Getting teenagers to speak English can prove a challenge to many teachers. One way is to provide a context for real and meaningful communication. This article examines how a video exchange project can stimulate motivation and interest by providing such a context.
- Why an exchange project?
- Exchange and follow-up
- Evaluation and tips
Why an exchange project?
Exchange projects offer students many benefits:
- The opportunity for learners to communicate in a real and meaningful way about their interests
- The possibility to promote cross-cultural understanding/tolerance
- The opportunity to use a wide range of skills and language
- A variety of activities which accommodate different learning styles
- A change from 'routine' class work
- An increase in levels of motivation and enthusiasm
- A sense of achievement.
I was teaching a group of young learners aged 11-14 at upper-intermediate level who were following a course book. It was a 12-week course and even though I used a lot of supplementary material, after several weeks they were lacking motivation and enthusiasm. I needed something to 'spice up' the lessons. At around the same time our centre acquired a video camera and we were encouraged to make use of it. I decided to experiment with it and came up with the idea of a video exchange project.
The main factors I had to consider when planning the project were:
My students were Ukrainians and I decided on the general topic 'Aspects of Life in Ukraine'. This way the students had a framework but also some freedom of choice. We would send the video to other teenagers in a different country since they would find the content informative and this would promote meaningful communication. For the video, the students would present their information in pairs and each pair could speak for 2-4 minutes.
Finally, I worked out that we would need to divide the project into 3 stages; preparation, rehearsal and performance. This translated into 3 classes. After the exchange we would also need time to watch the other country's video.
I introduced the idea of the exchange project to the students and told them the general topic. Then in small groups they brainstormed different aspects of Ukrainian life. I put all these ideas on the board in the form of a spider gram. Some suggestions were: food and drink, school, entertainment, music, religion, famous sights, geography, extreme sports. In pairs, students then chose the topic which interested them most.
Students thought about what they wanted to include in their presentation and made notes using bullet points / lists. The reason I discouraged writing texts was because I wanted them to speak naturally and more freely in front of the camera. At this point I monitored the students to make sure that they didn't include too much information, and I helped with vocabulary. For some topics, geography for example, the students needed to do some research. However, I discouraged too much research because I wanted them to talk about what they already knew in their own words. When they spoke about what they knew they could focus more on delivery.
When students had decided on what information to include, they then joined another pair and shared their ideas. The other pair commented on the content, whether there was too much or too little, whether it was interesting, if there was anything missing etc. I simply monitored and encouraged full participation.
In their pairs, students then decided how they would present their information e.g. as a question/answer session, as a dialogue, simple presentation etc. They then made notes or prompt cards to remind themselves. I didn't allow them to write full sentences because I wanted the presentation to be natural.
Students then rehearsed in pairs and timed themselves. Then they rehearsed with different pairs and gave each other feedback. I monitored throughout and noted any hindrances to effective communication e.g. pronunciation difficulties, intonation, misuse of vocabulary or grammar.
When the students had rehearsed, they then worked in their pairs to decide on which props they would use in the filming e.g. flags, pictures, souvenirs, food items, even skateboards! They then brought these to the next class when we filmed the video.
I set up the video camera in a quiet room prior to the class. I decided against filming in the classroom to ensure audio quality and clarity. I took one pair at a time to the quiet room and gave them time to make themselves comfortable and arrange their props. Then I recorded them. I told them that I would only record them once. If they made a mistake they should just carry on. As a result, the recording didn't take a long time and the other students in the classroom didn't become too restless. In fact, they had another task to work on during the recording.
Naturally, the students wanted to watch themselves afterwards but I encouraged them to focus on the positive aspects.
Exchange and follow-up
I then posted the video to the other centre (in Portugal). When I received their video I watched it and prepared questions for the students. Some questions focussed on factual information e.g. geographical details and places of interest. Others were designed to raise awareness of similarities and differences between the two cultures e.g. the education system. Students were then invited to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the two systems and voice their opinions.
After watching the video I hoped that my students would be interested in communicating with the Portuguese students via e-mail. However, this didn't happen mainly because the other students were slightly older, but also because their recording quality was not good and it was difficult to understand what they were saying.
Evaluation and tips
On reflection, the exchange project was a success. The students performed well and the project gave them a sense of achievement. In addition, they gained knowledge of another country and culture. Most notable was the performance of the boys. In this class the girls usually outperformed the boys. This project gave the boys an opportunity to excel. However, the project could have been better organised to ensure greater success. In future I would
- Select an exchange group of the same age and level of English where possible.
- Work closely with the other teacher (this could be via e-mail) e.g. agree on topics together.
- Ensure audio quality and clarity. If the students can't hear or understand each other, they become frustrated or uninterested.
- Encourage a variety of presentation techniques e.g. interview or role-play and the use of interesting props (since video is primarily a visual medium).
- Discourage the reading of texts while filming because the students don't look at the camera or use body language. Similarly, discourage memorisation as this leads to unnatural speech
If you would like to find a partner school to do an exchange project with we can help. See the Global Gateway
Deborah Bullock, Teacher, British Council, Ukraine
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