Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Talking Walls, Learning Activities

Talking Walls has a wealth of learning opportunities. I was able to use this book and the follow up, Talking Walls: The Stories Continue as a foundation for a 9-week unit of instruction when I was teaching middle school and high school ESL. While I can’t write about EVERY lesson I taught during the nine weeks, I can tell you how I structured each lesson. I spent approximately 1 ½ to 2 90-minute blocks of instruction on each wall. I’ll use the first wall, The Great Wall of China as an example.

Day 1:

Warm-Up: Where in the World is China? ( 5 min) (The class spent five minutes completing this activity while I took care of administrative stuff such as taking attendance.)
For each wall, I made a handout with a map of the continent in which the country was located and 10 corresponding geographical questions, such as “In which continent is China?,” “Which countries border China on the left?”, and “Which ocean borders China on the right?”. This introduced the country to the students and also helped build vocabulary and geographical knowledge.

Listen to the story on tape: (5 min) When I was teaching, Talking Walls came with an accompanying tape. I can’t seem to find a tape or CD now, but at the time, I would play the tape and students would read along so they could hear the pronunciations of the words along with some cultural music and sounds.

Vocabulary: (15 min) Students would get a list of five to ten new words to add to their “personal dictionaries.” At the beginning of the year, one of our first projects was to create a personal dictionary using a three-ring binder, three-hole punched paper, and tabbed dividers. Each letter would get a divider with a few blank pieces of paper following it. As students learned new vocabulary words, they would add it to their personal dictionaries, with at least two of the following: a definition, a picture, or a sentence using the word. So in this case, the vocabulary words were structure, magnificent, serpent, fortress, boulders, construct, and invader. They could also add any other words that were unfamiliar.

Re-read: (5 min) I would read the story again to the students to give them another opportunity to hear the correct pronunciation of words and to help them gain comprehension.

Discussion: (15 – 20 min) I would lead a discussion about the story, asking different types of comprehension questions. Sometimes students would be familiar with the wall, and I’d ask them to tell me what they knew. I’d then ask some more in-depth or what I called “thinking” questions. In the case of the Great Wall of China, I’d ask why they thought the wall was built, “to keep invaders out or to keep the Chinese at home,” and what the positives and negatives were of each.

Writing Exercise (30 minutes): My students always knew that they would speak, read AND write every day in class. The last part of the class would be dedicated to writing about what they just read and discussed. Sometimes I had specific questions. Other times I left it open-ended. My goal was to get them thinking about the story, the day’s discussion, and vocabulary. While 30 minutes seems like a long time to write, my students who were just learning English really needed this time to form their thoughts in their new language.

Wrap-Up (10 minutes): The last ten minutes of class would be a wrap-up of the day’s lesson. I’d ask them to tell me three things they learned, three things they liked about the story, etc.

Day 2:
Warm-Up: (5 minutes) For day two’s warm-up, I’d have a handout of the flag of the country being featured in the book and ask three to five questions about the flag, such as “What colors are on China’s flag?” and “How many stars are on the flag?”

Review the story: (10 minutes) I’d ask questions about the story to refresh students’ memories and go over the vocabulary words.

About the Culture:
(50 minutes) The bulk of day two would be to talk about the culture of the country being featured. I would have handouts, videos when available, websites, etc. Luckily, I had a computer in my classroom that hooked up to the to the television, so I was able to create many different PowerPoint presentations with images, music, and videos I found on the web.

Writing Exercise: (15 minutes) This day’s writing exercise would be more focused. I’d ask them to write 10 things they learned about China that day.

Wrap-Up: (10 minutes) I’d go around the room and ask each student to name one thing they just wrote in their journal.

And that’s how it would mostly go. Sometimes I’d throw in a crossword or word find puzzle. Other times I’d invite a student from the class who was from the featured country to speak about his/her culture. Sometimes I would be able to get some time in the computer lab and have students do a web scavenger hunt and find answers to questions about specific countries and cultures. At the end of the unit, we’d have a final project where students would create a poster with highlights from their own culture and then have a culture day. It was a show and tell of sorts about their own country. Some would bring in a native food to try. Others would bring in jewelry or other cultural artifacts. And others would bring in pictures or tell a story.

There are so many different ways to use this book as a jumping off point to learn vocabulary, geography, history, and about many many different cultures. Let me know what you’ve tried!

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