Aim (in terms of subject matter): To practise focused writing and speaking – tell us about your summer holiday, but do it as if you’re applying for a summer camp project.

Aim (in terms of thinking): To see the situation from another point of view; to select and structure the information.

Target audience: Year 2 and 3. Individual work.

Time: One month. Done in September, after the summer holiday, good for revision.

Task description: The students make a Power Point presentation of their summer holiday. The aim is to persuade sponsors to provide money for organizing a summer camp. The things to be included into the presentation are roughly discussed beforehand: the presentation should contain information on good and bad experiences during the summer holiday, the information on accommodation, food, prices, transportation, timing, whatever to make the project plan realistic. After the presentations the listeners have to ask questions.

Learners’ response: At lessons students were making their PPT presentations and writing speeches. At first, their presentations were typical and simple, but I reminded them of the aim – to receive money, so they started to include more and more details. As a result, the presentations became absolutely unique, the information in them was rich and interesting, which stimulated students to listen carefully and ask each other questions.

Teacher’s role: I helped the students with vocabulary and grammar when necessary and directed the ppt preparation process. I checked their presentations at different stages and asked questions pretending I was the sponsor: why do you think it should cost this much, or, who will provide the food, or, how are you going to guarantee the necessary number of campers, etc. I spoke Chinese with stronger students and Latvian with weaker students. 

Overall reflection on the task: The best point of the task is that everyone can work according to their abilities. The students could revise old material and learn new things, practise the use of online tools. The presentations were well-structured. Although the task seemed unclear and complicated at the beginning, the students liked it after all. Of course, the presentations were far from being acceptable for projects, but the task was meaningful because it had an aim.

The thing which needs improvement is learning new vocabulary taken from dictionaries. It is sad that the students can’t even pronounce the words they use. Once I’ve asked them to make cards with new words, my plan was to let them teach each other. However, only a couple of students made such cards, and they didn’t remember the words written on them. So I should find other ways of motivating them to learn vocabulary.  


# Alexander Sokol 2013-02-21 15:10
Marija, thanks for sharing. I am glad to see that you are doing some TA related things which deal with other aspects than grammar.
There are a few things I wanted to specify.
1. You are saying that had to speak about THEIR summer hols and get money for organising the summer camp. I am not sure I understand how these go together.
2. Did you try to involve students into the evaluation from the point of view of the sponsors? Why?
3. Your thinking aims are defined in rather general way. Did you have any specific things in mind you really wanted to focus on and around which your feedback was structured? If so, what were they? And how happy are you re the results related to these aspects?
4. When speaking about improvement, you suddenly switch to vocab. It's strange as this doesn't seem to go together with the other things you are asking about. Do you really see vocab as the main problem in the context of the task you've described?
# Marija Nikolajeva 2013-03-09 22:02
Thank you for the questions, Alexander, here are the answers:
1. Usually when the task is 'describe your summer holiday', the result is a very short and a very typical description: I slept, travelled and did nothing/worked. In this task they had to make other people interested in hearing about it. The idea about the summer camp and sponsors seemed a good way to make them speak and reveal the most exciting/boring/practical aspects of their summers. As a result, the presentations were informative and everyone listened carefully.
2. No, I didn't. I played the sponsor in order to inspire them in searching for ideas. When a student told me he/she finished writing, I looked through his/her text and asked questions, so that the student added more information into the text. For the students it would be another challenge and another task to play the sponsor, would be too much for them.
3. I wanted the students to make better (richer) presentations/essays. The only thing I wanted them to do was to write about their summer holidays in an unusual way, therefore, the thinking aims sound so. To help them understand what that other side of summer description is I offered to write a kind of business plan, including certain things: decription of duration, place, cost, transportation, positive/negative aspects, plans for the future, etc, and appropriate grammatical elements. I expected the presentations to be more like business plans, therefore we discussed the content plan in the very beginning. No, I can't say that many students followed the business plan pattern, this aspect should be improved - students must learn that certain texts require certain structure. But their presentations were much better than usually and during that month the students got a worthy opportunity for revision.
4. Unfortunately, poor knowledge of vocabulary is the root of all problems in learning Chinese. Firstly, the students don't believe they can speak/write well enough, therefore, they don't even try. Secondly, instead of concentrating on sentence and text structure, many students concentrate on finding necessary words in dictionaries, which is a difficult task for beginners. The saddest thing is that after using these words once they never use them again, so every time is like the first time. That's why I say I need more tasks for motivating students to learn vocabulary.
# Alexander Sokol 2013-03-11 11:27
Marija, thanks for the answers. I think that some questions are still open. Let me know if you want to continue with them and then I can send further comments.

There's one thing I can't help leaving for later, though. It's this vocab thing. Let me approach it from another side. Let's imagine that the vocab problem has been resolved. Your learners are motivated to work on vocab and they are do it on a regular basis? Are you happy? Is there anything else about teaching and learning Chinese you would like to change? If yes, then what?
# Marija Nikolajeva 2013-03-23 12:42
Yes, Alexander, I think I'd be very happy if the problem of vocabulary didn't exist. The students would be happy too, because we would be able to concentrate on other things, which are many in Chinese. Many people start learning Chinese because they have an idealized understanding of the subject, but the pains of learning vocabulary demotivate the majority. Teenagers are not ready for working hard.

I don't believe in memorizing wordlists. My practice shows that the results aren't better than those of memorizing vocabulary through tasks. But for doing so the students need one skill which they don't possess - the ability to use the reference materials. When the students don't understand my question or don't know how to answer they simply stare at me, instead of looking into their notes or textbooks. So we spend a lot of time on looking up words, often doing it with negative emotions. I hope that this will change in the future, but now it is a serious problem.

What else I'd like to change? The attitude towards doing homework. This would solve the vocabulary problem.

To summarize, the problem of vocabulary is a symptom of the lack of independence in learning. Looks like I need to work on improving the students' self-study skills.

Thanks for a good question, Sasha!
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