02 Feb Pooling resources to maximize student engagement
The reinforcement of the targets can be a long process, and can get old when a teacher is hitting the same topic day after day. Particularly at the upper levels, no one wants to spend 4-5 weeks talking about technology in schools or gender roles in the media, so what can you do to keep the students involved while providing the input that they need to be successful when discussing that topic?Before diving into the concept of “pooling” and the strategies that we are going to discuss, let’s take a step back and look at the questions that we need answered first when building an academically rigorous unit:
- What is the unit of study?
- What are the essential questions that you want the students to be able to answer at the end of the unit?
- What do the students need to be able to say to answer the essential questions?
- Which of these targets can be grouped in a sensible way?
- What are some outside resources (away from the unit of study) that you can use to engage the students and get repetitions with the target vocabulary?As we answer these questions, the unit begins to unfold and every language teacher struggles to find creative and entertaining ways to keep the students engaged while providing quality input based on the targets. We have found that pooling the target vocabulary, utilizing other materials to reinforce the same structures, helps maintain the engagement of the students while also being able to get more repetitions of the same vocabulary.Every year in IB 2/AP we start the year out with a unit focusing on technology. We talk about the advancement of technology and how it hinders or benefits our society today. But our students can only handle so much discussion around the topic. So we have to “pool” the vocabulary with other topics. A few of our structures are comparte (shares), ha desarrollado (has developed), quiere que (wants that), and es necesario que (it is necessary that). When we pool the target vocabulary we try to think of what else we can talk about with the students to achieve the maximum number of repetitions but also keep the engagement of the class. Comparte-we talk about what weird things students share with their friends (drinks/razors/secrets/etc.) With the subjunctive phrases we talk about their ideal boyfriend/girlfriend. What they want him/her to have or be like and what is necessary that s/he has. Ha desarrollado-we talk about the city we live in and how it has developed and changed for the better or worse.When studying extreme sports at the IB level, we grouped the following targets:
- Tiene buen/poco juicio (he/she has good/bad judgement)
- Debería usar equipo de seguridad (he/she should use safety equipment)
- Corre el riesgo de (he/she runs the risk of)
- Quiere experimentar (he/she wants to experience)These targets are important to the unit, but as mentioned, the students can only handle so much discussion and storytelling about the topic. We took these targets and began to think about videos that we could watch in which people show questionable judgement, using iffy safety equipment and risk their lives, etc. We decided that a great resource would be the (now antiquated) show Jackass. Clips from these videos allow us to circle the targets in a way that keeps the students laughing and interested in the lesson. They become eager to share what they can say in the target language and are enthusiastic about speaking and responding to questions about the video. At the end of class, we typically have a short prompt that relates back to the original theme of extreme sports and the students can process and try to create language with the vocabulary from that day.Thinking outside of the unit is a great strategy to give students enough input to acquire the academic vocabulary in a fun and contextual way. There are so many untapped materials out there to accomplish this task, including: compilation videos (“fails” videos, People are Awesome, etc.), strange/shocking news articles, clips from bizarre TV shows (Wipeout, My Strange Addiction, etc.), stories from students, short films and funny photoshopped pictures from Google to name a few.So what are the benefits of implementing activities like these in your classroom? Aside from maintaining student engagement through humor and shock, we have found that these strategies help us build relationships with students. Students often have funny stories to tell and like to share them with their teachers and peers; they just need the right opportunity to start the conversation. Many of these activities not only relate to their personal lives, but to pop culture as well. Viral videos and funny gifs can be used to refocus the students and show the more enjoyable side of learning. Linguistically speaking, however, the purpose of the strategies is met by reinforcing high frequency vocabulary and structures, which allow the students to be able to use the language in context and will leave your class feeling confident about what they have learned.