Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Re-imagining the essay

One of the beauties of using web 2.0 tools is that you can re-invent more traditional learning exercises. A case in point is the discursive essay which most students have to master at some point during their EFL/ESL careers. For most this will be a boring grind which they will struggle with. However, we can sugar the pill be using the possibilities offered by the internet in order to awaken their interest and also get them to practice other language skills.

Basically, the idea is that we after working on the essay we then present it using pictures, video, music etc. in the form of an online presentation. There are a number of free tools that allow students to do this. The most widely available is Windows Movie Maker which comes with every copy of Windows. With it you can add photographs, video, titles, music, and voice over. In essence what you are asking students to do is turn their essay into a documentary. See the video tutorial below.

While this may sound ambitious it does not require much in the way of fancy equipment or technical skills. Video can be provided via a cheap web cam, digital camera or the student's mobile phone. The program is pretty simple to use and teaching students how to use it is a pretty good language learning opportnity in itself.

A simpler version might include just pictures downloaded from the internet - the Life archieve on Google has some great ones or you could used Flickr and a voice over which can be captured via a cheap microphone (mine cost three euros and works just fine). you could also use Movie Maker but Microsoft's Photostory 3 or the internet based application, Voicethread.

Whatever approach you use the emphasis here is on creativity and making what you wrote as interesting as possible. To give your student some ideas of the possibilities show them the Magnum photo agencies collection of photo essays here.

As well as knuckling down to the discipline of putting their thoughts on paper in essay form they get to work on speaking and presentation skills all of which will probably feature in any exam they are likely to take.

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