Project work: Letters to Father Christmas (2)

Dear Santa,
I'm writing to tell you what I want for Christmas.
I want an iPhone6 (484 GBP on Amazon.co.uk). I need one. My Mum says that I don't need one and that I have to wait (several YEARS!!!) but lots of other people in my class have got a smartphone and I feel left out.
An Apple Watch (the 42mm Stainless Steel Case with Milanese Loop, 610 GBP on Amazon) would be cool, too.
I've worked really hard this year! It's true that I've failed a few subjects at school (OK, a lot if you count things like sports and music and social sciences) so I'll be happy with just the phone. And some chocolate.
Thanks.
I'm SO EXCITED about this!!!!!!
Desmond (8)
PS Please DON'T get me an iPhone5 !!!!

Assuming that your class enjoyed Part 1 of the project suggested last week, and that you ended up with a nice collection of random objects, here's Part 2, as a follow-up.

This works best if you make no reference to Part 1, so you perhaps want to let a couple of weeks pass by so that Part 1 has been forgotten before starting Part 2.

Part 2 is quite straight-forward. Your learners have to (1) invent a character who is going to (2) write a letter to Father Christmas to say what s/he'd like for Christmas; the letters should then be (3) shared with everyone else in some way (see below).

You probably want to provide an example of such a letter, as shown above.

Writing the letters
You could have your learners work individually or you could have them work in pairs or threes (and because pair- and groupwork leads to more interaction and more speaking, I like to do virtually everything in class in that fashion).

Having you learners start individually but then pool their ideas and pick the best to work on one letter between each pair/group also works well.

Sharing the letters with the rest of the class
If you're strictly low-tech (though, nowadays, are your learners?), you could have printed versions of the letters displayed on a classroom wall.

But it's surely way more interesting to share the letters digitally in some way, so that everyone gets to read everyone else's, and comment on them. If you've had your learners collaborate on writing them, with one letter from each pair or three, we're not necessarily talking about a lot of letters.

Among the alternatives:

  • A class blog on which all your learners are authors (and can therefore create new posts), in which case you can keep things tidy (important!) by ensuring everyone uses the same "label" (e.g. "Letters to Father Christmas"). My recommendation would be Blogger, rather than WordPress or other similar tools
  • An Edmodo group, with the letters being published there directly as new "notes" (or posts, as they'd be called on Facebook). If they're collaborating on writing the letters, they might find it easiest to use shared Google Drive documents and then copy and paste from there to Edmodo — which in turn then makes it easier for others to comment on the letters
  • With adults, I'd recommend a private G+ Community, rather than Edmodo

Fun with adults
Friends and colleagues have been doing this project for the last couple of years in schools but I think you'll find it works with adults, too, no matter how long it is since they last wrote a letter to Santa!

Note in the example letter, above, how "Desmond" has been given an age. Part of the secret of getting such creative writing ideas to work is to help your learners be creative, to help them see some of the possibilities that are there. You are there to help with the language but help them generate the ideas, too. That's just as important!

For Part 3, and to see what this has to do with the random pictures we took in Part 1, come back next week!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Amazing photo and video for a fun creative writing task

Here's a creative writing activity — or digital storytelling if you like to be modern — that went down well when I tested it on three willing teenagers and which we posted earlier today, along with two other similar activities on our Spanish teacher training blog (content in Spanish):

To really appreciate the photo in the tweet there, you perhaps really need to see the other photos in this Huffington Post article (and see the amazing video, below).

I'd recommend doing this in groups of at least 5, with one person being the Queen sitting there in the photo and the other members of the group being people that live and work in the castle (which you can just about see there on her knee — and see also the article mentioned above).

Stages of the activity
(1) Discuss and pick who should be Queen (there were only four of us and I finished up being the Queen (!) but in a bigger class I wouldn't want to do that).

(2) The "workers" should answer the following questions individually:

  • What's your name?
  • What's your job?
  • What effect do the mushrooms have (see article, or the video below, for the images)
  • Is the Queen good or bad — and why?
  • What hidden secret do you have which — until now — you have never told anyone?

(3) Whole class — or with the class divided into however many groups you have — get together, in the presence of the Queen, to discuss the answers, and keep and/or iron out any contradictions as well as making any additions to the story desired.

(4) Write (or record) and share — and comment — on the different versions of the story.

Tools for the activity
With only 4 of us, we in fact did this in a shared Google Drive document, though it would work excellently on a class blog — one on which all your learners are authors — with each "worker" writing their story as a post, with text and images (their own!) as desired and/or audio versions (with Spreaker being my preferred tool for that).

On a blog, you could then get the Queen to "comment" (something which I did, as the Queen, in comments inside the Drive document). You want comments in this kind of activity — comments give you more interaction, more use of language!

In a bigger class, within the groups, you could pair people to tell their story-within-a-story — as husbands and wives living in the castle.

Fun!

How it was made…

Into the Gloaming (Episode One) from Alexia Sinclair on Vimeo.

Amazing…!

Great idea for a follow-up digital storytelling project

VW Microbus

Another photo from a shop window | Photo: Kim

Here's a photo that Kim sent me after she'd tried out an idea for digital storytelling that worked quite well in one of her classes.

Kim says:

I thought you might like this [photo, above]. The project worked well but not superbly (my class are kind of complicated!) If it had worked better, it might have been fun to do a second part to the story — the sequel!

I love the photo, Kim, and the idea is great! My experience with this sort of project is that people often say "Can we do another project like that?" Always say "yes!" when they say things like that 😉 !

A sequel or prequel is a great idea. In this particular case, you might suggest the two VWs meet on the journey back (see the original diagram, here): your story is in who the passengers were and what happened when they met.

Thanks also to Ashley for feedback, via Twitter:

I replied:

It helps, of course, if teachers are creative, too!

Various other people have provided feedback on this one (Alicia, Esther, Jordi A…): thank you all.

If you do try out any of the ideas you find here, I love to hear how they went!

Fun collaborative writing task: St George and the VW microbus

VW microbus

In a shop window…

Here's just a quick idea for a digital storytelling project: Kim asked me to suggest a fun writing task ("Is that an oxymoron?" some of the teens in her class might have thought… 😉 ! )

In Catalonia, we celebrate St George's Day (known here as Sant Jordi) and in many schools they include writing competitions as part of the events, so this one had to be related — to be done with 15-16 year olds.

The VW microbus model in the image was in a shop window here in Barcelona and the aging hippy in me had to have a photo of it. I then suggested it as the starting point of the story, of which we provided the learners with the barest of bones, including this very rough one-minute sketch:

rough sketch

The story
This was how the story has been presented to the learners, who have to complete it, in groups, by Thursday:

A person (man…? woman…?) leaves Town A (why…?), driving a VW microbus to go to Town B (in what country…? how far away…?), traveling over mountain roads, as per the sketch. On the way s/he picks up various other travelers (how many fit in a VW…?) who are trying to get to (where…? why…?).

One of the people is St George, one is a dragon (not necessarily a real dragon, possibly a very fiery little old lady, for example…)

We don't know anything else: you have to fill in all the missing details, each of you in your groups being one of the travelers, writing your own version of the same story.

My thinking was that this would be an ideal project for a class blog but would also have worked well on Tackk if you don't have a blog you already use with your class. Tackk is super easy to use, though you'd need one person to post all the different stories there, or else all use the same login.

A nice simple alternative would be to use shared Google Drive documents.

The original plan was:

  1. One lesson (50 minutes) working the story/stories out in groups (varying in size from 5 to 7, approx.), with as much help with vocabulary and ideas as possible coming from the teacher
  2. Writing the stories up at home, with as much collaboration as possible (Google Drive, Skype, WhatsApp… more or less whatever tools the learners wanted to use for that)
  3. One lesson, in class, putting the finishing touches to the stories, reading everyone else's stories, commenting on them, presenting them, getting feedback on the project, etc.

Learners sometimes — often! — say they "hate" writing (these learners said that last week!) but such projects are fun to do once you get people into them.

I think I'd in fact rather do such things than anything else in a language classroom.

Digital storytelling dolls and LegoMen

dolls0315

You've taken and shared the photos, now tell the story… | Photos: Esther and Class 3D

Esther tells me she had a lot of fun with this idea, which started out with teens using their smartphones to take photos of dolls, LegoMen, PlayMobil figures (hugely popular in Spain), Action Men, teddy bears or whatever they could find either at home or in shop windows.

Esther says:

Once we had lots of photos, we pooled them and I let the students pick whichever "characters" they wanted. The photos were all over the place, including on phones and Facebook but eventually one student had access to them all and put them in a PowerPoint for us all to see.

Once we had that, I let them pick whatever characters they wanted and then, in pairs, they incorporated the characters into "stories". I've got this tremendous mix of levels in the same group so I gave them a lot of freedom: some of the "stories" were just simple dialogues, others much more complex, including several PowerPoint stories, one a Prezi (probably not a good idea).

The "Cinderella" dolls [see image] were the most popular and produced some amazing stories!

Collecting the photos took about 10 days, which included two weekends (but note that it wasn't Esther doing that!) and the learners had a week in which to present the finished story in some form, with some being printed, some being shared digitally.

For a mixed ability group (and possibly for any group), allowing the learners leeway on their choice of tools and the actual format of the story — dialogue, poem, "proper" story, etc. — is a great idea.

A single place to post the photos to would probably have been a good idea (that was my fault, Esther 😉  ).