Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Take It Outside

It's the final week of the semester. The sun is high in the sky. The playful spring breezes draw all sorts of passerby outside. Why not us too?

This week I experimented with taking my classes outdoors. It's been a longtime goal of mine to do this. We did it back in Alaska occasionally. It seemed especially important for those classes as they were life skills English classes. A field trip is mandatory when you're teaching someone to go grocery shopping, use the bus, or open a bank account. But what about when it comes to grammar? All of the sudden- field trips and excursions are forgotten. Lessons resolve entirely around the classroom. I want to change this.

As English teachers we always try to incorporate the outside world into the classroom: bringing in authentic target language materials, role-playing real life situations, etc. What about also incorporating the classroom into the outside world?

I haven't done much with this idea yet. Several months back we did an outdoor scavenger hunt during a conversation class. The topic was "winter", the vocabulary list was long, and most of it could be found by simply walking outside. I personally was really happy this activity happened since all signs of winter melted away a day or two later. This week, just to shake things up, I did an ABC scavenger hunt with each class (find an item for each letter of the alphabet). I experimented with scavenger hunts inside the classroom, in the hallway, and off the school property. It turns out that an ABC hunt is not the greatest thing ever for higher level students; they seemed quite amused with such a random activity, but it wore me out and if I did it again I'd raise the bar (try to find 5 items for each letter, etc). The big drawback with a plain scavenger hunt is that while it's good for general vocab, there's not necessarily much target language conversation going on.

There are lots of possibilities with this idea, though.
  • Present continuous: go outside and write down everything you see people doing: he's walking his dog, she's flirting with that ugly man, the cop is arresting the drunk (easy to switch this activity to the past tense). 
  • Modals: the city should repair the sidewalk, the children should pick up their trash, the landlord should repaint the building. 
  • Reported speech: Eavesdrop on fragments of conversation as you walk around. Then retell them. If you hear a woman say 'Dmitri, I am divorcing you", that becomes "A woman said that she was divorcing Dmitri".
  • Comparisons: Traffic is so heavy. It's such a hot day. This building is taller than that building. The flowers here are prettier than my flowers at home.
Anyways, you get the idea. Even just sitting outside for a part of a lesson might be a fun thing to do once or twice a semester.

Please leave me a comment if you've got any ideas or suggestions! I'd love to hear what's worked and what hasn't.

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