The initial “library situation” at the LGTC
When we arrived at the LGTC in September 2017, the notion of a “Didactics Room” was still unknown amongst the teaching staff. We as members of Team V were assigned with the special task of establishing a Didactics Room for the teachers at the LGTC, as Team III had done for the teachers at the AfC schools one year before. A Didactics Room does not only contain didactic material, but also consumable material useful for the preparation of a lesson. It is thus the place where
teachers can create their own teaching material such as flashcards and language games and then also store it. Furthermore, consumable material like markers and sticky tape can be found there and used for teaching purposes.
Since the library of the LGTC was very spacious, it was possible to set up a “Didactics Room” there by rearranging the furniture of the library. For the library this meant a great change compared to what it looked like 18 months ago, and initially nobody seemed entitled to make that decision.
Prof. Martin had checked out the library situation to find out what to do with the collection of English books she had brought along with Team III in September 2016, and she had made several suggestions for revamping the library. As it was, it seemed to be more of a defunct archive, with its dusty shelves, uncomfortable chairs, and the sparse lighting.
College-pilot-team III’s main task had been to test/implement the new English course system, and Team IV’s task had been to consolidate and/or adapt it. Our main task now was the establishment of the new Didactics Room: Clearing out old and seemingly unused and forgotten books and papers (from the 60s and 70s),
painting the shelves in colors chosen by the teachers, and purchasing various items for the equipment (printer, laminator, laminating foils, projector, PC, speakers, etc.).
Furthermore, we did not only provide little labels for every kind of material to establish an order, we also created objects like pen holders out of recyclable material like cans. To lend a friendlier and warmer atmosphere to the room some of our student- and teacher classes designed small colorful posters around the topic “English means…”.
In order to ensure an effective and sustainable use of the newly-established Didactics Room, but also to provide a wide range of ideas about how to create and how to eventually work with extra teaching material, we decided to offer a workshop on these topics for all teachers of the LGTC.
On Monday, the 25th of December 2017, we (Sandra and Ariane of Team V) officially opened the Didactics Room of the LGTC by holding our workshop, which started at 4 p.m. with about 25 teachers participating.
The workshop was divided into three parts: Firstly, model lessons were used to demonstrate the effects of a bad lesson (without any material) in contrast to a good lesson. By the negative example – introducing vocabulary with no material/visual support – we underlined the importance of using precise body language and appropriate materials. To prove our hypothesis about the effects of inadequate teaching, we chose a language for our model lesson that nobody knew beforehand: German. Setting a uniform total Beginners level for the demonstration also enabled us to produce/simulate the genuine experience of students learning a foreign language with no prior knowledge.
The two model lessons were followed by the introduction and effective usage of material, as well as suggestions of many different ways of integrating this material into lessons, for variety.
Eventually, in the third part of the workshop, we officially opened the Didactics Room by practically demonstrating to the participants how to actually make their own material, and how/where to file and store it in the new room. This was done with a view to efficacy and sustainability: When teachers make their own material which gets laminated afterwards it can be easily shared with other teachers, who in turn prepare different materials, etc. Furthermore, we showed them how to use the consumable material provided in the Didactics Room in a sustainable way so the stock would not need to get filled up every week, but would last for a longer period.
The bad example: Lesson without material
Ariane of Team V
introduced various German words for farm animals like “cow = Kuh [kuː]”, “goat = Ziege [ˈʦiːɡə]”, “sheep = Schaf [ʃaːf]”, etc. Two factors caused aggravating circumstances for the students in their attempt to understand: Imprecise body language when teaching the vocabulary, but also introducing vocabulary from the same word field like “sheep” and “goat”, or “cow” and “buffalo”. As we have often observed the difficulties that Lao teachers have in using precise gestures when introducing new words, we wanted to prove to them how much more important it is in this case to use visual or other material to semanticise the vocabulary in question.
Next, whilst teaching the pronunciation of the words, Ariane
also introduced the written form of the words, which helped students to pronounce the words, but not to guess/imagine the respective animals. After a few repetitions of the pronunciation drill it was the students’ turn to repeat the vocabulary, this time using gestures or sounds themselves for semanticization. As expected, none of the students was able to reproduce the vocabulary, or give descriptions of the animals in question.
Editor’s note: If this also happens in your classroom – whether at pre-school or university level – it means that despite your teaching there is not enough learning. And even if there are students who can repeat some of the new words, they very often do not know what they are saying. To initiate a change, ask your students what they understood, and then try again with clearer gestures and/or better material next time instead of translating the word into Lao.
The good example: Lesson with material
The “bad lesson” example was followed by a good example,
which made use of flashcards. Flashcards are laminated cards bearing pictures which are held up for students to see, and used to semanticize, or “translate” the new vocabulary.
introduced the same vocabulary once again, but this time by simultaneously showing big flashcards of the animals and pronouncing the words to go with the pictures. Additionally, she used precise body language this time to help students visualiz e the vocabulary even better . Furthermore, the pronunciation practice of individuals was reinforced by giving each student enough time to pronounce the words correctly and by allowing time for plenty of repetitions.
Afterwards, Ariane held up word cards with the written form and once again practised the correct pronunciation with the class. Then, some students came to front and placed the word card of the animal under the matching picture. This technique helps the teacher to directly check the understanding and knowledge of the students. The results were tremendously different
from the first time: Students were able to connect the words with the pictures and were also capable of separating similar content words from each other.
Using flashcards – examples
We did not only want to tell and show our students how to use flashcards theoretically, but also practically. The best way was to actually use the newly created material in various language games.
Therefore, Sandra used some games to help students to practise the understanding and the pronunciation of the new words. All the flashcards were fixed on the board with sticky tape. Then she pointed to different flashcards, and our teacher-students had to say the words. The speed was increased after a while. Gradually, the flashcards were removed one by one, and a big dot was drawn instead, so the flashcards
became “invisible”. After removing the cards, the participants were supposed to continue as if the flashcards were still visible. As this game is usually quite motivating and enhances participation, it is a good way to to consolidate words and can easily and effectively be used in the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) classroom with learners of any age.
Next, we played the game “What’s missing”. Again, all the flashcards were stuck on the board. Sandra asked everyone to look at the cards, say the words to themselves or to their neighbour, and then to turn around (you can also ask everyone to close their eyes for a few moments).
She removed one of the flashcards before asking the students to turn around again. Then she asked: “What’s missing?”. (You will notice when you play this game that these words do not require any pre-teaching: The class understands what this means from the look on your face and where you point.) The teacher-students who knew the answer shouted out the answer and said the missing word. This procedure happened a few times before a student took over the teacher’s role and asked the fellow-students to turn around, etc. Even though this game is mostly used for children and teenagers, it also works very well with adult learners. The game can be made more demanding by increasing the number of cards, by removing more than one card at a time, by rearranging the order of the cards on the board while the students are not looking, etc.
For the game “Catch the fly”, all the flashcards needed to be attached on the board again. The class was divided into two teams, who were asked to stand
in two rows in front of the board, facing the board (make sure that both groups stand about two meters away from the board). Then Sandra named one of the words and the first student of each row had to run to the board and hit the right flashcard with a fly-swatter. The team of the student who did this first scored a point.
These games all had the focus on flashcards. Therefore, we now created a mindmap on the whiteboard to collect other ideas, for different kinds of materials. The students came up with ideas like realia and board games, and we added more ideas like posters, worksheets etc.
We then presented bases/”work-stations” displaying samples of the diverse teaching material that had been collected on the whiteboard beforehand. Students were now to walk around the classroom and stop at the different “bases/stations”, where they would get the task of, e.g., thinking about and trying out the teaching material in question.
Opening the “Didactics Room”
The last part of the workshop dealt with the actual introduction of the new material in the Didactics Room. The first “work station” was the computer: We
presented some websites which provide pictures which can be used without violating copyright laws . Ariane gave an example by finding a picture on www.pixabay.com and demonstrated the whole process from the download of the picture over the insertion into the Microsoft Word and Open Office programmes for documents to the print-out of the picture. Then the groups had to do it themselves. Some of the teachers had to leave at this point because they had other obligations . This had the advantage of enabling all participants to actively create material and not hav e overloaded groups.
In the beginning, we gave a short guided tour of the different sections and their uses – work places, shelves with electronic devices, consumable material, didactic material – to provide a general overview and to make teachers understand the versatility of the Didactics Room. Then, the
participants were divided into three groups. Each team received one topic (jobs, general tools, fruits) for which they were supposed to create different didactic materials. Unfortunately, we started to run out of time, which is why we decided to just focus on creating flashcards and getting routine in using the laminator. This procedure entailed finding appropriate pictures on legal websites, and practising the usage of both the printer and the laminator. As many of the teachers neither have their own computer nor Internet at home, it was necessary to allow easy access to the new subject by starting with the basics. This way, in the end, all teachers were able to create their very first own flashcard.
After the workshop, Ms Akina said: “I am so happy about the laminator. I can’t wait to make my own flashcards.”
end of the workshop every teacher received a handout containing the most important aspects of when, how and why to use material.
- to visualize words
- to activate the students
- to draw attention
- to make lessons more interesting
- to make objects more authentic
- to improve your teaching skills
- to stimulate senses (auditory learners, visual learners etc.)
- make students learn vocabulary more effectively
- enable the students to take part
When to use
- when introducing new vocabulary
- when continuing working on the topic
- when students are supposed to work independently
What kind of material?
What to keep in mind?
- use pictures and words/text that are big enough
- keep it easy and understandable
- use clear pictures
- think sustainable/long-lasting (if laminated -> can last for years)
- make sure the cards are not transparent
- use colored pens but also various colored paper
- use colors thoroughly (bright colors like yellow are hard to see)
- not every topic is appropriate to make flashcards for
- the advantage of making your own:
- adaptable to what you need
Editor’s note: After taking all of this into consideration, please now avoid the”flashcard-trap”: Nobody can build a sentence only with nouns. You need to teach verbs and adjectives and pronouns and conjunctions as well, e.g. by acting, pointing, using action songs, etc.
As a follow-up – if you want to read more on the subject – we would like to recommend the other articles on this topic on this blog. You can find them by entering “workshop” or “material” or “Didactics Rooms” into the search window on the start page. Start with the workshop how to create material which was held at the AfC schools not too long ago by our fellow-team members Lara and Hanna!
Text by S. Uhlig, A. Kummetz & I. Martin
Photos and videos by S. Uhlig, J. Adelberg, I. Martin & J. Zeck