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Last Language Textbook

Language exchange launch

Last night we began the second stage of the Last Language Textbook campaign at Brooklyn’s PS 9 elementary school. Fifteen parents and teachers gathered together to start a new language exchange organized around the materials that Wikiotics Fellows Claribel Sanchez and Jarrett Carter spent the summer building.

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I am happy to report that everything went very well and the group is scheduled to meet again on December 2nd to continue learning basic Spanish vocabulary and practice their first English/Spanish dialogues. Any Spanish or English speaking parents in the community who would like to participate, please email contact@thelastlanguagetextbook.org. After December 2nd there will be a more formal schedule for the spring term meetings and we will post about it here.

Learning Bilingually

This September the Last Language Textbook is coming to the Teunis Bergen PS 9 School in Brooklyn. Our Wikiotics Fellows have spent the summer building resources to help parents of the school’s bilingual education students learn along with their children. On September 8th we will be introducing these new materials to the community and showing how parents can get involved by building materials for each other, their children, and by participating in school sponsored language exchanges.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or just a community member interested in English and Spanish education, everyone is welcome at this free event. Join us September 8th from 1:00-4:00pm in the Info Commons room of the Brooklyn Public Library’s historic main branch location at Grand Army Plaza.

The Last Language Textbook – New Delhi workshop

On October 25th and 26th I was in New Delhi running the second workshop in our Last Language Textbook workshop series. A dozen teachers from all over India and I spent two days exploring the capabilities of the Wikiotics tools and building lessons for their students.

You can see all the lessons we built on the Indian workshop page, including our second Panjabi lesson and this great podcast lesson on asking permission, which was written from scratch by two teachers who were completely new to Wikiotics. It was a great two days and I am excited to continue working with the whole group as they build Wikiotics into their classes going forward.

Group of teachers from the Last Language Textbook workshop held at the NIIT offices in New Delhi
Group of teachers from the Last Language Textbook workshop held at the NIIT offices in New Delhi

I want to thank NIIT’s Yuva Jyoti centers for hosting the workshop and our sponsors Gandi.net and the Linux Fund, whose continued support makes this LLT campaign possible. I am particularly grateful to have met all the Yuva Jyoti teachers, who came from half a continent away for the workshop. It was great to meet everyone and I learned a lot about the different challenges and opportunities of teaching in many of India’s regions.

We are looking to run the third LLT workshop over winter break or early in the spring semester. If you are interested in participating in this next workshop, or your school or organization might be interested in hosting that workshop, please send me a note at: contact@wikiotics.org.

Building a lesson: Picture Choice

This week we are going to build a picture choice lesson, which is an interactive lesson format that combines simple text, audio, and pictures. As mentioned last week, picture choice lessons are particularly good for building vocabulary and explaining easily picture-able relationships like number, size, location, relative position, color and other physical adjectives, etc. There are two basic ways to build a picture choice lesson: to review material or to lead students through new material. Lets see what each of these look like and when they are useful. I’m going to link to the edit view of all these lessons so you can see how they are put together. If you want to see what they are like as lessons, just remove the “?view=edit” part from the url.

Review Lessons

Review lessons are basically just decks of multimedia flash cards. You can use almost anything you want to review and the elements are put together in any order. Some examples of this include this adjective lesson and this one on irregular plurals. Each row in these lessons has a sentence to be studied and a picture that clearly illustrates the sentence. Those sentences are roughly arranged in the lesson by topic but the order is not very important for the lesson to be effective at review. However, these lessons are unlikely to be effective for new students who will have a hard time picking up all the different things to learn without a guiding structure or a clearer focus.

Teaching Lessons

I call lessons that are designed to lead students through new material “teaching lessons”. These lessons have a clear focus and present new material in a structured way designed to let students build their understanding gradually. Our intro lesson is a short example of this. In the first group, lines 1-4, the basic vocabulary is introduced with simple sentences. The next group builds on that simple vocabulary to introduce slightly more advanced terms. Having learned the terms for “Man” and “Woman” in the first group you are then asked to pick out the pictures “The man is sitting” and “The woman is sitting,” reinforcing the earlier vocabulary while introducing the term “sitting” and its use. In each of the four groups, new material is built on top of the old little by little. This approach is designed to enable students to identify new material contextually, without an explanation or formal introduction from the teacher.

The Structured Approach

For a better look at how the structure of a lesson helps students identify new material, we turn to the Colors and Vehicles lesson. This lesson teaches both color and vehicle vocabulary without ever increasing the complexity of the sentences used. In the first group of pictures, all the vocabulary is introduced at once with four pictures presenting vehicles of different colors. This first group looks much like a review lesson but from here the structure starts to guide things. In Groups 2-5 (lines 5-20), the sentences continue to use both vehicle and color vocabulary with phrases like “This is a green boat” but each group of four focuses on only one type of vehicle so that the only changing element that students have to base their picture choice on are the color words. Then in the rest of the lesson students are asked to choose between groups that always include two items with the same color or of the same vehicle type. This tests their mastery of both sets of vocabulary and provides some diversity of choices and visually appealing pictures.

This kind of lesson structure makes for a very engaging picture choice lesson and a solid foundation for additional, more complex material. Best of all, because this is a wiki, if you have an idea on how to build on this lesson material, you can copy the lesson and make your own version. I built a version that introduces the “and” conjunction after the first two thirds of the lesson. Try making your own version of the original lesson by clicking it here: Colors and Vehicles (copy) and entering a new page name in the title box. Or you can copy my version from here: Colors and Vehicles – Ian (copy).

Later in the week we will take a look at Podcast lesson format and keep building up to this October’s NYC workshop on October 13th.

Building a lesson: The Foundation

This second post in the “Building a lesson” series will give you some general tips for building online teaching materials along with Wikiotics-specific instructions to walk you through building lessons on wikiotics.org.

Choose a topic

The first step in building a lesson is choosing a topic. Since language covers anything you can express, there are an almost limitless number of potential topics. Honestly it is a bit daunting so we have created a simple curriculum of introductory English topic here on our Last Language Textbook campaign pages (Level 1-Stage 1, Level 1-Stage 2, Level 1-Stage3, Level 2-Stage 1, Level 2-Stage 2, Level 2-Stage 3). If you need some help picking a topic, take a look at those pages for inspiration, or feel free to just use one directly and help out while you build.

Lesson Context

While building a language lesson it is easy to get caught up in what you are building, all the little bits of planning and searching for the right material that will make your lesson effective for students. However, to build a truly effective lesson it is important to remember all the other elements that surround your lesson. One way to do this is by writing a short introduction for your lesson that says who your lesson is written for, what things you assume those students will already know, and what new material you plan to use in your lesson. We call this your lesson’s “context” and writing it out early on is a useful way to focus your lesson building by making sure you’ve considered the basic design decisions and have an idea of who your audience is.

For example, my lesson is an introduction to counting. I am writing for students in their first month or two of English study. I assume students have a small English vocabulary, limited to some basic nouns like man, woman, cat, dog, etc and have some experience with plural nouns. In order to keep my lesson useful to many different students I am going to keep the new vocabulary I introduce limited to common household items, mostly dishes and utensils. Because basic counting is a very simple topic I am also going to use colors to vary the material for my lesson. This will help keep the material more visually interesting, which is very important for keeping students engaged with picture choice lessons.

If I wanted to write for a formal school environment I might consider using something other than household items. For a school setting I could use common school items like writing instruments, books, desks, etc, whereas if I were writing a lesson for adults traveling to the United States I might use US currency or the kind of food and beverages ordered while traveling.

You don’t have to actually write down your lesson context, though that can be very helpful to look back at while you are in the middle of building your lesson, just take a moment and see if you can answer these three questions about your lesson as you begin building it:

1) Who are your students? (Old, young, formal students, or self-directed?)
2) What should they know when starting you lesson? (Vocabulary, other language knowledge, etc)
3) What are you going to introduce in your lesson? (Vocabulary or other language knowledge you will use to illustrate your topic)

Lesson building: step by step

Every lesson on Wikiotics is built with these three steps:

  • Step 1: Go to the new lesson page and click on the type of lesson you want to create.
  • Step 2: Add text, audio, or pictures to your lesson.
  • Step 3: Save your lesson on the wiki.
  • Here I’m going to cheat by pointing you to our detailed “Creating a lesson” page, which goes into more detail on each of these steps.

    Next week we will go over an example of all this as I build a new picture choice lesson and point out some great ones already on the site.

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