There can’t be that many people who take a winter break in the UK, and with good reason. Landing at Heathrow in the 4pm twilight and light drizzle almost made me pine for Korea straight away. OK, it may have been about -20C when I left, but at least it was sunny. It was sunny when I arrived back in Korea too, to the news that I’d had an extra school added to my schedule. Better yet it was a middle school, meaning that I would now teach every single school grade in Korea, from 1 to 12. With 25 hours of classes, about two thirds of which have no coursebook, and an MA to do, it was clear I’d have to find some way of cutting down on my planning time.
I really enjoy doing writing with my younger learners. Their creativity has yet to be buried by a slew of exam preparation so creative, narrative based activities work well with them. I have been keen to do some story writing with groups this term. Writing also helps them to see patterns within English written down in front of them, so it helps with their grammar. Also errors can be spotted, analysed and corrected in a more relaxed fashion than in spoken text, and errors specific to an individual are easy to spot and work on.
I’m also increasingly developing a belief (and I’m not alone in this) is that reading is a far more useful activity when it is interactive, and the listener has some say in the direction of what they are reading. I remember reading adventure books when I was younger which gave you a choice of destiny at the end of each section you read. If you wanted to explore the cave, you turned to page 42; if you wanted to continue climbing the mountain you turned to page 60. I wondered if it was possible to do something similar even with my elementary school pupils, whose reading levels are extremely low and for whom there simply aren’t printed materials like this (as far as I’m aware).
Sat at my desk with some of this running through my head, I started with the problem of providing level appropriate reading materials for my kids. I didn’t have time to write them, and I couldn’t find any on the web. How could I get hold of some quickly and easily? Suddenly it was obvious. All that needed to happen was for other kids to write the material. Any Korean elementary student is going to understand what another student writes. From there the idea for my class took shape. All I needed to do was buy a set of notebooks, and carry them with me when I go to my elementary schools. In our 40 minute after school class at one school, my students and I would write part of a story. Then at the other school the students would add to it. Gradually, over the course of a semester, the students would collaborate to read and write a story.
So far, I’m a week and a half into the project. For the first week I set some fairly tight guidelines. This is to stop them racing ahead with the story and finishing it within two weeks – this has to last me a large part of the semester. I’m making sure we do some careful scene setting and character development. All one group had to do was to write 6 sentences describing their character using the pattern “He/She is…”; the other group had the same template but had to create an animal sidekick for the character. It was interesting to see what they did within the guidelines. Some wrote a simple list of adjectives, others delved into the present progressive. Anything was fine as long as it started “He/She is” (I actually let one or two groups break this stipulation if they had something they really wanted to say. One of the things I did encourage was the use of dictionaries to introduce new vocabulary, which I hope will be recycled over the course of the story.
The second week is all about the characters’ likes. To try to give it a communicative feel, I’m asking students to write about the other school’s character’s likes. These have to be connected in some way to the description written the previous week. For example, the “furry fish” character created liked styling his hair. In this way students have to understand what was written previously and use it to build their own contribution.
I’ll admit that I’m not totally sure where this project is going yet. I want to do some scene setting and I was inspired by this post to do some work with the five senses. I’ll have one group describe (and draw) the scene, and then the following group describe it for each sense. After that, who knows? If anyone out there has done anything like this before I’d be thrilled to hear any ideas that you have.
I’ll write about this again soon, as I’m excited to see where it goes. One huge positive is that it has already de-stressed my after school classes. I’m no longer spending hours planning stuff, the students are doing more work, communicating with children they don’t even know, and everyone seems to be having a good time. Updates and perhaps a peek at some of their work to come.