Archive for January, 2012

January 23, 2012

Journey of the Noodle (video to supplement textbook and for communicative practice)

《面条之路》  (This is part 1 of a 6 parts TV series about the noodle, its history, its wide varieties in China and around the world and mouth-watering noodle dishes!)

Teaching ideas:

Target levels and students: intermediate to advanced; heritage or non-heritage/advanced.

How: as the video is 50 minutes, it is best assigned as homework with accompanying worksheet or writing assignment. But show the clip for about 10 minutes in class so students have a “taste” of it and you can clarify the context and contents of the video.

If you work with a textbook, this unit is a good supplement to provide cultural knowledge and communicative practices (listening, discussion and writing) for a learning unit that deals with culinary traditions in China.

a.before showing this video in class or assigning this video as homework, have students brainstorm 6 noodle-like food items/dishes from 6 different cultures (such as: 中国四川的担担面; 北方的杂酱面; 广东的馄饨面; 山西的烩面; 美国的鸡汤面; 意大利的通心粉, 千层面).  Prepare a number of images representing these noodle dishes in case students don’t recall these easily or do not have the Chinese words for these canonical food items.

b. have students watch this clip in class or as homework. Students write down 6-10 new Chinese words they learned while watching this clip. Students log these words in their vocabulary log-book. Next class teacher can use 5-minutes in class to exchange vocabulary.

c. what worksheet or homework to assign:   possible ideas:

1) each student or groups of students, are assigned a particular segment of the video to write a summary/recap, and note down one thing that they did not know before watching the video. Be read to share ideas in class.

2) each student or groups of students study a particular dish in terms of how it is made by the following categories: ingredients; methods/procedure; sample food images. do a presentation of their findings, by poster, by blog entry, or at, or using photstory3 as a form of digital story-telling.

3) students create a class noodle recipe book (a noodle dish that they want to learn to make, or a noodle dish that is their favorite comfort food).

January 10, 2012

Warm-up activities for speaking

Below is a template for a speaking activity, usually good for Monday or first day after a holiday break:

In groups of three or two, students draw a picture of what they did in the past. Others have to guess at what they did from only looking at the picture. (ideas from Brian Hampson and Shane Dunkle)

Modifications: a more teacher-centered activity, teacher draws numbers, pictures and other images that seem random but represent what teacher did over the break. Students have to guess.

Modification to suit the topic about describing dormitory life: students draw pictures representing happy moments of living in a dorm and bad moments of living in a dorm (or change it to “living at home”). Others have to look at the picture and guess.

January 9, 2012

Discussion work on first-day of class after winter break

Not all speaking activities work, for different reasons. Borrowing Tolstoy’s truism, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” good speaking activities are all alike; every “unhappy” speaking activity is unhappy in its own way.

Lately a teacher talked to me about her first-day of class. She was a very very good teacher, creative and resourceful. She was puzzled and disconcerted with three Chinese-heritage students in her class who sat together in class, talked when not required to talk and kept silent when required to do interaction work.

For this particular lesson we discussed: first day of class after  the winter break. a warm-up activity where students sat in groups to  (while speaking Chinese) find out: three things all members of the group did over the break, and three different things they each did and not shared by other members in the class.

Sounds pretty good, an information gap activity. But for advanced-levels when students have surpassed the threshold of iterating simple facts, the task is not as challenging and motivating. And when the topic is about winter break, things we do during breaks are quite similar and no suspence which may prompt no incentive to talk.

When we plan the task, we anticipate what students may say in response to the topic. For this particular topic, likely students say “I ate. I ate too; I slept. I slept a lot; me too; I watched movies–here the topic may become interesting, but students, if not prompted by teacher, rarely go beyond “me too”. “I skiiled.” I did it in colorado. I did it in Wisconsin.” Then, moments of silence. Looking at teacher. Hoping for the activity to end.

My reflection: if the task involves narrative and story-telling, the instrinc motivation for telling a story is that it is worth-telling (see Ochs and Capps’s book titled Living Narrative).

So, perhaps, if we change the topic of discussion to:

  • Talk about things you did but had never wanted to do.  不想做却做了的.
  • Talk about things you didn’t do but had really wanted to do.  想做又没做的.

The answer is unpredictable and draws on a story-worthy juxtaposition. The task is still pretty simple and suitable for short warm-up activity.

When we design unfocused speaking task (meaning that we are not using the speaking task for students to use a particuar language form, such as the past tense, the “de” structure” etc. Reference: Rod Ellis [2003]), the topic has to elicit something worth-telling, affective, with personal involvement.

For example, I list below some typical speaking tasks in the language classroom and suggest modification for the task to be more fun for advanced learners:

practicing saying numbers and digits

traditional drills: using cards with numbers and have students say them out loud.  Or the teacher says the numbers and studnets write them down.

modification—> studnets pretending to be at a ball/banquet and are having fun. Then the loudspeaker (a student plays the role of the MC) begins to say a string of numbers (they are licence plate numbers of unsuitably parked cars which will be towed if not moved.) Every student is given a card in advance which bears one of these imaginary licence plates. Students naturally pay attention to listening for their number and repeat to check if they heard it correctly. The unclaimed cars will be towed. Haha.

talk about poet Li Bai

traditional activity: Li Bai a typical cultural topic in the Chinese heritage class and advanced foreign language class. But I guess students don’t quite see the point of reading the poem “the moon light at my bedside, is like frost on the ground”–the poem is beguilingly simple, even plain.

modification: — > select a poem by Li Bai that has a bit more “flare” for the students’ age and temperament, such as the poem where he danced with the moon or tried to scoop the moon out of the river. Instead of explaining the poem, we could show the poem in Chinese, juxtaposed with an English version as translated by the google translation tool (the translation is guaranteed to be hilarious). Students can discuss why the translation is not correct, and how best to translate the original poem. This exercise will incoporate cultural topic, will let students see that google translation has its limitation,  while using the target language to communicate (the idea of “languaging”).

Describing a room

traditional task: at around 2nd-year of a basic language program, students will learn to talk about housing, interior of a house, furniture, domitory living Typical speaking tasks are role-plays and picture-description.

modification: 1) identifying differences between two otherwise very identical images of a room–newspapers and children’s books tend to feature such puzzle activity. Save some of them and they make good picture-prompt for practicing room-description.

2) detail-recall. students are shown pictures of a room for seconds. Then they compete to see who recalls the most details of the room, with accuracy (and using fully formulated sentences).  The pictures may also include some unnoticable details (such as a cat under the kitchen table). Children’s books are full of household items and good as prompts, such as the following timeless classics.

These two books are: If you give a pig a pancake. If you give a mouse a cookie.