At the seaside in Asturias | Photo: Isabel Walton
Below, the piece of writing my daughter (14) had to do for her English teacher this weekend, a task from a popular coursebook which asked the students to look at a model and then "Imagine you are on holiday. Write a postcard to a friend":
Greece is incredible! I'm having so much fun! The people I'm staying with are really nice and they have a beautiful huge white beach house in Santorini.
The weather is perfect. It's very sunny. Sometimes it's too hot but it's normally OK. At night there's always a gentle breeze that is very refreshing.
Here there are plenty of original tiny old shops that sell souvenirs, food, bracelets, clothes… I'll make sure I get you something before I leave.
Tomorrow we're going to a small sandy beach in a nice cosy village, in the seaside. I think it'll be great!
In bold, highlighted by my daughter, one of the language points that they were instructed to incorporate (and highlight).
My problem with the task is that it's just unrealistic. My daughter collects postcards but has never in her life written one to a friend while on holiday, nor is she ever likely to. And 14-year-olds, in my experience, aren't actually that interested in "nice cosy villages".
My daughter finished her "postcard" by saying:
The other day I was lying on the beach and suddenly this incredibly gorgeous blond Greek guy called Kostos, approaches and offers to take me on his boat. He's very nice. I think I may have fallen in love all over again.
See you soon.
Lots of love,
Her Dad is going to say "NO!!!" when she asks if it's OK to go with Kostos on the boat ,-) but that's more like it — that's more what is going to occur to a 14-year-old to write about.
You have to feel some sympathy for coursebook writers: the book in question was published in 2006 — long enough ago for Facebook to be practically unheard of, but Facebook is where my daughter would actually be writing about her holidays (or rather about Greek guys!).
While coursebook writers can't keep up with the speed of change, at least we teachers can, and a Facebook entry, or a text message or an email would be so much more realistic, and so much more interesting to young teens as a task.
If you had a class blog, they could also be posted there and shared and the "replies" could go there too, in the comments, also making it a more real, more engaging task. Partner your learners, and then "Kate" would have to reply to "Miranda's" messages, and vice versa.
Blog postings could also include photos, preferably not stolen from Google-is-Evil, but taken by the learners themselves, or their family, from their holidays (as in the example, above, which my daughter took while on holiday in the north of Spain).
Now if you had an interactive whiteboard…