Turn Students into First-time Authors

Turn Students into First-time Authors

karine boulle

[FeaturedArticles_PRO id=”654″] As language teachers, we have included projects in our teaching for years before the expression “Project- Based Learning” made its debut in educational articles. We understand the value of projects, but we also know how time consuming they can be. Who wants to devote precious class time to cutting, gluing, and drawing? Shouldn’t language classes be more about speaking?

Even though the word “project” remains the same, its definition has evolved greatly with technology. No more glue, no more cut and paste. Students can manipulate pictures in just seconds; they can research, write and edit faster. They can even record their own story and therefore practice the speaking part that we value so much. Still, it takes time, unless…

Along with “Project-Based Learning” came the terms “Flipped Classrooms,” “Reverse Teaching” and “21st Century Skills.” All key ingredients for successful teaching. If you are looking for an easy project recipe, here it is: combine all ingredients, add a touch of creativity and voilà!

One of my favorite projects is to have my students write a book based on random pictures. This assignment focuses on the principal language skills (writing, self-correcting and speaking) while giving all students the flexibility they need to work at their own level. The results are fantastic!


A sample from student project

A sample from student project

STEP 1: FORMAT. Decide which media you want your students to work with. Paper? Computer? iPads? See slide show for examples and apps you can use.

STEP 2: PICTURES. Choose a series of pictures for students to use. Make sure they have a common theme or a common character (Garfield, Asterix, pictures from a novel…).

STEP 3: REQUIREMENTS. Decide what you want the book to include (book cover, copyrights, dedication, paragraph about the author, summary of the book, promotional comments…). The more the project looks like a real book, the more involved your students will be.

STEP 4: GRAMMAR and VOCABULARY. Define which elements you want them to include (Past tense? Future? Conditional? Prepositions?). This is an opportunity to include your curriculum. It is a wonderful review tool.

STEP 5: PACKAGE. Put together a package that includes steps 1-4, due dates, rules, grading rubric and a list of common errors (numbered so you can use these numbers when marking mistakes). Refer to the slide show for examples.

STEP 6: STORY. Your students will need guidance to make their stories original. You must teach them to support the pictures rather than describe them. Otherwise, all the stories will sound the same

Example: Students have a picture of a family picnicking under a tree.

Without guidance, students will say, “Once upon a time, there was a family having a picnic…”

Instead, ask leading questions: What kind of tree? What do the people feel? Who are those people? Is that man hiding a secret? Why is he looking in that direction? What are the kids playing with? Is this really a ball? What else could it be? Etc.

So now, a first sentence might be: “As a new CIA agent, Mr. Gu had been assigned to the country…” or “Far in the distance, an explosion disrupted our annual family gathering…”

This is the fun part! Your students will be so taken by their own imagination that they will forget this is an assignment they have to write in a foreign language.

STEP 7: SHARE. Share stories (in pairs, with younger grades, in front of the class, in a retirement home, in a children’s hospital…). Since each story is unique, all students will be engaged to see how their friends have used the same pictures in a different order and how they manipulated the elements in the drawings.

So, how is this project not time consuming? All in all, it takes two class periods. One for the teacher to present the project, one for the students to present their project. Everything else is homework! Easy for the teacher, fun for the students and impressive for your boss! A no-fail recipe. Bon appétit!

For more information click here to see Karine’s Power Point on this topic: Turn_Students_into_Authors

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