Friday, 22 October 2010

Writing lesson – A Choice of Descriptions

In a recent post, I described one of the speaking lessons I’ve done recently with my ‘split classes’. Last week, it was time to engage the kids in some writing. I’ve generally found in my time working with YLs that motivating them to write above sentence level can be hard and writing is often the skill that is their weakest. One of the stated syllabus aims for this year is to improve writing through ‘focused activities to be done in split lesson hours’. However, I feel the ‘focused’ part is one of the things that causes a problem. Kids often find the writing activities too rigid and possibly on a topic that they have little knowledge of or interest in. So, I decided to introduce them to something I hope they will come to value: choice.

image
A hard path and an easy path? Or the high road and the low road?
By Patrick Mackie (From geograph.org.uk) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In our regular lessons so far, we had covered animals as well as facial features and clothes. We had also done our pictogloss alien lesson last week. Rather than, as the syllabus suggested, have the students describe their favourite domestic animal, I decided to bring all the topics covered so far into play and told them to choose ONE out of: describe your favourite animal (pet or wild); OR describe your favourite person (family, friend or celebrity); OR describe an alien/monster (imaginary or one from a story).

Having done this before, I knew what was coming next: puzzlement! In every class, the students had to check with me. “Do we have to do all of them?”, “Just one? Which one?” and finally “You mean WE get to choose?!?” It both amazed and saddened me a little that they seemed baffled by the concept that they got to decide (albeit in a limited way) what they would write. Had they really only ever done set activities before? Nevertheless, once it clicked, the creative ideas started to flow. One boy decided to combine the animal and monster options by creating a strange hybrid of a pig, a wolf and a dragon; another made up an alien celebrity; and a girl described her ‘dream pet’ – a rattlesnake apparently! Of course, we had our fair share of horses, footballers, Hannah Montanas and regular aliens too.

The best part of it all for me was seeing how they responded to the freedom of choice. There was no complaining about not liking the topic, no claims that they didn’t know what to write and no shortage of creativity. Afterwards, I had them read each other’s work in small groups and ask each other questions, which they really got into, before engaging in some basic error correction (not too much though as the bulk of it would be saved for the next lesson and next split class post).

I firmly believe kids find choice in the classroom empowering, whether it be about what activity to do, working in pairs, groups or individually or anything else. It helps them feel valued and involved in the learning process. They feel that the teacher wants to listen rather than just tell them what to do. All of that can help promote creativity and independent, critical thinking – much better than just writing about ‘My Cat’ for the hundredth time!

4 comments:

  1. You and your crazy Western ideas. You're going to ruin theses kids for their parents and the state. The kids will be traumatized when they learn that they don't have the ability to choose their future.

    And what if they start to have their own opinions and question authority? I suspect you are some deep state agent trying to topple Turkey.

    Good luck with that :) :) :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. LOL. If I had a dollar for every time I'd heard the 'secret agent' line for foreign English teachers, I could have set up my own subversive publishing company by now!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Besides Nick, you've forgotten that students here get plenty of choice. 4 choices in fact: A, B, C or D! =D

    ReplyDelete
  4. LOL. Sometimes you'd that all college grads living in the West are trained as secret agents before being shipped abroad to pose as English teachers I'm not sure if it's the strange clothes, the inability to speak the local language, or the fact that we spend so much time in bars that gives us away :)

    Letting the students choose their grade? Now that's an idea! Actually, in a way they do here. I've learned that grades are seen as negotiable both by teachers and students. I don't know if you get that with kids as well.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting! Your comment will appear after Dave has approved it. :-)