Uncharted Tesol

Posters on the last and first day of class

In my previous post on this blog I wrote about “seniors” writing letters to their “juniors.” By this I mean graduating students writing letters to those who would be in their shoes in a few short months. I was working in a two year MA program in Advanced Interpretation and Translation and students had a great deal to share with those who would follow them. I love the idea and think it was a nice basis for a lesson and a chance for students (soon-to-be former students) to share their hard-earned wisdom. A lot of the advice was about time management and how to deal with stress. Other common topics were study tips, insider information, and coping strategies for the graduation exam. I think this was all very useful and it was a pleasure to see new students poring over the letters. I think reading and discussing the letters is a nice first day of class activity (and writing the letters is a nice last day of class idea). After doing this for a few years I sort of stumbled into one more activity I enjoyed and found valuable. I will share it here.

Last year, in mid-December after the dreaded final exam, I decided to add one more task for second year students to complete in the final class of the term. In the previous lesson, I asked them to think about and jot down some notes in an informal homework assignment answering the question, “What are the language points you wish you’d known at the start of this year?” I suggested it could be grammar points, useful expressions, or terms that are confusing or often misused. The idea was language they thought then current first year students might not know but probably should or would want to know. 

Armed with markers, gigantic poster papers, and snacks as a reward, I asked students to create a poster that would convey language points that could benefit soon-to-be second year students. I said, “Think about what was memorable and important from you in these last nine months of studying and help your juniors skip a step.” I put them in groups and gave them around 20 minutes to plan and create their posters. After a few moments of hesitation, they jumped right in and started flipping through their notebooks, and checking their computer files and notes from the informal homework assignment mentioned above. I was quite impressed with what they came up with. Let’s have a look at the posters.

As you can see, much of this is specific to their future work as interpreters. Aside from all the useful information (and flattery) on the posters there are a few main reasons I liked this activity:

  1. It was good fodder for reflection for me
    By seeing what students found important and memorable I could see hints of what I’d emphasized (or maybe over-emphasized) in class. I wondered if I was too picky on some points. For example, should “discuss about” really be a “strong no” and what exactly does “strong no” mean anyway? I think I said, “strong no” in class when asked if something was correct and it stuck. 
  2. It was a good review (and chance to learn) for the poster makers
    The outgoing students had one last more chance to scour their files to share useful expressions. Some students learned new terms and expressions from their classmates during this time. One student remarked, “I wish I knew that expression two weeks ago!” about something her classmate was adding to the poster.
  3. It helped new students see what was ahead of them
    One student told me, “90% of the terms are new for me.” I think it was eye-opening to see terms that are used in Korean-to-English simultaneous interpretation that are not commonly used elsewhere. I think this helped students see they were entering something of a new world.
  4. It was fun
    The soon-to-be former students remarked that it was fun and different from what they usually do in class. One student said she enjoyed engaging her artistic side. New students seemed to enjoy seeing the thought, effort, and artistry their predecessors put into the posters. Unveiling the posters was also fun for me. Students wondered what exactly I was lugging around campus and the big reveal paid off.
  5. It sparked interest
    The new students asked questions like, “What is the problem with _____?”

    and “Why did they include this?” in addition to questions about how to use and say specific terms. It gave me a chance to talk about some very specific and esoteric language points that would be of use to the new students as future interpreters. I think the fact the posters came from previous students (rather than a list provided by their instructor) made the new students more interested in the language points.
  6. It might help other teachers
    I shared the posters with a professor who teaches first year students. She was excited to see what was there and said it could benefit her as she thinks about how to prepare first year students for the second year and beyond. 
  7. It helped new students see that this class was a bit different
    Examining work created by “ancestors” was a new experience for the new second years. Also, instead of me, the teacher, telling them the information it was there for them to discuss with classmates and ask me if they had any questions. I think this set the stage for future classes and helped students see that things might be a bit different in Mike’s class.
  8. It (might have) added to my credibility
    To be honest, it was not difficult for me to store the posters for a few months and  bring them to class. Yet, the new students seemed impressed with the effort. Maybe it was more about the foresight required for this (at least) two-stage process. I got the sense that students appreciated my diligence (and maybe creativity) as a teacher. I think this helped build rapport and might have helped students “buy-in” to the new course. Quite a few students expressed their thanks to me for sharing the posters and I believe this activity helped them see that I am in their corner and eager to help however I can.

The above are just a few reasons I think this activity worked well in that particular and perhaps unusual context. I fully realize not everything will apply to all contexts but I believe some aspects of this idea could be applied to various contexts and I would encourage readers to think about how they might adapt this idea to their own contexts.

Author’s Biography: Michael Griffin is a New School MATESOL graduate who has been teaching on the program since 2010. He’s taught both the Portfolio Course and Curriculum Development. Michael is currently a freelance trainer for both on and offline courses. Additionally, he’s the curator of this blog.
His personal and slightly neglected blog is: https://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/

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