The United States and Authentic Video in the EFL classroom – Part 2


Part 2

This is the second part of a series of posts on a PBL (project based learning) experiment utilising authentic video on the USA in a junior high school setting. My guess was that if the students were to choose their own videos, there would be parts of the USA more popular than others, like for instance California and New York. This wouldn’t be quite fair to those whose turn to choose came last, or those who didn’t participate the loudest in the shouting match that would probably ensue, because they would end up with the least popular ones and that might have a negative impact on their inner motivation. I had to come up with another solution, one that preferably involved the element of suspense, which I knew from experience is an automatic attention grabber. I started the class by writing the numbers 1-17 on the whiteboard, as there were 17 students and I had 17 videos. The students were to choose one number – there wouldn’t be much fighting or shouting about favourite numbers. Moreover, it would be fair to all students as they could recognize that nobody had any advantage here, the video they ended up with was a random act of chance not a deliberate move from anybody in particular. And, as I said, they had no idea what the numbers were all about anyway. One by one, names were added to the numbers. This would work also if you had fewer than 17 students in class or if you had more than 17 videos; any remaining numbers would result in the corresponding videos being left out of the project (NB! The names shown here are all entirely fictitious and merely serve the purpose of illustration). Numbers When all students have been assigned a number, it’s time to show what the numbers signify. I told them that they were all going to work with one particular part or aspect of the USA and that they had, in fact, already “chosen” what that part would be. Names This is actually a research project like any other, but here their background material was in the form of one video instead of books or web sites. They could, of course, use Google to look up names or other facts mentioned in the video, but the whole idea was that the contents of their end product would be based on what they had seen and heard in the video. Therefore, the ever-present risk or temptation in any research project to copy/paste would be eliminated. To use video in this way has many advantages at least when it comes to the language classroom. You get a multi-sensory (is there such a word?) activity based on several language skills:  listening and writing (and the more optional one of reading if they use Google), and depending on the end product, the added skill of speaking, which leads me to what the students were actually supposed to do.  The project would for each video lead to two end products: a PowerPoint presentation with nothing but images and a poster with both pictures and captions. The PowerPoint presentation would be needed for an oral presentation in class and the poster for an exhibition on the classroom walls. Now you might ask why there was to be no text in the PowerPoints. The answer is quite simple – I want the students to get as much practice speaking freely in front of others as they can, and speaking without reading aloud is a prerequisite for any good presentation. The images they choose for their Powerpoints should therefore be chosen for mnemonic devices, to help them remember what to speak about, and not so much for looking nice, which, I have found, seems to be the only purpose pictures normally serve in student presentations. This adds real communicative speaking to the skills involved in this project. The students need to do some real attentive listening in order to get the facts straight, they need to do some real writing in the form of notes for themselves, and they need to practice their oral presentation before it’s time to step up in front of the class and deliver. Also, of course, they learn a lot about the United States, as well, and learning about target language countries is a predominant requirement in the national Finnish curriculum. In the next chapter I will talk about guiding the students as to content and scope of their project.


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