Since our students are busy with other classes, and in many cases jobs and families, it’s often hard for Cara and I to find enough time with them to do all the activities we dream up. But when we’re given that time in the school schedule, it’s a great opportunity—like Cara’s English Week in Salgueiro, or in this case, my Encontro de Língua Inglesa at UPE. (The event happen at UPE, but also included students from the IF and FACAPE, and interested community members.)
One of the things I was happiest about that week was the breadth of activities: we had everything from academic lectures and pedagogical lessons to dancing, singing, poetry, films and baseball games (check out the whole program!). Language learning is so dynamic because virtually any kind of activity can be relevant and valuable by incorporating the language or its culture.
For example, Cara’s hip hop dancing workshop breaks out of the “language classroom” model but accomplishes many of the same goals: the students practiced listening comprehension (her directions were all in English), they learned some important vocabulary (left and right, body parts, movements, etc.), and they got a direct cultural experience with a specific kind of American music. Cara even incorporated some sports culture into the dance choreography—baseball and basketball moves! I think that as English Teaching Assistants, this out-of-the-classroom kind of language instruction is often our forté. For the most part, I leave the grammar lessons to the experts—the trained professors—and augment those lessons with baseball games, dance classes, an English chorus, and any other kind of activity I can imagine to bring the language to life.
Which brings me to the part of the week that I concocted completely from scratch: the Tour of Washington, DC. The activity was organized like a huge scavenger hunt for the whole group: after an introductional lecture about the District, I split them into five teams (with US state names) and directed them to visit each of five “attractions”: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Newseum. Each of these attractions had a room of its own, with a projection of the silhouette of the building and at least three activities, plus a discussion question, posted on the walls. Examples of activities included: filling out the blanks in the lyrics of “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock, completing a George Washington wordsearch, finding world headlines on the Newseum website, and writing three questions to ask President Obama if you had the lucky chance of running into him at his favorite burger joint, Ray’s Hell Burger. Upon completing at least two activities per room (taking into account that some activities would require too high a language level for some students), everyone had to return to the auditorium to complete an entry in the DC Guest Book.
I still love the entire concept of this activity, and now that I’ve prepared all the materials, its replicability is extremely attractive. However, I also learned some really valuable lessons that will improve the Tour in the future. You can see those thoughts below (click “continue reading” at the end of the post). I also hope anyone who participated will send their reactions and feedback to me.
Before this post gets too long, I’ll mention one more wonderful aspect of the English Week programming: we were lucky to have a great diversity of guest professors. My students already know Cara but are always happy to see her again, and they also got the chance to meet Laraine (our English Language Fellow in Petrolina) and Rafaela (the wonderful English professor at the Instituto Federal). In addition, we coordinated the final English Festival to coincide with the visit of five English teachers from Texas A&M University, who had been traveling in Pernambuco giving workshops to English teachers in the public schools and universities. If anything, I know my students learned one new word in English Week: “howdy!”
We’re about to go on winter break here in Petrolina, and I’m heading to meet my parents in Rio, but UPE’s English Week was a wonderful way to finish the semester: having planned an entire week of activities for over 100 students, I have some real successes and lessons learned to file away for next semester’s adventures.
See my pictures from the week here!
Changes to the Tour of DC:
- Ideally, in the future I would like to have a “tour guide” in each room: a teacher to introduce the building, explain some of the activities if necessary, and keep the students active in the room. As much as I tried to make this an activity with minimal teacher direction in the actual moment, it would have been better organized with someone in each room who knew what was going on.
- Activities like these definitely need some kind of prize at the end: maybe 2 completed activities per room would earn an entry into a raffle.
- When I revise these activities for the next time, I want to make an effort to include more minorities’ and women’s history. I did have an activity on the Civil Rights Movement in the Lincoln Memorial room, and a discussion question about the significance of a black family in the White House, but the Tour was lacking in women’s history. Also, I have noticed that the international image of the US tends to be of a black and white society, without much acknowledgment of the important and still growing presence of Latino Americans, Asian Americans, etc. The Tour could be a good place to start breaking down this black/white image.
- I really enjoyed having an element of continuity through the week—which is something I don’t often get, with sporadic classes and shifting attendance. This week, though, I loved making connections between activities: for example, on the afternoon before the DC Tour, I showed “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary about education, which in large part focuses on the DC school district. Those students who attended both activities were able to see two different kinds of stories about the capital that day. If I were to do the week again, I think I would make that connection more explicit for the students.
More feedback? Please send me an email at seawaite @ gmail.com.