Experiencing Global Interactions in the Classroom

For 3 years, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work at a senior high school and be a part of the teaching team for a subject called, “Global Interactions”. Aimed at first year students, this subject was for the entire year consisting of several different modules that led to a final year-end project. The aim of this course was to give students as much exposure to life outside of not only their neighborhood, but to the world.

1st Semester

The first and main focus was to teach students what a “digital citizen” was. As a “Googley” school, it was necessary for students to learn how to at least successfully create projects and share documents through Google. They learned through trial and error how to navigate through Google Workspace for Education services; in particular, Google Slides, Google Forms, and Google Docs. It was also imperative for students to learn how to use the internet in a safe and responsible manner. 

The second focus of the semester was for students to gain as much confidence speaking in front of their peers. As a student-centered class, students were able to steadily gain confidence through numerous solo and group presentations. These presentations were all the more meaningful to students since their audiences were not just their classmates, but guests from different countries such as, Singapore, Taiwan, America, and Canada. Through these brief international interactions, students were able to broaden their views of life outside of what they were familiar with.

The culmination of their 1st semester was a school trip to Singapore where they visited several schools in the area to present on culture and other various topics.

2nd Semester

During the second semester, students learned to voice their opinions in English. They learned it’s okay to disagree with their peers and voice their reasons for doing so. They had ample opportunity to have conversations with their classmates through group projects and conversation tests.

At the end of the semester, students met with 5 ~ 8 foreigners who were teachers and international students. For an entire class period, students were able to interview these guests, asked them why they moved to another country, what their career aspirations were, and any other question students deemed appropriate.

Finally, students used what they learned in their interviews, coupled with what they had experienced and learned during their international interactions to create a final project focusing on what a global citizen was.

My Thoughts

This course offered students something outside of their regular textbook regurgitating lessons. Students learned to think for themselves, value their opinions, and make their voices heard if they disagreed on something. For some, this class gave them the first opportunity to talk to people who were not from the same background. For others, this class provided them with the only environment to talk freely in English.

Through this class, students were given a reason to learn English. They had an attainable goal in sight: to talk to their peers. This student-centered class focused on teamwork and building cooperation not only between students, but with members of the community and other countries. Many students were able to use this class as a stepping stone to study and travel abroad during their 2nd year and eventually even move abroad for university. The class gave all the students the chance to grow and see the world in a new light, outside of the safety of their home.

I believe if we open ourselves up to new experiences and give our students the opportunity to do so as well, we can create a global community rich with understanding and mutual respect.

Authentic Media in the ESL Classroom

It is difficult to venture into a classroom in the 21st century without encountering some sort of multimedia. From pictures to videos and every Instagram post in-between, media has a way of grabbing students’ attention and conveying themes and information in a way they can relate to.

Media has a special place in the English as a second language/English as a foreign language (ESL/EFL) classroom. Often, visual representation of content is the catalyst for student understanding of language concepts and vocabulary. However, it can be tricky when media runs into cultural representation. Just as it is an easy way to engage our students and help them visualize concepts and content, it is just as easy to misrepresent cultures and people groups with inaccurate media.

This is why it is important to seek out authentic media when possible. Authentic media is multimedia that comes from authentic voices. Simply put, it is pictures, videos, music and more that comes directly from the culture which it is representing.

Think of it this way. Which seems like a more accurate representation of a culture; a travel video made by a Korean who is traveling for 3 days in this country, or a daily life video made by a native resident of the country? Of course, the native resident would have a more accurate understanding of the cultural practices and traditions of their home country. When we are showing videos, pictures, or other forms of media to students, it is the duty of the teacher to be sure that they are representing that culture as accurately as possible. In this way, we help our students to have a more informed worldview and a deeper understanding of cultures around the world, rather than looking at the world through the lens of their native country or through a west-centric point of view.

But how can we access authentic materials? Below I will outline a few tips for choosing materials, along with some great places to start looking.

Look at the author

A simple way to check for authenticity is to look at the author. Are they a native to this culture? Or are they merely an observer? Even reputable sources like National Geographic can hold bias in the images they present, so it is always prudent to check for media created by those living within the culture or people group that you’d like to showcase to your students. When looking at content where the creator is an outsider observing a particular culture or community, seek media that allow their subjects to speak. Meaning seek content such as videos that include interviews or tell the stories of specific people from that culture or community, rather than videos that tend to generalize like travel vlogs.

Look at the location

In many places, rural areas may look drastically different from metropolitan areas. It is important to consider this when presenting images of a particular country that your students may not have much information about outside of your class.

Look at the bias

Even those native to a culture or community can be biased in the presentation of their surroundings. It’s important to always remind students to seek multiple points of view and try to access more than one portrayal of a culture before making assumptions.

Places to Start Looking

Great Big Story- YouTube short video channel

Though they are no longer making new videos, the Great Big Story YouTube channel still has hundreds of videos to search through to find great stories from nearly every corner of the world. Though the channel itself is made by an American company (CNN), the videos center on real people and real stories, without any bias or commentary from the videographer or journalist. The videos range from one minute to fifteen minutes and often include English subtitles. Some may even have subtitles available in other languages.

The stories are compelling, and can showcase parts of a culture that are not often found within a textbook. The simplest way to find the perfect video is to use the “search” function on the YouTube channel page and type in the country, culture, or community you would like to represent in your classroom.

Use the search function to find the videos that cover the topic you are interested in

Here is a video about the Turkish whistling language

Great Big Story Homepage link

https://www.youtube.com/c/GreatBigStory/featured

NasDaily YouTube Channel- Nuseir Yassin

Similar to Great Big Story, NasDaily, a channel run by Israeli Nuseir Yassin, is full of videos about many places around the world, not only the native country of the content creator. However, the videos he makes are authentic in a special way. What the author of these videos, Nuseir, does is allow the people from the culture he is visiting to tell their own story. In essence, the videos he makes, which range from 1 to 5 minutes, are about people. By keeping the stories human-based, the videos themselves become more authentic.

Here is a video about the Water King of Kenya

Also similar to Great Big Story, you can use the search function on the homepage to find videos that fit what you are looking for

A link to the homepage for NasDaily

https://www.youtube.com/c/NasDaily/featured

Vlog- Personal-life Videos often found on hosting sites such as YouTube

Outside of these larger channels, smaller videos made by those within the culture or community you’d like to share with your students can be a powerful way to model authenticity to students.

Some of the easiest ways to search for these types of vides is to put “[country/community name] vlog” or “[country/community name] daily life” in the YouTube search bar. Vlog stands for “video log” and is usually a first-person account of the video author’s own experiences. However, avoid travel vlogs like the ones in the following image.

These videos are made by tourists to that country or community and will not produce the same authentic view as a video made by someone from within that culture. Instead look for videos of people speaking about their own lives. A good way to do this is to check the “About” section on their YouTube homepage like can be seen in the following image and see if the channel creator is a resident of the country covered in their vlogs.

This channel hosts videos made by Salta, a local Kazakh who makes videos about life in Kazakhstan, like this one

Here are a few more vlog examples

Russia with Yeah Russia, a channel from a Russian girl named Natasha

Nigeria with Eboh Media, a channel from Eboh Gee Chigozie, who takes an authentic look at Nigerian daily life.

Or Egypt with Mahmoud Yehia, a film maker from Egypt who looks at a day in the life in an Egyptian village

Though this film mostly represents rural areas of Egypt, clips can be combined with the following video on a day in the life in Cairo, Egypt by Azat Akhunov

And many more…

All of the above resources are a great place to start, but there is plenty more authentic media outside of YouTube. Just search for authors making content about their own culture or community and you can access a plethora of authentic multimedia to enrich your lessons and provide context for the cultures and communities your students may come across in their textbooks.

Flipgrid: The Resource That Tricks Your Students Into Actually Talking

Speaking is scary.

This is something that’s applicable not only to English Learners (ELs), but also often native speakers. When I have to make a call, order food, or interact with someone I don’t know, I often find myself mentally rehearsing exactly what I want to say before even approaching the other person, and I know I’m not alone. 

However, as educators, we often expect students to be able to speak freely and unabashedly. While this is an important skill to develop, this remains difficult or even threatening to students. They often clam up and refuse to speak beyond monosyllables, answering in yes or no, or only following a set pattern given by the teacher.

There’s a lot of other issues that come with teaching speaking as well. First and foremost, how can someone objectively grade speaking? How can learners know their speaking errors, or how to improve? What’s a fun way to get students to practice?

One of the best solutions I’ve found to all of these problems is to use an online platform called Flipgrid.

While Flipgrid wasn’t necessarily made with ELs in mind, it is certainly perfect for the EL classroom. Flipgrid is a free online learning platform (also available as an app) that allows students to record short videos. It’s reminiscent of popular apps such as TikTok or Snapchat, which makes it a breeze for young learners to adapt to. I’ve been using Flipgrid for over a year now, and am a huge fan of its interface, what it allows students to do, and how engaged students are when using it.

Flipgrid is both free and simple to sign up for. You can simply create an account, then create a group. You can add your students to it (and choose your students usernames, which is a feature I love since many students tend to get ah, creative when choosing what to call themselves), set a discussion topic, and get started.

The discussion topics can take all sorts of different forms. It’s necessary to give your topic a title (be it a chapter name, grammar point, discussion question – you name it) and a prompt. In your prompt, you can give your students specific questions to answer, a minimum speaking time, a scaffolded answer for them to read off of, and more. You can also add media resources to encourage your students. In the past, I’ve often recorded a video myself for my students and used YouTube clips for them to talk about, but the choices are various.

You can use Flipgrid for a variety of purposes, ranging from having them answer simple speaking questions to making a speaking portfolio, which I’ll talk more about later. In my own teaching practice, I’ve mainly used Flipgrid to create projects for my students. For example, I had students create how-to cooking videos in one class, instead of doing the tired old imperative-tense exercises offered by the textbook. I was blown away by student videos – they truly went all out in what they made! 

Flipgrid is great because you can record whatever – in this cooking video, the student edited a lot and added text to aid their speaking.

In another class, students made commercials in groups. I was warned beforehand that these students were low-level and rarely spoke; however, by using Flipgrid students were able to write a script beforehand, which gave them a lower-threat environment to practice speaking. They can also do multiple takes or edit videos together, so if a mistake is made, it’s of no importance; students can simply take it out. 

I’m a firm believer that students will engage more with the material when they are interested by it, and creating an experience that resembles social media can really help students shine. Shy students who barely dare to pipe up on Zoom can create wonderful videos of themselves speaking. If a student is really shy about how they look, they also have the option to not show their face (such as in the above image) or use a filter. 

Another huge benefit of Flipgrid is that students can rewatch their own videos. This makes it possible for students to view their own problems. For example, I had a high-level student who often left the “s” off third person verbs (for example, she would say “the boy run to the store” instead of “the boy runs to the store”) and found it almost impossible to correct herself naturally. However, after only a few weeks of watching and listening to her own videos, the student was able to remedy this error!

Flipgrid also automatically generates closed captioning for videos. While these can sometimes be wildly incorrect – especially for students with heavier accents – it also allows these students to see a visual representation of what their pronunciation sounds like, which can be extraordinarily helpful. If the close captions guess that there is a curse word, it will automatically star it out. Don’t worry about any of this – you can go in and edit the closed captions if you so wish!

In this caption, you can see the student is repeating words as she realized she made a mistake.

Flipgrid gives a few options for student feedback. You can either use a built in rubric, or create your own. You can also write feedback or – as I prefer to do – record feedback. I use my recorded feedback to model pronunciation or grammar errors, as well as to give students more listening practice. Remember, if all else fails they can always read the closed captioning Flipgrid automatically supplies. You can scroll through the image below to see a completed rubric.

The feedback options leads me to one of the best features about Flipgrid: it can be used to create a “speaking portfolio” of sorts for students. With language learning, speaking is often one of the hardest, most obscure things to try to objectively grade. It can also be difficult for students to see their own progress, which can sometimes make students feel discouraged. Even if the educator only created one Flipgrid video of their students speaking at the beginning of the school year, it can allow both them and the student to look back and see how much they’ve progressed.

Overall, I think that Flipgrid is a great tool that can easily be used in an ESL classroom by students of almost any age. It’s easy for students to use, provides a great opportunity for students to practice speaking in a non-threatening environment.