This is a whistle-stop tour of talks I attended at MATSDA (Materials Development Association)’s 2-day annual conference, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. (For those who have never been to a MATSDA conference, I highly recommend it: The atmosphere is lovely – everyone is really friendly, enthusiastic and there to share ideas. Talks are generally quite informal and interactive – the audience is encouraged to participate and everyone gets involved. It’s a good recipe and yesterday the proof of the pudding was definitely in the eating: a good time was had by all.)
Brian started us off, of course, talking about games – except there was a lot more doing than talking! Brian argued for a game driven approach, but not as the only approach: as an important component of (to the *complete* astonishment of the audience, of course! 😉 ) a text-driven approach. He also took the stance that enjoyment is necessary for language acquisition, but insufficient in itself: Just because learners enjoy something, doesn’t guarantee acquisition. There are other criteria to fulfil.
He then had us try out a few games:
- 3-word stories: In pairs, we each wrote down 3 (consecutive) words to start a story. A said their three words to B, starting the story. B had to respond immediately by continuing A’s story with another 3 words. If either person was unable to continue without pausing, it ended. B then started the next story with their 3 words. (Brian explained that this could be followed by a written phase and a performance phase, using interest as the main criteria)
- The second game he had us doing was a game with stones and a wooden board (which exists in many different versions in many different countries) – he had us doing it with circles drawn on paper and tiny balls of screwed up paper. It was complicated but requesting clarification of the rules was all part of it.
- Mrs King strikes back: Brian described setting it up by telling the learners they are going to watch a dvd called Mrs King strikes back and eliciting predictions of what it is about. He then proceeds to happen to have forgotten to bring it in. Thus we had to act scene 1 of the film while he narrated it (people are not forced to join in at this stage, watching is fine), playing every role. We then read a text, the ‘true story on which the dvd was based’, and were put into teams, with two minutes to read the text and identify differences between the version just narrated/mimed and the text. An elicitation game followed.
- Newspaper hockey: We were put into teams and each team had to produce two hockey sticks and two balls made out of newspaper (except this bit had bee done for us!). In our demo, we had 4 per team. We were numbered off 1-4. We lined up facing each other and at either end was a chair/goal. Your team’s hockey stick is on the opposite chair/goal from the one you are aiming at. Firstly, simply numbers were shouted out. If it was your number, you had to try and score a goal. Then came the more complicated version, in order to know which number is being called, we had to work out the answer to a mathematical problem e.g. the number of people in two tennis doubles matches minus the number of people in a bridge game. (4) Everyone got thoroughly into the spirit of the game and we were all well warmed up for the talks to follow.
Next up was Hitomi. This was another engaging session, in which, amongst other things, she talked us through a task-based sequence for teenagers based around the topic of magic tricks: Hitomi actually demonstrated a magic trick and then elicited ideas of how it could have happened (she tore a tissue up and then made it whole again – was very cool!). We concluded that angels had kissed it. 😉 She explained that learners could then be taken through a process of searching for similar magic tricks/explanations on youtube, learning how to perform and presenting a performance of whichever trick they have chosen and described optional but recommend follow ups, such as recording performances and/or creating a booklet. The importance of initial focus on content during peer review was emphasised.
(I found it particularly interesting when she contrasted her sequence with Rod Ellis’s (2010) shopping task, pointing out that tasks are used for both research and pedagogical purposes but that tasks with a pedagogical focus emphasise broader educational development, while research tasks are geared towards study of language input, intake and acquisition. So a perfectly good research task may not be the most engaging or effective task pedagogically. However, don’t discount such tasks: do think about how to make them more interesting/engaging/relevant etc.)
Fortunately, I then went to this talk! 😉 I had a great audience, so the discussion generated was very interesting – everyone had their own views and ideas to contribute, which was great. More information to be found here. (Unfortunately as the recording is only of a rehearsal, you don’t get the interactive flavour of proceedings – which is arguably the best part! – only the general content…)
This was a fascinating talk. Marie talked to us about combining Tomlinson’s text-based approach with a discourse analysis approach, using corpora based research to inform language focus. She made the very good point that in course books, transactional and interactional talk are most often separated, whereas in real life, transactional talk includes, and needs, interactional talk. She showed us types of language associated with interactional talk – such as language for expressing stance, hedging and politeness, referring to shared knowledge and showing solidarity. Marie also demonstrated her ideas by showing us materials she’d made for her learners using a video clip from The Apprentice.
This talk was brilliant – full of simple, useful ideas of how to turn dull as ditchwater IELTS tasks into something interesting and engaging. For example, for the boring, pointless writing about a process task, Lewis played us a recorded spoof example of the process of making tea from planting it to pouring out the tea, as though it were something two friends would discuss. It was hilarious! It also contained all the necessary language, which learners could extract. He also showed us a spoof model answer to a writing task, in completely the wrong register/genre and suggested getting learners to identify all the inappropriate elements. The true model answer could then be used for cognitively engaging noticing activities.
This was the kind of talk that you left absolutely raring to try out all the ideas! 🙂 The perfect end to day 1.
Day 2 started later than planned (long story!), nevertheless the talks I was able to attend were great. This was the first and it was a lot of fun. The main focus was on improvisation. Volunteers from the audience were required to demo all the activities, of course.
- There was the bus queue one – we had to stand in a line, one end was the front of the queue, the other was the back. Then there was a really interesting one for exploring the role of status in communication. The demo group consisted of six people and they had to role play different statuses, depending on the playing card they were given. Aces were high. The audience had to guess what their status was by the way they behaved. Obviously in reality, it is less clear cut; indeed, when putting the group in order of status, the audience had different opinions – and this is where the potential for lots of interesting discussion comes in, with potential of course for intercultural comparisons to be made.
- In the second version, group members each had a playing card again, but this time they couldn’t see it. They could only see the cards of the rest of the group (everyone stuck their cards to their forehead). So here, they had to guess what status they had by how they were treated by the rest of the group.
- The final one was about blocking and accepting: Blocking – when you stop communication by using disagreement (verbal or nonverbal) or non-sequiturs, for example, to shut it down. Accepting – basically the opposite: you agree (positive verbal or nonverbal language), use back-channels, question tags etc. Two audience members had to role play a shop assistant and customer in a shoe-shop. The first time, they had to accept everything, but not buy/sell any shoes. The second time, one had to accept everything and one blocked everything. For the last one, they both had to block everything.
(I think it might be interesting to combine some of these activities with elements of the corpora talk earlier and ideas from the “Is affective always effective?” talk that followed – so, get some friends to role play these tasks and record it. This could then be used after the activities as a point of comparison and for some awareness-raising/noticing activities for whatever elements of language use stand out when the transcript is analysed. Not in a “this is the right way to do it” way but in an exploring the differences and possibly making intercultural comparisons kind of way. Obviously not authentic language per se, but whoever is role playing and recording themselves would, I imagine, be using the types of language and structures that they would use in these situations.)
Jane argued that engagement, affect and motivation are crucial and interlinked. Enjoyment is hard to separate out but not the central aim. She showed us some interesting materials, in which a recording became a point of comparison between spoken and written anecdote telling. Jane had us discussing the materials and thinking about how we’d work with them and lots of great ideas emerged.
Claudia kept us on the edge our seats by walking us through a sequence which involved used of a video. After doing some readiness activities with us, she played us a dramatic excerpt of a boy cycling very quickly away from something and falling off his bicycle in the process, all to very horror film music. We then had to predict what had happened to lead up to that event. She demonstrated the power of narrative when events are not told in simple linear order. She also showed us excerpts of course material dealing with narrative, published ten years apart, so that we could see how little has changed in that time. Even the cathedral bells, which went through a phase of ringing and ringing incessantly for a spell, couldn’t distract us from this session!
Alan Maley brought proceedings to an end, with an all too short creative writing workshop, taking us through a range of activities which could be used with learners, encouraging creativity and language play. There was theory too, to back it up, discussed briefly but not dwelt upon as we were running late but had to vacate the building at a particular time nevertheless. One of the activities we did was producing a 50 word saga based on the fable of the Fox and the Crow. Here is what I produced:
The fox, he was hungry; the crow, she had food.
This put the fox into a very bad mood.
But he was cunning, he flattered the dame,
And when she responded, down the treat came.
Ladies, be careful for foxes may lurk
Don’t be fooled by a two-faced jerk.
There were some shorter activities too, for example the two line poem:
I came up with
Hello dissertation, goodbye sanity. 😉
It was brilliant hearing other peoples’ creations and the session was a lovely way to finish a really great conference. There will be several MATSDA conferences next year, in Dublin, Brazil, Germany and I forget the other two places. Anyway, keep an eye out and if one comes to a place near you, then I would definitely suggest going.
Thank you to all the organisers for a wonderful weekend.