Using “rubbish” and “leftovers” in ELT classroom – enticing speaking and creative writing

Written by: Desislava Zareva, Ellie Boyadzhieva

This workshop has been presented three times. First, in 2006 at the Maltepe Conference held in Istanbul, Turkey, second at the 15th BETA annual conference in Plovdiv and as a part of BETA Days training seminars in 2007 held in Vidin. This article is based on these three workshops which have proven to be easily adaptable to various audiences and contexts. On all those three occasions it was readily accepted and enticed active participation and showed genuine involvement on the part of the participants. This gives us grounds for sharing it with a wider ELT community.

Below you can find the structure of the workshop and part of the materials used throughout the three presentations. We cannot give an exhaustive set of all used materials as they varied every time and new materials can be added or substituted for others depending on the personal preferences and abilities of both the teachers and the target groups.

Aims of the workshop. Here are three basic aims that the authors have defined and which can be altered or adapted to the particular needs of the specific group:

  • To show how easily teachers can provide a meaningful context for language use in ELT classroom;
  • To persuade both students and teachers that they can take a well deserved break from mundane routine and employ their creativity when learning and teaching;
  • To convince FL teachers that creative tasks are not a waste of time as they provide space for developing all five skills, fluency as well as accuracy.
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Workshop Procedures.

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Preparation of the materials needed.

As it can be seen from the title of the workshop the materials used predominantly present brochures, tickets, postcards, receipts, various leaflets and photos. They can have been collected by the teachers themselves during trips in different countries or brought or sent to them by colleagues and friends. The most important thing is that the materials should be authentic and as they are to be used in the ELT classroom they should be preferably in English language though not at all necessarily. The materials are filed in a number of sets corresponding to the number of the groups involved in the particular workshop. Another important issue is that the materials should be arranged in such a way so that to follow logically the original story line. One final issue of concern based on our practical experience is that every piece of material should be thoroughly examined in terms of potential pitfalls related to the participants’ cultural and ethnic background and age.   This is necessary as the main objective is use English in an enjoyable environment where nobody should feel offended or embarrassed in one way or another.

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The group is divided into subgroups

of three or four people each. The original workshop was designed for six subgroups. According to the context and the volume of the materials the number of the groups can vary. However, the teacher should be aware of the fact that the story line is to be kept logical.

The  grouping itself  may follow different patterns depending on whether the participants are familiar or unfamiliar to the facilitators and their own creativity. Once divided each group receives a pre-prepared set of materials and a worksheet with a different task after which all listen to the introduction of the story which they need to complete and which is read aloud by the facilitators. We must point out that the story is READ and the participants are advised to take notes as it is meant as a listening comprehension exercise.

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The Story.

It is a detective story. The participants are expected to act as detectives from different countries who have to work in an international  team whose task is to locate two missing persons. The plot of the story comprises the following two emails:

Email 1

To: europol@europe.org
From: bigfish@bigfish.com
Subject: two employees missing

Dear Sir or Madam,
We would lime to report two of our company’ s employees missing since last September.
Ms Bird (ornitologist) and Mr.Fisher (sea-life expert) were assigned last September to visit several European countries in order to monitor the sea life and birds population around some big sea ports. They were expected to send samples and submit reports to “BigFish Monitoring” every two weeks. Our company provided the two researchers with all the necessary equipment and with a sum of 15 000 EURO to cover all their travel expences (transportation, accommodation, food, communication – phones and internet).
We are slightly worried as we have not heard from them since 30 September. This is the date of their last email with a message informing us about them being on their way to the next stop on their itinerary: Bulgaria.
Please help us locate Ms Bird and Mr.Fisher.
Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,
Dolphine Bigfish
Marina Swan

P.S. Please find attached the reserachers itinerary.


Email 2:

To: POLICE Headquarters Bulgaria; Romania; Estonia; Netherlands; UK
From: europol@europe.org
Subject: two researchers reported missing

Dear colleagues
Help us trace two missing people – Ms Bird (42)- ornitologist & Mr Fisher (30) – sealife expert – both working for “Bigfish Monitoring”.
Last contact with them – 30 September.
Their itinerary as reported: BULGARIA 1-15 October, ROMANIA  16-31 October, ESTONIA (Tallin) 1-15 November, NETHERLANDS (Amsterdam) 16 – 30 November,UK (Edinburgh) 1-15 December.
Their task: birdwatch & monitoring sea life around big ports.
There’s something fishy about the employers – they only reported their employees missing after 3 months, so check them out as well.

Best
EUROPOL Headquarters

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Group Tasks.

Having heard the emails, the participants from different groups start working on their individual tasks. For convenience the worksheets are colour-coded and provide necessary spaces for note-taking.

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GROUP 1 : BULGARIA  1 – 15 October

These are the items that the Bulgarian Police managed to collect after receiving the email from EUROPOL. They certainly throw some light on the personalities of both researchers.

  1. Make a report to your colleagues in EUROPOL describing Ms Bird’s and Mr. Fisher’s interests and personal preferences. Make some deductions about the places they possibly visited, things they could have done, what they might have eaten, drunk, bought while they were in Bulgaria.
  2. Is there any solid evidence that something went wrong in Bulgaria and that this is the country where they went missing?
  3. Choose a spokesperson who will report your findings  to the Police representatives from other countries. Time for your report is limited to 2 minutes. (Make notes beforehand if necessary)
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GROUP 2:  ROMANIA  15 – 31 October

These are the items that the Romanian Police managed to collect after receiving the email from EUROPOL. They certainly throw some light on the activities of both researchers in that country.

  1. Make a report to your colleagues in EUROPOL describing Ms Bird’s and Mr. Fisher’s activities in Romania between 15-31 October. What places have they visited? What kind of work did they do? Which towns did they go to?
  2. Is there any solid evidence that something went wrong in Romania and that this is the country where they went missing?
  3. Choose a spokesperson who will report your findings to the Police representatives from other countries. Time for your report is limited to 2 minutes. (Make notes beforehand if necessary)
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GROUP 3:  ESTONIA (Tallin) 1 – 15 November

These are the items that the Estonian Police managed to collect after receiving the email from EUROPOL. They needed some cooperation from the Finnish Police as well, since they found a Ferry ticket to Helsinki. It was clear that one of the researchers went to Finland without being authorized by the “BigFish Monitoring”.

  1. Make a report to your colleagues in EUROPOL describing Ms Bird’s and Mr. Fisher’s activities in Tallin (and Helsinki) between 1 – 15 November. Judging from the evidence try to hypothesize what might(must)  have happened to one of the fellows. What did each of them do?
  2. Is there any solid evidence that something went wrong in Estonia and that this is the country where they went missing?
  3. Choose a spokesperson who will report your findings  to the Police representatives from other countries. Time for your report is limited to 2 minutes. (Make notes beforehand if necessary)
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GROUP 4:  NETHERLANDS (Amsterdam) 15 – 30 November

These are the items that the Dutch Police managed to collect after receiving the email from EUROPOL.  They were left in the researchers’ hotel room.

  1. Examine carefully the police evidence and give your ideas about Ms Bird’s and Mr. Fisher’s time in Amsterdam. Make a report to your colleagues in EUROPOL describing Ms Bird’s and Mr. Fisher’s activities. What did they do? Where in Amsterdam did they go? Were they together?
  2. Is there any solid evidence that something went wrong in the Netherlands and that this is the country where they went missing?
  3. Choose a spokesperson who will report your findings  to the Police representatives from other countries. Time for your report is limited to 2 minutes. (Make notes beforehand if necessary)
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GROUP 5:   UK  (Edinburgh) 1-15 December

These are the items that the Police in Edinburgh managed to collect after receiving the email from EUROPOL. The Scottish Police were surprised to find only one landing card filled out at the immigration desk which raised speculations about the researchers’ true identities.

  1. Examine carefully the police evidence and give your ideas about Ms Bird’s and Mr. Fisher’s time in Edinburgh. What kind of shops did they go to? What kind of things did they buy? Did they do any work? Did they see any places of interest?
  2. Is there any solid evidence that something went wrong in the UK and that this is the country where they went missing?
  3. Choose a spokesperson who will report your findings to the Police representatives from other countries. Time for your report is limited to 2 minutes.
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GROUP 6:  Somewhere in the best parts of the world…

Two weeks after EUROPOL emailed, a private investigator sent these materials to Interpol and to a couple of newspapers. As the pictures were quite revealing of the researchers’ exact location, some hours later Euronews and CNN were already broadcasting interviews with Ms Bird and Mr. Fisher. Examine closely the evidence giving details about the end of a very successful investigation.

  1. Make a short piece of news for the papers, telling in brief the researchers’ story. Where are they now? What are they doing? What are their plans for the future? What is their life likely to be?
  2. Report to the Police. (Make notes beforehand if necessary)
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Timing.

The original workshop has been designed for 60 minutes, where the basic  group work takes approximately half of the time. Enough time should be left for the initial grouping, group reports and for coming to conclusions (in cases when the workshop is done for teacher training purposes).

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Methodological implications:

As we have already mentioned this workshop proved to be highly motivating for the participants as they have been actively involved in using English and practising all the four skills as well as covering different items of grammar and vocabulary. In fact, each task has been carefully designed as to focus on a particular grammatical issue and a set of vocabulary. For example, while group 3 struggles with modal verbs and modality, Group 5 practises past tenses use.  These are not explicitly defined as necessary, the practised  pattern is predefined in the form of the questions accompanying every task.  As far as the vocabulary is concerned, it directly derives from the set of materials.  For example, Group 5 has to deal with shopping, while Group 2 focuses on description of places.  One valuable asset of this workshop is that it provides the opportunity for all groups to be exposed to all practised items during its last stage – the reports.

Instead of a conclusion we offer a summary of all the activities this workshop involves:

  • Language Skills
  • Reading (an email, instructions, skimmed and scanned the materials)
  • Writing (note-taking, reports, summaries, different genres)
  • Listening (to instructions, group reports, each other within a smaller group)
  • Speaking (informally, formally, dialogues, arguments, short monologues)
  • Intercultural Skills (Byram 1994)
  • Attitudes: curiosity and openness
  • Readiness to suspend disbelief about other cultures and beliefs  about one’s own.
  • Knowledge: of social groups and their products and practices in one’s own and  in one’s interlocutor’s country, and of general processes of societal and individual interaction.
  • Skills : of interpreting and relating – ability to interpret a document or event from another culture; to explain it and relate it  to documents and events from one’s own;
  • of discovery and interaction – ability to acquire new knowledge of a culture and cultural practices and the ability to operate  the knowledge, attitudes and skills under the constraints of real time communication and interaction.
  • Critical Cultural Awareness : an ability to evaluate critically and on the basis of explicit criteria, perspectives, practices and products in one’s own and other cultures and countries.
  • Areas
  • Grammar (all main tenses and voices were covered)
  • Vocabulary (several basic areas)
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References

Byram, M. (1997) Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence, Clevedon: Multilingual matters.

Damen, L. (1987) Culture Learning: The Fifth Dimension In The Classroom, Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Inc.

Intercultural Studies For Language Teachers (2001), Module One, Unit Three, Sofia: British Council

Seely, H. (1994) Teaching Culture, Lincolnwood, Illinois: National Textbook Company

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