and Chengdu, each group covering one episode.

3) essay where students begin with a summary of the episode and and focus on commentary of

  • why a food item may be plain and common in the local context ,but bizarre for an outsider;
  • what are some of the common features of foods that are considered bizarre across different cultures.

Video resources


Hong Kong:


December 8, 2011

When students used online translation tools in their projects and writing assignments

In the ACTFL discussion forum for language educators, a question such as this one (in the subject line) was posted and the responses varied from treating using translation tools as academic dishonesty to welcoming translation tools as technology-aided learning.

A response by William Wood provided helpful and sensible suggestions in the context

  • 1. Using in class activity to train students in critical assessment of the online translationt tool: one paragraph original text, followed by the translated text (online too), followed by teacher’s version of the translation. Students compare these versions and see drawbacks of machine translation. (My thoughts: I think we should try to avoid having the machine do the composing. The exercise may be modified by using sentences rather than paragraphs. Depending on the students’ level, I may omit appending a teacher’s version. Students, working in pairs, may enjoy doctoring the online translation and rendering it natural-sounding.)
  • 2. having students peer-review each other’s project/paper drafts. A process he calls “think, pair, share.” All drafts bear the peer’s endorsing signature. The peer-review process accounts for 30 percent of the grade.

Two notes that I added:

  • 1. help students be aware that online translation tools are “tools”, useful, but only to be used as a tool. (students should begin composing on their own and use online tools for lexical level aid.)
  • 2.make sure assignments draw on structures/vocabulary/expressions covered in class

In cases you suspect the work is entirely or largely plagiarized or aided, you can ask:

  • 1) in a nonassusitory but inquisitive manner, ask the student where the text came from. (Mr. Wood’s point)
  • 2) ask the student to explain the text (Mr. Wood’s point)
  • 3) see gaps between the essay and the language points covered in class. (my addition)
  • 4) the teacher can try google-translate and likely the text came up the same. (my addition)