Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Osaka Week 2: PG Museum of Natural History

If you're studying English for specific purposes--in this case science--and you're visiting and studying in an ESL setting, what kind of activities would you want to do? Would you want to review grammar? Not likely. How about converse over different topics? It might depend on the topic. Would you want to learn how to notional and functional skills? That's certainly useful, but also limiting. One of the additional concerns for me this week was planning tasks that were relevant to the students and were structured for their success to increase their WTC.

What I think my students want as ESP students studying science is a chance to study their chosen fields in English. After all, they are intrinsically interested in science because they are all studying science in school (at least we hope). Having lived only a few days in a foreign country, they should be bursting at the seems to explore and investigate different topics of interest and waiting to apply their observational skills to the test.

This is the hope and aspirations of our Community Language Skills class. We want to give our students the language skills to go out into the real world and explore it using their English. Therefore, this week we will be preparing out students for their next field trip and shaping the lessons and activities so that they naturally appeal to the students. We will also be deliberately promoting group and whole class work to increase students' Willingness to Communicate.


Last Thursday the students prepared for and accomplished a scavenger hunt around the Monterey Fisherman's Wharf area. The scavanger hunt asked the students to talk with people on the street, store owners, gather information, take pictures, identify wildlife, and locate certain landmarks. After completing the scavenger hunt, the students reported that they were very nervous about speaking with native speakers of English and non-native speakers of English, but that they felt excited about the task and appreciative to those who spoke to them.

One student writes, "Before Scavenger Hunt, I thought it's difficult to talk with local people.It's because local people looks enjoying their time. However, when I began to talk to them, they kindly answered my questions. And I felt what a beautiful Monterey is! It has beautiful sea,buildings and many kind people! My hometown, Kanazawa, is also beautiful city, but it's different from Monterey. I think it's because thier historic backgrounds are different.
Anyway, I love both!"

Another student writes, "I enjoyed the field work. I got a little nervous when I talked with people in English but all people I spoke to were very kind. I like the weather in Monterey because it is sunny and warm in the daytime. But extreme temperature changes in a day worry me every day. In Yokohama, my hometown, temperature changes is not as extreme as in Monterey."

The experiences from our students reveals that although they felt nervous in communicating in English to strangers, they felt that people were approachable and kind enough to answer their questions. Also, the students were observant of their surroundings, which is important as they will have to complete their own Team Exploration project in the future in which they will explore a location and make a presentation on that location.

Furthermore, for this lesson, we've adapted a jigsaw reading based on the exhibits the students will visit at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. I have also added my own activity in which students will use a science kit to build an air powered rocket. This activity, I hope, will allow students to explore the basic features of the scientific method in English.


Warm-up (10 minutes)

At the beginning of class, I took role call and then began a warm-up game in which I wrote down three scientific categories on the board. I then divided the class into three groups and told the class that each team must think of any words associated with their scientific category. For example, words associated with the field of Astronomy could be "universe." The students had four minutes to think of all the words. After the four minutes, I asked that a team member from each group write their words on the board. For each team, I assigned another team to review the words on the board. If the peer review team could find any mistakes, they could erase one of the words on the other team. Mistakes could include spelling. At the end of the warm-up, I counted the words for each group and announced the winner.

Main Task Pre-reading and Reading (45 minutes)

I then asked the students to form new groups according to the number of exhibits in the jigsaw reading handout. I explained that each group should read their handouts and then together answer each each of the pre-reading questions. Then the students conduced a more extensive reading and answered the questions following the main reading.

Then I told the students that they will become experts in their groups and will explain their exhibits to the other groups. I gave them some extra time for them to plan in groups what they will report to the other groups.

Post Task Speaking/Listening (15 minutes)

For the post task, I asked each student to count to eight around the room. The students rearranged their groups according to the numbers said. Then they began discussion on each group's exhibits. Because of the small number of students some groups had two students from one exhibit.

Post Task 2 Whole Class Speaking (10 minutes)

Next, I asked the students to clear the middle of the room and place their chairs in a circle. I showed the students a bouncy ball that I had brought to class and explained that I would ask the students a question about the Natural History Museum and then pass the ball to a student. The student with the ball would answer the question and then ask a question and pass the ball to another student and so on.

New Task Science Experiment (10 minutes)

Finally, in the group formation, I passed out another handout that illustrated the scientific method to the students. I asked several students display questions without using the ball. Each question targeted a vocabulary word highlighted in the scientific method. At the end of the class period, I told the students that we might have time to conduct an experiement from a Myth Buster's experiment kit that I bought for the class.

We then wrapped up by going over some business for the field trip to the museum, collecting email, reviewing the homework assignments for the class, and introducing the Team Exploration final presentation assignment handout.


After reviewing this lesson and the tasks and student groups formed in the class, we both concluded that the students WTC improved. The tasks were much more structured and scaffolded so that the students' could transition form one task to another. There was also more time spent in each task that allowed the students to progress and help each other. I noticed that students spoke in English even outside of the tasks while switching seats, small talking with their friends, and asking me questions. Plus, at then end of the class, students were motivated to participate in whole group discussions through the ball game. Whole group discussions were the group size that students reported that made them the most anxious. Training them to form the whole group discussion and participating will be an important step in their success to increase their WTC.

However, because the pre-reading and reading task took up a great deal of class times, we both concluded that there was not enough interaction opportunities for our students. The speaking activities came too late in the class. While I used a warm-up, the activity didn't necessitate speaking. I think that future speaking task must come quicker at the beginning of the class and there must be more speaking task than other types of tasks to allow students the necessary practice time to increase the WTC.

Our new Action Research questions for the next cycle is, "After discussing our students’ behaviors in class and out of class, we asked ourselves how we could elicit more spoken production and interaction earlier in the lesson."

Our planned is to:

1) Increasing speaking activities

2) Sequence speaking activities sooner

3) Experiment with random versus chosen seating

By increasing the speaking tasks in the lesson we hope to allow students more time for structured interaction. Learning from our lessons in the first week, we must be careful in crafting a lesson plan that carefully structures and scaffolds the tasks so students do not feel we are asking too much of them and thereby increasing their anxiety. We also planned to observe the behavior of the students at the museum this Thursday by counting the number of student elicited questions and comments or other communicative acts to determine their WTC in a public setting with native speakers. We are looking forward to the next set of challenges.

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