Thursday, December 13, 2012

Out of the comfort zone 1: having students draw charts and graphs

(An apparently royalty free image from a very old blog)

Over the past few years, since I have started reading more ELT tweets, blogs and books, I have become quite conscious of the pleasures and successes associated with going out of my personal teaching comfort zone.

All right, it's not always a pleasure, nor always a success. It can't be; but than neither can be sticking to my established "teaching style," right? 

Today I tried a new activity -- for me, that is -- that now seems like a no-brainer.

If you teach business English, you have probably been led at some point to teach "how to present charts and graphs." There are plenty of ELT materials out there on it, many quite thorough and well done, and I have used them without difficulty. The little pair work activities provided usually go smoothly enough, too.

But last year, in my first-year business school class,  I wanted to expand on this point with more interesting charts and graphs, which are easy enough to come by. 

So I found some images online of  bar graphs and pie charts about social media use, projected them on the board, and had students describe them to each other in pairs -- with a "traditional" group feedback and checking session afterwards.

I was underwhelmed. This means "it went fine." The students got involved in speaking about the graphs, but dealing with  a topic of more apparent interest to them than just describing a fictitious company didn't seem to give the activity that much added value. 

This year, I decided to go out of my comfort zone on this theme, and what constitutes that exit from my comfort zone may make some of you laugh: I had one student turn his/her back to the chart while the other one described it. 

The student who wasn't facing the chart had to draw it.

Nothing revolutionary!

Except that I myself am a pathetic artist/draftsperson, and so I myself have always run screaming from any pair work activity that includes the word "draw."

So I myself didn't think it would work well.

I thought the students who were asked to draw the chart would get frustrated and look at the board.

They didn't.

I thought the students speaking might not have the language skills to convey the content of the charts.

They did. 

I thought the students might take shortcuts, especially reverting to their L1, to get the activity over with.

They didn't. In fact, they went into such meticulous detail, almost 100% in English,  that some pairs had trouble "finishing" -- which didn't really matter.

Of course there were pairs who functioned better than others. For example, a few students got some ribbing from their partners when the "result" wasn't coming out right. But it was all in good fun.

I suspect those students are the artistically/graphically challenged ones.

I sympathize. 

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