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Communication and creativity in language learning October 4, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Conferences, International education, Magazines.
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Students attain knowledge of a language, but it’s what they can do with that knowledge that really counts, says Lori Langer de Ramirez in this article that first appeared in the autumn 2010 issue of International School (is) magazine.

It would generally be agreed that learning a new language is a good thing. Some would say that being multilingual is a pre-requisite for communicating in our multicultural world.

Others claim that, in an increasingly global job market, knowing more than one language is crucial for securing meaningful employment and for professional growth.

But learning a new language can yield benefits beyond those of communication or job prospects. Language learning in the 21st century fosters creativity, innovation, collaboration, and flexibility. Web-based tools like blogs, wikis, and podcasts can foster language students’ innate creative skills as they travel the road to multilingualism.

Language teaching and stories
Teaching methodologies change drastically over time, and tricks and techniques for teaching languages are no different. While in the past languages were taught by rote memorization of vocabulary lists and verb conjugations, we have moved to more holistic ways of exposing students to language in authentic contexts. As brain research shows, ‘Students’ vocabulary acquisition can be enhanced when it is embedded in real-world complex contexts that are familiar to them’ (Genesse, 2000, p.2). One resource that has been successful in conveying both organic cultural information and contextualized language is authentic literature – the story.

Stories can take on many forms: folktales, myths, legends and fairytales are the most recognizable stories – and they exist in picture book format, as podcasts, animated video tales, and more. But stories can also take the form of soap operas, television commercials, movies, novels and oral tales. Whether told orally and meant to be listened to, or shown with visuals, animation, puppets or video, stories have the power to connect language learners to real world cultural topics and themes.

They provide realistic use of vocabulary, syntax and grammatical structures – as opposed to those often controlled examples of language that come from our textbooks. Plus, stories have the extra advantage of being a comfortable, familiar and entertaining genre for students of all ages.

Language educators can use stories as the center of thematic units, with project-based final assessments that involve students in creating their own stories, visual representations, or theatrical versions of the tales.

Podcast stories: Whether enhanced (with images) or strictly oral/aural, podcasts are a great way to encourage students to tell or re-tell stories in the language classroom. Websites like Podbean and iTunes can host student work so that it can be shared with parents and fellow students at home or at school. (www.podbean.com and http://www.apple.com/itunes)

TeacherTube or YouTube videos: Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS) is a useful technique for acting out stories with gestures. For students with excellent mimetic skills, acting out a story is a great way to foster creative use of language, gestures and props in the elaboration of a story for a broad audience. (www.teachertube.com and http://www.youtube.com)

VoiceThreads: Students can illustrate their stories and narrate the tale on VoiceThread using video, audio or text narration. Classmates can be asked to comment on the stories or even add details, new characters, or edit the plot. (www.voicethread.com)

Issuu picturebooks: Page-turner software is now available from many different free online sources. Issue allows students to upload pages (illustrations and text) in pdf format to a virtual periodicals stand. Classmates,
parents and community members can browse these virtual bookshelves, ‘pick up’ a classmate’s work, and read it by turning the pages online. (www.issuu.com)

Blog sagas: Students can provide readers with ‘installments’ of a story – one blog post at a time! This Web 2.0 tool works particularly well with mystery or adventure stories. Visitors to the blog can comment on each portion of the story – authors can even change the plot according to popular vote! (www.blogger.com) This is an excellent way to tap into students’ creativity, self-direction, and collaborative and innovative skills.

Read the rest of Lori’s excellent article here at the International School (is) magazine ezine.

Lori Langer de Ramirez is the chair of ESL and world language department for Herricks Public Schools in New York. She will be persenting on this topic and her most recent book, Empower English Language Learners with Tools from the Web, at the ECIS Nice Conference. Her website is www.miscositas.com/

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