I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but just hadn’t got around to it before. I’m also preceded by Anna’s excellent description of her own experience in the Language Garden, so I have a lot to live up to.
I’ve been using language plants with my classes for a while now, since I started reading David Warr’s blog regularly, and then collaborating with him to produce my own larger plant for Holocaust Memorial Day. I’ve also tried out his musical plant to the Bellamy Brothers.
David kindly allowed me access to a suite of his Language Garden materials to try out with my classes, and this post is a way for me to report back on what I found useful about them, but I guess also any difficulties or issues that we came across. At first I thought the plants might be a bit too much for my learners to take in, but after reading Anna’s review about her experience with low level ESOL students, I was ready to give it a go. I followed here lead one morning when I was covering a couple of Entry 1 classes to use the poem The Village Elders – this is the language plant that Anna describes using in her post – but since then I have used a number more, and I’d like to focus in particular on a language plant called Tigers.
At first, much along the lines of the initial reaction of Anna’s students, I thought there would be too much here – too much language, too many words, too many structures – to process. But the way the plant fills itself in as you listen to the recording is a wonderful way to present the language. Stronger learners will go along with the audio, with words as support, whereas those less able are able to recognise the written forms, and can worry about getting the audio later on when we repeat and drill the lines of the text.
One problem I have at this stage is the size of the words and the plants, but this is more to do with our projection equipment and classroom situation rather than the plants themselves. I have big problems in a few rooms with the sunlight shining in, and as a result whatever is projected from the computer onto the board is often rendered invisible. To try and combat this, I adjusted the zoom on the projector, to make the words as big as possible.
There seems to be a lot of language presented in these plants, and this is something I am conscious of not overdoing, especially with my ESOL students. Just as with my recent IATEFL and ISTEK experiences, there is only so much information that can go into a person’s brain at any one time.
However, one great thing about the plants (a particularly good feature included by David) are the definitions that are included, either as visuals or question prompts to help elicit the meaning of different words and terms in the plants:
This can tie in with and support a general eliciting technique brilliantly.
There’s quite a lot on offer within each plant in terms of activities to do in class, or possibly set as homework for students, and Anna mentioned some in her post on David’s Language Garden blog (I think one was Puzzle – where learners can listen again to the plant being read and fit the words back into the plant). I went with the Links, which in this case was a ranking activity. There was a list of different animals and creatures, and learners had to decide which were more or less dangerous, bigger or smaller. There were some nice mini-discussions between the Entry 1 students when we did this.
We didn’t actually do this as suggested in the instructions (with learners standing in different locations around the room to represent the animals) but just did it on the screen. Next time around I would definitely take the opportunity to get them up and moving! It was also a great lead on to the next activity: a bit of factual writing.
Together with my Entry 1 students, we picked a few of the animals from the Link activity and I wrote them down on pieces of paper. I arranged them into pairs, and they then picked an animal. We then decamped to the library where they researched their animal before returing to the classroom where they wrote their own texts. Plenty of good reading, writing, speaking and listening going on as they had to work together to research and produce the final text.
Thanks very much, David, for the opportunity to explore the language plants =)