Nov 012020
 

I’m very interested in using virtual reality environments for teaching ESP (English for Specific Purposes) or ESAP (English for Specific Academic Purposes). However, the problem is that it would take a lot of time, effort and cost to develop such course in a virtual world from scratch. This is one of the reasons, I believe, why even after so many years, there are still only a handful of language educators in virtual worlds.

My approach in the past, therefore, was to use existing places (in Second Life) to teach English, rather than buying land, learning to built and script, etc. This wasn’t and isn’t feasible for most teachers.

So, when I came across this video from Arizona State University on Linkedin a couple of weeks ago, I was really excited, not because of Hollywood, but because I think some of us educators might be able to piggyback on this kind of thing. For example, they want to use the world shown in the video to teach biology. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the language department could use the same world to teach EAP or ESAP. I assume that language departments around the world don’t have the budget to build immersive virtual environments such as this one just to teach an English for Biology, or Architecture, Medicine or History course. However, if a university can built virtual reality environments for certain subjects, we language teachers could use the same material or course content and create a language course and activities for that subject area. This would not only save money, time and effort, but it would help integrate the language learning with the international students’ subject courses and support them better.

As I also like project-based learning, I could imagine another type of collaboration between different departments and subject areas. Many universities now offer degrees in Virtual and Augmented Reality, and often students have to work on projects developing VR environments or apps as part of their portfolio for assessment. Some projects could be on building environments or apps for the language department. Or an interdisciplinary collaboration could bring VR development students together with EdTech and TESOL students (like I was) and have them work together on VR for language education projects – a win-win-win situation for the students from the two disciplines and the university.

(For more details about the ASU project, go here.)

Oct 302020
 
Bestias11

Cave paintings – One of the first means of visual storytelling?

Storytelling is probably as old as humans existence.* All good storytellers try to immerse their audience in their realistic or fantastic stories, bring their characters to life and generate emotions in their listeners by all kinds of means: simply using their voice, describing a scene, making accompanying sounds with any kinds of instruments available, dressing up, playing suitable tunes, showing images or films, and using all the other tricks of the storyteller’s trade.

Can we then agree that VR technology is simply a continuum of what has existed for a long time and just allows us to use another technique (or trick) to help us feel present – immersed – in a world that is not our current physical world? Perhaps there is one important difference, though: in an interactive VR environment or virtual world, we are not just told an immersive story, we can actively take part in it, which can contribute to the feeling of really experiencing something – even more, creating an experience – rather than just being a ‘consumer’ of a story. Imagine just watching a film versus being able to jump into a scene and interact with everything in it and thereby impacting on and changing the story!

If storytelling has such an important place in human existence and experience, and VR can help us make stories more immersive, experiential and participatory, we need to keep this in mind when using VR in education and planning lessons or immersive experiences that we hope will lead to better learning. If we could manage to convey our learning content as stories, that would be a great success. This is not a new idea, of course, but one that is particularly important when using VR technology, for which immersion is cited as one of the main raisons d’être. 

When we take our learners to a location in an immersive VR app or virtual world so they feel more immersed, for example to a café to practise ordering food, and we tell our students, ’Today we will practise ordering food in a café’, we’d be taking away from the immersive experience. It’s the same as telling students in a physical classroom, ‘Today, we’re going to practise using modals for politeness’. How engaging is that? How much positive emotional engagement will this create?

Instead, we can in many cases pack the grammar point or functional language into a kind of story. So, for example, before the café lesson, tell a simple story: ‘Today is my birthday, so I’d like to take you all to a café […] Let’s go!’ You can make your story as short or as elaborate as you want. Depending on your context, the length of time available and how your course and lessons are set up, you could really go into it with more preparation before the VR session to raise expectations, increase motivation, and spark your learner’s imagination right from the start. You could show them a picture of the place you want to take them too. Tell them it’s one of your favourite places and why. Perhaps tell them what kind of foods and drinks they offer in that place, when it opened, what makes it special. Elicit from them what kind of foods and drinks they like, where they usually like to go to celebrate, etc.

Another example: Let’s say the lesson is about learning/reviewing the names of colours. How can you introduce this lesson better than saying, ’In this lesson, you will learn/review the names of colours’?

How about saying, ‘I’m planning a party. I want to decorate my room. Look, here are balloons. Which  colour do you like best?’ Or ‘Give me the red ballon’, or ‘Where is the blue ballon?’, etc., depending on what language your learners already understand or can use. At the end, you can say, ‘Thank you for helping me decorate my room’ and ‘You’re all invited to my party’.

So, as you can see, making a lesson into a story does not need to be difficult or time-consuming. You don’t even have to change your lesson plan, just introduce it slightly differently and embed it in a simple story.

Of course, there is a lot more to storytelling. The best stories are those that are created and told by learners themselves. For some ideas for this, have a look at my blog post ‘Photography and storytelling lessons in virtual reality‘. 

*If you want to learn more about the development of storytelling from cave paintings to VR technology, you might want to check out this free online course by the University of Lancaster, which has a unit on the history of VR.

Oct 272020
 

As a (former) photographer, I love using images in language classes, so I really like the snapshot function in Second Life. You can download snapshots, or send them directly as email. This is like when you travel and send emails with updates to family and friends. Being able to do this while you’re still in the virtual world makes the experience feel more immerse than saving the snapshot and writing the email after leaving the virtual world. It is also a more authentic activity for many people now who like to take a snapshot with their smartphone when they are out and about and immediately share it via a messenger app or social media.

I used this functionality of SL a lot when teaching there. It gives learners the opportunity to share something they have experienced with their family and friends  – just like they would if they were on a trip or holiday. Also, it gives them a real reason and motivates them to use the language as they do want to share what they have experienced – there is an emotional connection.

Even if the virtual world you use does not have a camera/snapshot function, learners can always take a screenshot (just beware of permissions and copyright issues, particularly if the images are to be shared publicly (I blogged about this in the past, but I’m not sure whether anything has changed in the meantime). I have to find out whether it is possible to take snapshots or screenshots in VRs when using a headset!

Using these snapshots in a story is another possibility. Learners can be asked to create and write stories. They can enhance their stories with snapshots they have taken. This could be made into a project-based activity by having groups of learners co-create and write a story and publish it as a blog post or even a simple ebook, which they can then share with others.

Another possibility for a project-based activity using VR snapshots is creating comics or cartoon stories, using one of the many comic creation tools that are available online. This was made with Canva.

(Images taken in the Village of Ahiru http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Ahiru/95/103/29)

Oct 252020
 
Now you’re thinking this is either clickbait or an arrogant person writing. But it’s neither…well perhaps a little of the former 😉 I’ve had many roles in my professional life starting from photographer, digital imaging editor, to teacher, to digital course materials designer, teacher trainer, content and copy editor, and my new and equally exciting role as research program manager. Once I tasted teaching and the feelings that if brings with it, though, I’ve always felt I needed to go back to the classroom after a break. When I’m not in the classroom, I miss teaching. I miss MY students – past, present and future. When I’m asked what I do, my spontaneous answer is always ’I’m a teacher’, then I might add other roles. Full-time teaching drains me, and I also like working on different things and then when ready, go back and give my full in the classroom again. Thinking about it, all the other roles either help me to be a better teacher or help others to be better teachers too. I’ve been long feeling the need to write this blog post, but what triggered it today was this music video. I was looking for something to listen to while writing some other blog posts, but when I read the singer’s comment, I had to write this now. Here’s a summary of the comment (which is the first one under the video if you want to read it yourself in Turkish or using a translation service): At secondary school the singer wasn’t good at school and thought even of giving up on his life. Then came his hero, his geography teacher, into his life. His teacher used to ask him frequently to sing this song for him and would praise him and take time to chat with him. This treatment motivated him to work harder and do better at school, just to please his teacher. One day his teacher and his wife visited them in their house in a poor area of Istanbul. He listened to his teacher praising him to his parents and telling them about all his positive sides, which he wasn’t aware about himself. They then told them about their ideas of how they would like to support me or how the parents should support him (I didn’t understand this part well). Their good relationship continued until the teacher was transferred to another city. But thirty years later, his teacher saw him as a successful artist and send him a message via social media, so they’re in touch again. Although many students have told me that I was ‘the best teacher I’ve ever had in my life’, I’ll often think they just want to me nice to me. I don’t think or am aware that I had such a great impact on anyone’s life, but I think every teacher in their heart hopes this to be the case. I don’t think many of us would secretly or openly hope and dream to be remembered for having taught a specific grammar point or piece of knowledge or skill. I think deep down we want to have a positive impact on our students lives, something that changes their lives to the better, something that brings out the good in them, something that makes them believe in themselves…perhaps even something that goes beyond that and we hope they in turn will go ahead and have a positive impact on others, on the world. Of course, we have to be good at what we’re teaching, but the people we’re teaching or training (if we are trainers) need to feel that most of all we care for them – whatever their background is, whoever the are, no matter how good or bad they are at what we’ve been teaching them, no matter how much they like or dislike our subject, or how much of a nuisance they are in the classroom, and no matter how much or how little they have been able to pay us…Show them you CARE for them! In return, they will care for you, for your subject, for their lessons, their grades, for improving, and they will REMEMBER and care for OTHERS. I remember a lot of my students and frequently think about them. The adult technician I lost my patience with once due to his constant complaints and disruptions, and sent out of class…then regretted it…This was a professional with his colleagues in the same class and we were in their work place! What was I thinking?! After class, I went to see him and apologised, but he said I was right. We talked a bit and developed some mutual understanding. It was my early days as a teacher and I developed a better understanding of adult learners after this incidence. After that, he was great to have in class and was very nice when me met after class too. The vocational high-school student who persevered as the only one of his class until the end in the extra weekend lessons I was providing them with, despite having to work after school. And he made it! Got the job he wanted, has been travelling the world and doing other great stuff. And I’m still following him on social media and it makes me happy. The problematic pre-sessional student who was always late, dressed oddly, never wanted to work with anyone except two more mature students, and who I’m ashamed to say I started dreading to see. It turned out her parents had been putting extreme pressure on her so she had left home young to study abroad in different countries, had had difficult times and had to become mature and develop confidence early in life. My attitude towards her changed and seeing and feeling that I cared made her change towards me and the class too. The future engineering students who had been learning English for many years without much success felt demotivated and felt they’d never learn English and it was all so complicated. I showed them a visual overview of a seemingly complicated grammar point that I had created for MYSELF when I was learning English. And the least hopeful, least interested and most naughty (to a point that made me feel uneasy sometimes to have him around) looked up, his face brightening up and understanding showing in his eyes and exclaiming: ’Teacher, this is so clear, so easy! I understand this!’ The retiree student I had once in Germany who was mostly taking the English classes as a hobby and to keep herself occupied with interesting things. I’d often just go for a walk with her with my notepad and pen in my pocket. We’d walk and talk and I’d take some notes. Back in my flat, I’d provide her with a bit of feedback. But she was a religious person, so the best help I provided her with was to suggest she joins the Anglican Church in our town, which she did. She became a very active member and once she invited me to her birthday to which the pastor and other community members were invited too. Not only did her English improve considerably, but she had made new friends and found a new role in her life. The pre-sessional student who I thought was the least interested, who wrote to me to ask whether he could keep in touch by email and since has been updating me infrequently but regularly on his studies, progress, achievements… There is one student, however, I also remember but with sadness. He was one of the students who I was providing with extra English classes and who was graduating from a vocational high school. They were being interviewed by a prestigious company for internship placements. The school had invited me to show me their school and sit in on the interviews if I wanted to. When I arrived, they had just finished interviewing this one student. The interviewer told me he hadn’t performed well, he lacked confidence and so wasn’t chosen. I then found out from his main teachers that he felt ashamed of his family background. Because of this, he had no self-confidence. He was one of those quiet students in my class, the kind that is neither distracting nor very well-performing, so don’t generally catch our attention. To this day, I regret not having learned more about his background before and helped him built self-respect and confidence, and not having acted on that fateful day for him. I could have asked to conduct an interview with him myself, or I could have at least talked to him and told him that his family deserves respect for feeding them and sending him to school, and that he deserves respect for being a good student. I haven’t seen him or any of the other students again. It was the end of school and my course. I hope he has overcome his lack of self-respect and lack of confidence and made it to where he wanted to get and is happy. I wish I had been THE person, the TEACHER who helped him with this, and who he would remember later in his life, like the musician, whose story about his teacher’s impact on him above made me finally write this blog post. My students have impacted on me a lot and they have helped me become a better teacher…and for some, perhaps I am really their best teacher. Now the song above is a sad one and it fitted the singer’s mood back then, but I want to leave you with a more upbeat song. This impromptu performance is not only mood raising and makes me smile, it also shows the artist’s skill, and his personality comes through: I’m eager to hear your stories. Why are you the best teacher? Which students and moments do you remember?
Oct 112020
 

Stereoscope (AM 605697-1)

A stereoscope from World War I times

Did you always want to know what Virtual Reality exactly is? Or you are not sure what the difference between AR, VR, MR and XR is? How old is VR do you think? Would you like to know about the history of it? Do you know in which industries VR is used and how it might develop in the future? What are the benefits of using VR? Can using VR be dangerous? What ethical implications could creating VR environments or apps have?

If you are interested in the answers to these question and more, and have a few spare hours, there are some good (free) short online courses you can take. Here are two to get you started:

1. The University of Lancaster Institute of Coding offers a two-week course on FutureLearn called Introduction to Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality. The course is very accessible and there is just enough information if you only have a couple of hours and want a brief introduction. But there are lots of extra links to articles, websites and even development tools if you want to dig a bit deeper. You can also take your time to reflect about the information and questions, and add comments to interact with other course participants. Some comments are really insightful or help you to look at things from a different perspective. You get a free digital upgrade too, and can download and share your certificate on Linkedin and elsewhere. The topics that are covered are:

  • The fundamentals of XR (VR, AR and MR)
  • The ethics surrounding the creation of XR applications
  • Careers/pathways in and skills in XR
  • The technologies and tools in creating XR projects

2. If you have access to Linkedin Learning (You need to have a Premium account or your institution subscribes to it, or you can sign up for a 30-day trial), you can take the course Virtual Reality Foundations by Craig Barr. The learning objectives are:

  • What is virtual reality?
  • Types of virtual reality
  • Using virtual reality in business, filmmaking, AEC, and more
  • Developing VR content
  • The future of VR

The topics covered are similar to the one above, but it’s worth going through both courses as they look at things from different angles or provide different examples. From what I have seen, in the FutureLearn courses comments are generally more elaborate because you are frequently asked reflective questions. If you start on a specific start date, you also feel part of a learning community and not like just watching a series of video lecturers on your own as it often is with Linkedin Learning courses. Of course there is nothing to stop you from forming a community with like-minded people and working your way through a Linkedin course together and discussing the content as you go. Linkedin Learning allows you to download and share your certificate on your Linkedin profile and feed too.

So, what interests you in VR? What do you think of its potential? How would you like to use it?

Oct 092020
 

It’s been eight years since I left the 3D virtual word of Second Life after a few years of experimenting with teaching English, co-creating the SLExperiments groups for teachers interested in language education in SL, and conducting teacher training!

Daffodil in her house in the virtual world of Second Life

Daffodil in her seaside house, November 8, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I decided it was time to go back. Daffodil was a bit cross with me for abandoning her, but we made up and are friends again. She still dresses much better than I, that hasn’t changed. But her movements have become a bit clumsy now and it takes her longer to do things, such as adjusting her camera view, rezzing an object, finding stuff in her inventory, etc. She lost her beautiful house at the seaside, too. Well actually, she’s still got the house and furniture in her inventory she said, but nowhere to set it up and settle. So, she was basically just sitting in a corner of a forest, where I had left her (OK, I do feel a bit guilty now…). She told me she kept all our teaching tools and objects, lesson notes, landmarks of interesting places…however, many of the locations don’t exist any longer. How sad is that? Well, she said when you live in a virtual world, you kinda get used to things appearing, being changed or moved, and then disappearing. That’s virtual life for you, she said… Well, it’s not much different in my world either I told her…at which point she took me to a place where she had the right to rez objects, and rolled out our favourite carpet with comfortable cushions, tea glasses and some (to my dismay virtual) food, and we sat down and told each other about our lives in the past eight years in our respective worlds…

When everyone was ‘Zooming’ in the past couple month since this ‘p’ thing has happened to the real world and schools, universities, businesses, and socialising moved online, my mind kept going back to my Second Life times. As a blended and online learning professional, I know you can have great teaching and learning experiences online, whether in synchronous sessions using video conferencing tools or asynchronously. However, when most of our lives move online, learners and teachers might benefit from a more immersed experience when working, learning or socialising. There are many more good reasons, but those are for other posts.

Daffodil wearing a VR headset

I told Daffodil that I was going to start exploring virtual reality for language learning and teaching purposes again, but that this time it wouldn’t just be in Second Life but also other worlds, and that I was planning to use VR headsets too. At which point she jumped up from her cushion and got all excited. ‘I have one, I have one’ she said, and started fiddling in her inventory. I was puzzled. ‘What do you mean you have one?’ – ‘I have a VR headset, wait…’, and there she took it out of her inventory and put it on. I didn’t know what to say. How could I explain to her that this didn’t make sense? ‘Look, you’re an avatar, you are already in a virtual word, you don’t need a VR headset to feel immersed in it.’ – ‘How do you know how I feel?’ she said, visibly hurt. Oh dear…I offended my avatar, and she was right too! Nobody had prepared me for this kind of situation, so I decided I’d best change the subject.

‘So, as I said, I’ll be visiting other worlds. You know, I found out there’re loads of them’ – “Great! I was getting bored here, I’ll come with you and we’ll explore them together, just as we did here back then! So when are we starting? What do you think shall I wear…comfortable clothes and shoes I guess? Right? Why aren’t you saying anything?’ – ‘Eh, I don’t think that’ll be possible. Unfortunately, avatar’s can’t just travel from one virtual world to another. I’d really love to take you with me. You know in some of the worlds they don’t even allow you to customise your avatar; you have to choose one they offer and you’re stuck with that look. Can you imagine? It’ll really be difficult for me to feel immersed in a world when I look like a robot or animal, and even worse, like a human but completely different from what I look like or would like to look like. I know there’re people who don’t mind this at all, but I do…So, really, I wish I could take you with me…Perhaps one day, one day it will be possible…’

There she was looking upset again…’Look, wherever I go, I’ll take notes and pictures and I’ll come back and report to you. How’s that? I might even try to rent a plot of land here where you can set up your lovely house again, hm, hm?’–  ‘Now, that’s an offer! Then, I’d allow you to stay and use the house too sometimes… and sometimes we could go on field trips again and attend conferences together, like in the old times!’ – ‘Yes! Absolutely. That’s how we’ll do it!’

And so both of us were happy and excited about phase two of our virtual reality for language education explorations!

Bring it on!

Sep 272020
 

Every year, teachers on EAP pre-sessional courses are observed. As teaching took place online this summer, we were given two options:

  • being observed live
  • recording our session.

I decided to record my session.

Good reasons for recording

Time

The pre-sessional courses are very intensive and the online format being new, I wasn’t sure I’d have time to choose a lesson, write the lesson plan and send it to the observer in advance, which was a requirement for live observed lessons. Whereas, if we chose recording, it was possible to send the lesson plan together with the recording.

Possibility of tech failure

There’s always the possibility that the technology might fail. The internet connection might get interrupted, the platform might cause problems, the observer might have issues joining at their end…In the worst case, this would mean preparing another detailed lesson plan and spending another couple days worrying about it (see my next point).

Nerves 

This was my tenth year  of teaching a pre-sessional course, but although after each of my observed lessons I was told in the feedback that I looked calm and under control, I still feel nervous even after so many years. I’m a very confident teacher, but it simply feels unnatural to have another teacher sitting in the back of the classroom (or just being present in the live online session), observing and taking notes – no matter how nice they are.

Disruptiveness of observation

There’s a kind of intimacy and trust relationship between the students and the teacher. I’m very good at establishing trust and rapport in the classroom. However, when a third person – an outsider – comes in, the dynamics can change. If that person was participating in the lesson, it would be less awkward, and I do try to involve them just a little bit, but generally they’ll just be there in silence and focusing on their observation. In a live online session, they can be less intrusive by keeping their camera and microphone switched off. However, if they join the breakout rooms with just two to four students in each, it is even more disruptive than in the physical class.

Drawback of recorded sessions

If breakout rooms are used, the observer can move between the rooms in a live observed lesson. However, if the lesson is recorded, there isn’t much to watch/observe for the observer because only the main room is recorded and for most of the lesson, when everyone would be working in the breakout rooms, they would only see a black screen and hear nothing, at least this is how it was in MS Teams.

As I was using MS Teams and  breakout rooms  for the first time, I wanted to have feedback on how effectively I managed the class and the technology, including monitoring the groups, opening the shared Word docs each group was going to work on, etc… I had found a way that I thought was good, but I didn’t know how everyone else was doing it and whether there was a more effective or efficient way of managing the class, so feedback was important.

My solution

The tech team told me there was no way to record all the activity within MS Teams. So, I decided to record the main room as usual, and I asked students to record their breakout sessions (which one group did). This was just a backup solution. At the same time, to capture everything I was doing, I recorded my screen with Quicktime and send this to the observer.

The result

Recording the session in this way worked very well. I was much less worried and nervous before and during the ‘observed’ lesson because if anything had gone wrong with the technology or the lesson itself, I could have recorded another session; it also wasn’t disruptive because no third person joined our session. And most of all, the observer was able to see everything I did, and I received good feedback.

Sep 212020
 

Every challenge brings with itself opportunities too. This year has certainly been very difficult for many people and I am aware of this. But perhaps because of this, it is even more important to take advantages of any opportunities that might arise in this situation. I’ve always wanted to attend the InnovateELT conference in Barcelona, but have never been able to. I was delighted to see that, like many other conferences, it was taking place online this year.

ELT Footprint, that I am a member of, organised a debate session at the conference, and I was one of the panelists. This gave me the opportunity to talk about a topic that I care for as an educator. The questions we were asked to answer and debate were:

  • How can we be agents of change for the future? 
  • What do you want the change to look like, and how might we get there?

Below is an extended version of my (originally 2-minute) talk.


If I could give one piece of advice to environmentalist teachers it would be:

Promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills, not your ideology!

This might sound a bit provocative, but let me explain…

I often see teachers who have just come across a ‘great’ video or article an important environmental issue that they like and that perhaps confirms their own environmental believes (or ‘ideology’), so they want to use it in their language class, through which they can teach certain language or grammar points, but with the ulterior motive to also persuade their learners to adopt the views on the environment the material puts forward.

Now is this wrong? Being in the midst of a climate crisis, shouldn’t we make use of every possible means to raise awareness of environmental issues in our classes? Yes, it’s absolutely fine to use such material in our classes, as long as we don’t present it as: THIS is the problem and THESE are the solutions.

Give students space to think and come up with their own reasoning and solutions. They might even surprise you, which what they come up with that you’d have never thought of!

If we want to prepare students for a future where they need to be able to tackle environmental (and other) issues and produce solutions — perhaps even to problems that don’t even exist yet — we need to teach them critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and not present them with ready solutions.

As we know, environmental solutions are not always that straightforward either. How many times did you think something was THE solution (e.g. switching to cloth bags instead of plastic bags, or a dairy-free lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint) only for someone to show you how environmentally damaging that is or what better solutions there are. Or perhaps, different solutions are needed for different countries, circumstances or times).

So, what I propose is to take a neutral, balanced approach in your lessons, keeping your own opinion to the end, for after students have had the chance to think about all sides of an issue and come up with their own solutions.

There is nothing wrong also with going into the classroom with questions rather than with answers or solutions. 

In fact, it can not only be liberating and less daunting for teachers who feel less confident about bringing up certain environmental issues because they don’t have sufficient knowledge about them, but it will also serve your students better, as such lessons willl be more motivating, more engaging, more meaningful and will have a more lasting impact.

So, how to do this in practice then?

You can take a completely low-tech / no-material approach, or at least do this in the beginning. Just come to class with an environmental problem (you have, that is common or that your learners can relate to) and pose a question. The lesson can be entirely based around this question and discussions, presentations, writing task and related pre-, while- and post-tasks. You can leave it at that, or you can then share some text, audio or video material that you found and would like to introduce here, making sure not to present it as the correct view, but one view. Your learners could then analyse the views, compare with their own, do research to find other views, etc. If you really feel strongly about an issue, you can then come clean at the end of the lesson, and tell your students how you feel about this particular issue.

Alternatively, you can present your learners with two different sources with opposing views. Here’s an example lesson plan for this type of lesson, based around two short videos: Bottled or tab water? This lesson also includes critical thinking questions that students need to learn to ask about information they’re presented with.

 

Dec 142019
 

Since United Nation Member States have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, a lot of work has gone into integrating these into school curricula, individual lessons, teacher training, etc.

Some of this work is also directly related to language teaching. Here’re some examples:

Book with lesson plans for each SDG

A book in the ‘Integrating…’ series by the British Council was published in 2017 with the title Integrating global issues in the creative English language classroom. Each chapter is devoted to one of the SDGs and includes lesson plans and activities around the particular SDG. As with the whole series, the book can be downloaded for free.

SDG and academic soft skills integrated EAP course kit

Develop EAP is a free course consisting of classroom material, slide sets, a VLE (Moodle) and assessment tools and can be used in university academic English courses, such as pre-sessionals. The content focuses on the SDGs and also teaches academic soft skills.It has won the 2017 ELTons Award for Innovation in Learner Resources. Read more about the course and download it.

Integrating SDGs and digital literacy skills

An interesting approach to integrating the SDGs into language learning and teacher training is taken by Owain Llewellyn, who created a website with training videos for teachers and lessons plans that both teach about the SDGs and digital literacies. It provides examples of how learners can improve their language skills and digital literacies skills while discussing SDGs and participating in hands-on activities to bring it all together. Owain explains the reason behind the website and the rationale for integrating these kills.

Individual lesson plans

Some teachers also share individual lesson plans that deal with the SDGs, for example a jigsaw listening activity by Jessica Mackay in which learners watch two different TEDtalks related to the SDGs, then share information and discuss the issues.

I am now also tagging my shared Sustainability Lessons and anything related to SDGs, such as this post, with ‘SDGs’ in general, or if they relate to specific ones: ‘SDG 3‘, SDG 6‘ , ‘SDG 11‘ etc.

Updates

I’ll update this blog post when I come across more lesson plans or resources related to the SDGs in language teaching. Please add anything you think should be listed here in the comments section, including your own lesson plans if you’ve shared them online.

Dec 082019
 

Bus stop waiting tube, Curitiba

Bus stop waiting tube, Curitiba

This (set of) lesson(s), or project, was originally developed for my English for City Planners class several years ago. I had visited Curitiba myself and was impressed, so I was hoping my students would like some of the sustainability ideas I was going to show them in the lesson and, ideally (idealistically?!), use some in their planning for our city. It was a face-to-face class, but because the participants were busy professionals, there’d always be some who missed lessons. As I was, at the same time, studying on my MA Educational Technology & TESOL course, I used the opportunity to build a website for this course for the Multimedia Design and Development module. It is called Sustainable Urban Planning! It is now, unfortunately, partly dysfunctional as some of the plugins I used for additional features, audio, quizzes, etc. haven’t been updated by their creators, and I don’t have the time to keep a website that is not being used up-to-date 🙁

The lesson plan below is adopted from this website for a general EAP class.


Lesson summary:

The lesson is planned around a video and a reading text with similar information about the same city — Curitiba. Students discuss qualities of a ‘best city’. They watch the video, compare and add ideas. Then they read a text and compare with their own ideas and those from the video and add any new ones. Finally, they write a text relating the information they have gathered to their own city/location, comparing the urban problems and solutions.

Duration: It’s a 90-minute lesson, but if extending it to a project or series of lessons is possible, there is extra material, which I will outline following the 90-minute lesson plan.

Context:

  • ESP students, in this case city planners in a city in Turkey (the full programme on the website);
  • International students on an EAP pre-sessional course at a UK university
  • EAP students in any preparatory programme.
  • ESAP students in in-sessional courses.

Localisation / Personalisation: The writing task makes it both personal and local.

Outcome:

  • Vocabulary: Learn/review and practice using vocabulary for sustainable urban planning / features or facilities in a city [extended version: presentation language; word  formation (word roots, prefixes and suffixes]
  • Listening for specific information an note-taking
  • Speaking skills: discussions at various stages [presentation skills in the extended version]
  • Reading skills: Reading for specific information
  • Academic skills: collecting, grouping and  synthesising relevant information
  • Writing: A short formal comparative text [a general English class, could write a less formal text, not from a perspective of a city planner, engineer, etc. but as a resident of a city].
  • Learning skills: Thinking about the rationale behind tasks and improving learning strategies/study skills. (These can be left out if you don’t want to focus on them in this lesson.)

Unexpected outcome (full version of the course): The city planners in my course were given the opportunity by the municipality they were working for to travel to another city. They had a list of places to choose from, but my students asked whether they could go to Curitiba, and they were granted their wish. Yay! They got in touch with the municipality of Curitiba, prepared their presentation about their city, visited Curitiba, talked with people from the municipality and city planners there, were shown around the city, and came back and reported in their department about it. The lead person was then given the opportunity to work on more international projects. I think this is the best outcome a teacher can hope for. Whether it had any impact on making our city more sustainable, I don’t know, but did lead to some sharing of information and ideas with both of the municipalities.

Materials:

  • Task worksheet: PDF for download here, but can be displayed instead of printed too (more environmentally friendly 😉 )
  • The video: City of Dreams (2006), on YouTube: How a Brazilian City Has Revolutionized Urban Planning, or watch on viewpure without distractions.
    (It’s from 2006, but the content is not outdated, I’d say. However, should it feel like that or disappear one day, I’m sure there’re similar videos and texts on Curitiba, or even other cities. I could also imagine that the video and text could be about different cities, as long as it is about tackling similar urbanisation issues.)
  • The text (source: Wikipedia): Download the PDF with images (4 pages) or PDF with plain text and word definitions (2 pages).

Stages

Task 1

Write ‘Best city in the world’ and/or ‘The city for the people’ on the board.And ‘qualities / features’

Ask: In your opinion, which qualities or ‘features’ would a city need to have to deserve the title “The City for People” or “Best City in the world”?
-> Compare with the teacher’s ideas. (Originally, I conducted an online poll amongst teachers and friends. You could use this or conduct your own pool with colleagues, friends and relatives.)

Can you group the qualities and features mentioned? What titles could you give these groups?

-> Compare with the teacher’s ideas.

Task 2

  • In a moment, you will watch a video about the city of Curitiba. Have you heard of Curitiba? Do you know where it is located? Find Curitiba on the map (Google Maps or any other map, perhaps a word map poster in your class).
  • Think about what you know about Brazil and Brazilian cities? Take notes if you want or talk about it with your partner if you are doing these tasks with someone.

Task 3

Before watching: The video is 15 minutes long and it is normal spoken English (not made for learners of English). Look at the task below. In order to do this task, will you need to listen in detail and understand everything?
Listening tip: For this task it will be enough to listen to keywords. The video images will also help you understand the context. Later, you will have a chance to look at some of the vocabulary from this video.

  • Watch the video and mark any of the qualities or features on your list from Task 1 if you hear them mentioned in the video:
    Which features have been mentioned? Have any other features been mentioned? If necessary, watch the video again.
  • Think about the following questions or talk about them with your partner. Take notes if you want:
    What is your first impression of Curitiba after watching the video? Would you like to visit this city? Would you want to live in such a city?
  • (Optional questions: Do you find it surprising that such a model sustainable city is located in a so-called developing country like Brazil? Why?/Why not?)

Task 4

  • The following words (see next page) are taken from the text that you are going to read. Think about 1) which of them you know the meaning of 2) which you are sure how to pronounce. You can work with a partner and discuss the words. Please, resist using the dictionary just for now ☺

(As EAP/ESP classes tend to be mixed ability and each student will come with a different level of knowledge and set of vocabulary they know, it is better not to pre-teach a list of vocabulary, but give them a task that makes them think about and discuss what they already know and what they’re not sure of or don’t know. This is more motivating and less tedious. Strategies for dealing with unknown words are introduced before the reading task.).

Before you move on, take a minute and think about why I might have asked you to do all the previous tasks before reading the text about Curitiba?
Reading tip: All of these pre-reading tasks activate your previous knowledge about the topic and the language and so prepare you for the text. This will help you understand the reading more easily than without any preparation.

 

Task 5

Reading tip: It might help you to focus your reading if you read the tasks first and know what information you will be looking for. — Also, look at the page layout, the title and the images. They all give you clues about the content of the text and can help you better understand it.

Reading tip: Try guessing the meaning of the words by looking at the text around it (=context) before looking it up and reading its definition. This will help you improve your reading comprehension skills and will make you a more autonomous user of English.

Vocabulary and pronunciation: When you are learning a new word, always also learn its pronunciation. This will help you understand it when you hear it and give you more confidence to use it when speaking. 

  • Read the Text.
  • Did this text provide you with more details or additional information to what you have learned from the video? You can add these to your list of qualities and features of Task 1.
  • In Task 1 , you grouped the qualities and features. Can you put the paragraphs from the text under those headings? Example: Traffic – paragraph 1, 2, (4), 5, 6, 9,14.
  • All of this sounds very good, doesn’t it? But is there anything that makes you think “Great, but …”? Write at least three Great, but… sentences or questions. Example: Great, but isn’t it expensive to maintain the parks? We will come back to this later.

Task 6

Curitiba has become a model sustainable city which is visited by many urban planning experts from other cities around the world who want to learn how Curitiba is solving its urbanisation problems.

Write a text comparing urbanisation problems and the measures taken in Curitiba with a city of your choice. Here are some questions that might help you:

  1. Are the developments and problems in both cities similar or different?
  2. Are the economies of the cities comparable?
  3. Are there cultural or other  differences that might make transferring solutions difficult or impossible?
  4. How could some of the projects be adapted to your city if not transferred as they are?

(Depending on the time, the writing can take place in the classroom and the teacher can monitor and offer help where needed. If possible, they should type it on their computers/tablets. Alternatively, students can handwrite and type it up later and copy to GoogleDocs if you have prepared one and share the link. GoogleDocs is great because everyone can see what others have written and add comments and feedback.)


Project extension

I’ll add these details and material soon:

  • More learning strategy tips.
  • Vocabulary and pronunciation review/practice and quiz
  • Vocabulary extension (word roots, prefixes and suffixes
  • Further videos on Curitiba to choose from individually depending on interest (traffic solutions, green areas, etc.) that expand on the information provided in the first video and texts, watch and collect information
  • Presentation language/preparation
  • Presentations