“Imagine tourist destination”: applying semi project-based activity in a business English class

After the success of using text message as homework in one of my ESP classes, I was tempted to try on a new project in a business English class that I taught last month. The business English class was set in a tour and travel company in Denpasar, Bali. It was a short course that lasted for only a month focusing on business (email) writing, communication and presentation skills. At first I planned to have the participants – who are mostly accounting staff – to present a tourist destination in Bali. However, after thinking that this might be too easy for them (as their level of English is somewhat above elementary to pre-intermediate), I changed my mind.

Just like the previous post, in this blogpost I will share about the activity – how I did it and what I achieved – and hopefully it will be useful for all of us.

The aims of the activity:

  1. To meet the objectives of the short course.
  2. To increase students’ engagement and participation.
  3. To promote creativity and active learning.

What activities were there:

There were 4 main sub-activities involved in this ‘Imagine tourist destination’ activity. They were:

  1. Students made their own original promotional brochures of an imaginary tourist destination of their choice.
  2. Students presented their imaginary tourist destinations in front of the class (their ‘audience’ – including me).
  3. Students wrote an inquiry and/ or reservation email playing a role to be an interested tourist to a selected presenter (or ‘the tourist destination’s management or reservation agent’).
  4. Students – acting as the company management – replied to an email from the interested tourist for a follow-up.

Skills practiced through the activity:

  1. Business (brochure and email) writing,
  2. Communication and presentation.

For how long it was done:

It took me at least a total of 5 meetings to complete the whole activity (note: a meeting lasted for an hour/ 60 minutes). 1 meeting for introductory activities and introduction to the activity, 2 meetings for presentations (there were a total of 10 students in the class), and 2 meetings for discussing email writing and giving feedback.

What the results were:

Promotional brochures

Some of the promotional brochures the students made

Some of the promotional brochures the students made

Most of the students came up with what I thought amazing ideas on imaginary tourist destinations. Here are some of them:

  1. The Moon Holiday by Spectacular Planets Attract Cosmic Explorer (SPACE)
  2. Magic Mountain Home Stay (on the foot of Mount Everest)
  3. East Bali National Park – Best Safari Journey Experience by Putra East Bali Safari Tour and Travel
  4. The Resto Plane (a dining experience on a plane around Bali)
  5. Waterfall Restaurant – Best Balinese Restaurant (a dining experience at the bottom of a waterfall in Bali)

All brochures were made and prepared well with shapes, images, and information that are enticing. Since the tourist destinations are imaginary, most of the titles successfully raised curiosity.

Presentations

A student presenting while the audience read the information from the brochure

A student presenting while the audience read the information from the brochure

I enjoyed the presentations mostly because both presenters and audience seemed to enjoy their roles. Although there were times code-switching happened, for example when a presenter suddenly switched to Indonesian when she could not think the English for some Indonesian words, the flow was smooth and communication was done right on target. Both presenters and audience were active, adding to the Q & A sessions’ dynamic. Some answers could be funny too. In short, it was fun and engaging.

Email writing

An email written by a 'travel agent' (of 'Food and Flower Centre')

An email written by a ‘reservation agent’ (of ‘Fruit and Flower Centre’)

Each student had to write 2 emails: one they wrote as a tourist and one as a reservation agent, replying to a tourist’s inquiry and/ or reservation. This is where the challenge lay. As accounting staff, their company might not ask them to make brochures. However, email writing is pretty much their everyday task. As the example above shows, minor mistakes in grammar were seen in most of the emails they wrote. I had only 2 meetings to discuss these mistakes when in fact I think the explanation and practice on email writing needs more time than that. It will be discussed in my conclusion below.

What I learned from this activity:

What made it work

  1. The activity promoted creativity, active learning, and critical thinking.
  2. It increased students’ engagement and participation.
  3. Students learned English using topics that are familiar to them and their work. This is important, especially in adult English classes.
  4. It helped build students’ confidence and fluency especially in communicating and presenting.

Why it did not work

These are the things I should fix if I wish to use this activity for future classes.

  1. Students needed more time to have grammar lesson, application, and practice. The best option would be discussing only grammar points that are specifically related to (their) email writing or exploring only parts where the mistakes were found the most. I did give introduction to email writing for 1-2 meetings before starting the activity, but it was not enough.
  2. A student felt (through the class questionnaire) that the activity did not have a ‘clear goal’. This was probably because she did not feel like ‘learning’. I need to check on my method in delivering the aims of the activity.
Some students posing with their works after the first presentation session

Some students posing with their works after the first presentation session

As usual, I am open to any input or suggestion. Or if you want to try applying something like this in your class (or something that is even better!), let me know. Until then, see you in another post. ūüôā

Reference:

Doehla, Don. (2011, April 21). Using Project-Based Learning to Teach World Languages. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/world-language-project-based-learning-education-curriculum-don-doehla

The day I met iTDi

The faces of¬†iTDi Indonesia, posing at the iTDi Day. From left to right: Ami, Marlene, Indrie, Ika, Nina, Icha, Grace, Neno (that’s me), Desti. Bottom: Chuck, Tujuh, Eric, Arief, Try.

So, here’s the story how I ended up attending¬†iTDi Day¬†in Jakarta on May 18, 2013:

So one night, around 2 weeks before May 18, 2013,¬†Chuck Sandy¬†(yes, that Chuck Sandy), approved my friend request on Facebook and sent me a message, inviting me to come to iTDi Day. I knew about¬†iTDi¬†some time before from a post about their event in a Facebook group for English teachers. Thinking it was just a random message, I simply replied to him, “But it’s in Jakarta, Chuck. Perhaps next time if you have it in Denpasar I’ll go.” Then he mentioned about giving scholarships for the event to some people, including me if I’m interested. The next day I gave my answer to him and I never regretted my decision ever since…

The last time I went to Jakarta was when I had a Jakarta-Bandung trip with a former¬†colleague¬†in 2010. To be honest I’m definitely not a fan of the city – or province, should I say (was born in Jakarta, but raised and have been living in Bali all my life, I see a city like Jakarta is pretty much unbearable), but yeah, one has to know what one’s capital city is like. So I booked the tickets and voila! There I was… iTDi team members who came from out of the city stayed in a nice apartment not far from Soekarno Hatta airport (‘not far’ = as in Jakarta definition). I stayed in Jakarta for 3 days, met some old friends (and new!) and relatives too.

Back to iTDi, at the iTDi Day I learned a lot more about what iTDi is. It stands for¬†International Teacher Development Institute. It’s a global community for English teachers who are keen to improve both their language and teaching skills. How does it work? One of the biggest dreams of iTDi is ‘providing professional development for all teachers that is meaningful, accessible, and affordable’. Hence:¬†itdi.pro. On the website, iTDi provides regular courses (and yes, you get certificates from taking these courses), forums (where you can discuss anything related to English teaching and connect to English teachers all around the world), global webinars, and special courses (again, you’ll get certificates from enrolling).

Like the motto ‘for teachers by teachers‘ suggests, if you’re an English teacher (wherever you are, not just in Indonesia) and you wish to improve your language and teaching skills as well as connect and collaborate with English teachers around the world, then this is the right place for you. Attending iTDi Day gave me the opportunity to meet some of the most passionate English teachers in Indonesia, and not to mention¬†Chuck Sandy¬†and¬†Eric Kane¬†of iTDi. At the iTDi Day I also had the chance to meet bu¬†Itje Chodidjah,¬†whose brilliant and provocative thoughts on education I have always followed online, in person. Surprisingly, not until I met her (after watching some of her videos on YouTube) I realized that she’s from Malang, the home city of my university, Brawijaya University. How strange we are all connected.

I took a few lessons on¬†itdi.pro¬†and I can say they use simple and easy-to-understand language as instructions, and also useful and practical lessons that we teachers can relate to. Last night I attended the iTDi Global Webinar for the first time, ‘Breaking Rules’ with¬†John F. Fanselow. In just 2 hours (and we didn’t realize it was 2 hours already!) I learned a lot about how to break the habits in teaching. One thing I remember was when John said, “Language is a skill.” Many countries (including Indonesia) have mistaken English for a content subject in which the students are asked to memorize vocabulary rather than use it. This is true and I can truly relate to that. Along with the webinar, iTDi also provides courses on ‘Breaking Rules’. To learn more about the webinar and courses, visit¬†iTDi Breaking Rules.

So that’s the story how I met iTDi. Rest assured, my teaching journey will never be the same again.

You can also read about iTDi Day on Icha’s blog:¬†iTDi day Indonesia 2013.

Photo credit: iTDi Indonesia

Apa itu PLN? PLN = Personal/Professional Learning Network

Tulisan ini sengaja ditulis dalam bahasa Indonesia dengan harapan agar dibaca oleh sebanyak-banyaknya guru di Indonesia.

Apa itu PLN? Pertama kali saya mendengar dan membaca kata ini saya pun bertanya-tanya. Mungkin yang belum mengenal betul juga begitu. Bagaimana tidak. Karena di Indonesia ‘PLN’ lebih dikenal sebagai singkatan dari ‘Perusahaan Listrik Negara’. Nah, PLN yang ini tidak ada sangkut-pautnya dengan perusahaan listrik yang satu itu ya. Dalam dunia pendidikan PLN adalah kependekan dari ‘Personal Learning Network‘ atau ‘Professional Learning Network‘.

Mungkin para guru yang membaca tulisan ini sudah melakukannya tapi belum sadar bahwa itu adalah bagian dari PLN (seperti saya beberapa bulan yang lalu). Jadi, inti dari PLN adalah bagaimana guru memanfaatkan teknologi, internet, dan media sosial untuk mengikuti perkembangan dunia pendidikan terkini di dunia dan mendapat pengetahuan dan ketrampilan untuk meningkatkan profesionalisme (professional growth).    

Ada banyak hal yang bisa kita lakukan dengan teknologi, internet, dan media sosial. Pernah tidak suatu waktu kita merasa ada kesulitan dalam mengajar sementara tidak ada seorang pun yang bisa kita tanyakan pendapatnya? Berdasarkan pengalaman saya sendiri, biasanya saya akan browse internet dan mencari solusi akan masalah saya tadi. Hasilnya? Ternyata ada banyak sekali bahan di luar sana dan saya merasa sangat terbantu! Itu lah PLN.

Bagaimana cara membangun PLN? Jika kita sudah terbiasa browsing internet, sudah aktif menggunakan media sosial seperti Facebook, Twitter, dan LinkedIn, maka membangun PLN tidaklah sulit. Silakan tentukan langkah Anda sendiri atau buka tautan ini untuk tips-tips hebat cara memulainya: 50 Great Ways to Grow Your Personal Learning Network. Kalau untuk saya sendiri, ini yang selama ini saya lakukan dengan PLN saya:

  1. Facebook: saya menggunakan akun Facebook untuk berhubungan dengan guru bahasa Inggris, guru, dan pendidik di wilayah saya dan Indonesia. Seperti halnya di Facebook group dan Twitter, di sini saya suka membagi tautan, gambar, dan video yang berhubungan dengan English Language Teaching (ELT).
  2. Facebook Group: September 2012 saya memulai grup Facebook¬†Indonesian English Teachers’ Club, di mana anggotanya adalah guru bahasa Inggris dari seluruh Indonesia. Di grup ini kami biasa mendiskusikan tentang belajar mengajar,¬†event, atau hal-hal lain yang berhubungan dengan bahasa Inggris.
  3. Twitter: saya menggunakan Twitter kebanyakan untuk mem-follow¬†para ahli atau akun Twitter yang memfokuskan pada¬†ELT dan bidang lain yang saya minati seperti¬†educational technology¬†(edtech). Dari sini saya banyak mendapatkan informasi tentang tren dunia pendidikan dunia, terutama yang berhubungan dengan ELT. Saya juga dapat secara aktif berinteraksi dengan para guru bahasa Inggris lain, di dalam dan luar negeri. Salah satu ‘forum’ diskusi di Twitter yang paling populer adalah¬†#ELTChat¬†yang diadakan tiap Rabu yang diorganisasikan oleh¬†eltchat.org. Guru bahasa Inggris dari seluruh dunia bisa berpartisipasi di sini.
  4. Blog: dibuatnya blog¬†Ms Neno’s Blog¬†ini awalnya adalah untuk media saya merefleksikan kegiatan belajar mengajar yang saya lakukan. Tetapi mulai bulan April ini, saya berusaha untuk terus aktif¬†ngeblog, terutama setelah memahami lebih dalam apa itu PLN dan bagaimana ia bisa membantu meningkatkan profesionalisme saya. Fokus saya adalah membuat refleksi, berbagi pengalaman, teknik dan metode mengajar, serta hal-hal lain.
  5. LinkedIn: akun LinkedIn saya saya dedikasikan untuk membuat network dengan para profesional di bidang pendidikan, pengajaran bahasa Inggris, maupun di luar kedua itu. Walaupun bukan pengguna aktif, saya juga bergabung dengan beberapa grup yang berhubungan dengan ELT dan ada banyak diskusi menarik dan penting yang terjadi di sana.
  6. Paper.li: saya lupa kapan saya membuat akun Paper.li tapi terbukti ‘harian’¬†English Teaching and Learning Daily¬†yang saya buat telah membantu guru maupun murid yang juga¬†follower¬†saya karena seringkali mendapatkan¬†retweet¬†dan¬†favorite. Paper.li adalah salah satu cara terbaik untuk mengkurasi (curating) konten yang berhubungan dengan belajar mengajar bahasa Inggris. Konten bisa kita atur sesuai dengan pembaca yang ingin kita tuju – untuk harian saya, saya membuatnya untuk guru dan murid bahasa Inggris.
  7. Google Chrome¬†Bookmark. Kenapa saya pakai Google Chrome untuk mem-bookmark¬†laman-laman yang saya baca? Seharusnya saya tidak menggunakannya karena dengan begitu saya tidak bisa membaginya dengan orang lain. Saat ini saya masih dalam tahap belajar menggunakan¬†Diigo. Di Diigo, laman-laman yang kita bookmark bisa dilihat oleh orang lain, dalam hal ini sesama guru yang mungkin mendalami bidang yang sama dengan kita.¬†So…¬†Wish me luck¬†untuk yang satu ini…

Selain di atas, pembaca bisa menentukan mau menggunakan website atau media sosial pilihan Anda sendiri lo… Gambar di bawah ini cukup menjelaskan bagaimana media sosial digunakan dalam PLN:

Gambaran cara memanfaatkan media sosial sebagai PLN

Atau… Bisa juga nih tonton video keren yang satu ini, tentang bagaimana PLN itu penting bagi para pendidik, sehubungan dengan bagaimana di jaman informasi dan teknologi saat ini penguasaan teknologi telah menjadi syarat wajib dan utama menjadi seorang guru yang baik:¬†You can’t be my teacher. Kutipan paling mengena ada di akhir video:

“Do you really think it is possible to be an educator in the information age and not understand and use the internet? Continue to pretend, maybe the internet is just a fad.”(Apakah Anda benar-benar berpikir adalah mungkin menjadi seorang pendidik di era informasi dan tidak memahami dan menggunakan internet? Terus saja berpura-pura, mungkin internet hanya sekadar demam sementara saja.)

Bagaimana? Mudah kan membuat PLN? Mulai dari sekarang yuk! Untuk membaca lebih banyak tentang PLN, kunjungi laman ini:¬†Teacher’s Guide on Creating Personal Learning Networks.

Tulisan ini juga bisa dibaca di Guraru.org dan Kompasiana.com.

Image credit: educatorstechnology.com.

Using text message (sms) as homework assignment in an ESP class

Maximizing potential with minimum resource.

Around two months ago I had my first meeting for an English for Specific Purpose (ESP) class that was specifically made for cashiers and shop attendants at a supermarket in Kuta, Badung. This surely wasn’t my first ESP class. That’s why I was partly worried that I would make the same mistake I did before with my other classes. I’ve been teaching English for the past five years and ESP has been one of the most frequent types of class I teach. Before deciding in using text message as homework assignment, I’d like to share my initial thoughts on previous mistakes I made:

My ESP students are of course mostly adults with very little (if not zero) exposure to English. Part of the problem why employers send them to an English class is because of this lack of¬†exposure, but at the same time being enrolled in the class does not solve the problem. Why? Because they are engaged with English ONLY when they are in the classroom, in which only three times a week, 90 minutes for each meeting ‚Äď that, if they‚Äôre lucky. Most of the time they prefer working than being in my English class thus making it to the 90 minutes a week can be considered an achievement.

Since I’m a believer (not Belieber, mind you) in the notion that language is acquired, not learned, then if I continued this practice (to have students only learn while they are in the classroom) I would contradict my own belief. I thought I had to find a way where students can at least be aware that unless they take control over their own learning and be actively involved in it, they can achieve the expected outcome. Thus: homework, something that reminds them of the English class they are taking, at home. However, the problem with traditional homework is that oftentimes it is boring and time consuming.

My original plan was: to ‚Äėmove‚Äô the class to social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, after a very short survey, I found out that none of them were active users of both (only one is familiar with Facebook, but not an active user). It was my failure to realize that students‚Äô social and economic background also plays an important role to this condition. Having this fact, I quickly figured out an alternative:¬†text message, since all of them have mobile phones (these days no doubt it is more like a necessity than luxury).

So here’s how I did my text message homework assignment, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Skills practiced through the assignment:

  1. Writing,
  2. Spelling and grammar/ accuracy,
  3. Vocabulary,
  4. Familiarity with common English expressions.

When it was done:

The homework was given on the second meeting (on Friday), coinciding with the beginning of the end of the week. I thought this would be a good reminder of the English class, at home, during the weekend. Students were free to choose to send the text message either on Saturday or Sunday. The task was checked and discussed in the next meeting, at the beginning of the next week (on Monday).

What the students were asked to do:

They were asked to send a simple text message to me (their teacher), saying ‚Äúselamat berakhir pekan‚ÄĚ (weekend greetings). I did not elicit how to say it in English nor what should they say. I only wrote the Indonesian phrase above on the board. My purpose was to let them initiate their own thoughts. They were free, tho, to ask their friends, relatives, or anyone, or find help in books or on the internet.

What the results were:

Out of total 11 students, 10 did their homework: 7 sent it to me on Saturday, 3 on Sunday. Here are the texts (with no editing):

  1. ‚Äúhappy lastweek mrs mino‚Ķ. from ngurah‚ÄĚ
  2. ‚ÄúGood Afternoon, Miss NENO. Happy last weekend for today. From KADEK SRI PURNAMA‚ÄĚ
  3. ‚Äúgood afternoon ms. neno,,, it‚Äôs my homework, happy weekend ms. neno. thank‚Äôs before. from: sriwasih‚ÄĚ
  4. ‚ÄúHappy weekend‚ÄĚ [Mrs. Budani]
  5. ‚ÄúHai,, good evening mrs neno, happy weekend,have a nice holiday for tomorrow.. thanks for teach me, you^re awesome, thanks so much, yulia purnamasari‚ÄĚ
  6. ‚ÄúHave a nice weekend,to mrs neno,from suli.See you‚ÄĚ
  7. ¬†‚ÄĚShe you weken ms.Neno‚ÄĚ [Tri]
  8. ‚Äúhappy weekend miss neno.‚ÄĚ [Erna]
  9. ‚ÄúMorning miss neno. . . Happy niCe weekend. . .‚ÄĚ [Selvi]
  10. ‚Äúgood morning Ms NENO,this nengah adi,have a nice weekend‚ÄĚ

What I did in the next meeting:

The text message assignment was a good instrument to introduce them to these topics:

  1. Greetings,
  2. Titles and how to address people,
  3. How to actually say ‚Äúselamat berakhir pekan‚ÄĚ in English and other related expressions,
  4. Farewell,
  5. The correct spelling and pronunciation of all the above.

These five were the main topics, but I also touched a little on capitalization and punctuation (but didn’t over-emphasize them, since I realized their focus was more on the communicative function of the language). All the above points are useful for their everyday speaking practice at work, with both customers and coworkers. Teaching materials they can relate to is important in an ESP and/ or adult class. Please note that during the discussion of their homework, I wasn’t being judgmental in any way in order to show them they were allowed to make mistakes and obliged to learn from them.

What I learned from this activity:

This is definitely one of my favorite activities that I will continue using and modifying for my future classes. Like any other class activity, it has some advantages and disadvantages. I will start with the disadvantages.

The shortfalls:

  1. Skills practiced were limited to only writing and grammar,
  2. Text message character limit (up to only 160 characters) limited students to do longer task,
  3. Teachers should have lots of ideas for topic (repetition can lead to boredom).

The positive sides:

  1. It was a good tool to measure students’ basic knowledge,
  2. The task could fill the gap between the class and their everyday life ‚Äď that learning does not take place only in the classroom,
  3. It was a good way to introduce topics that were presented in the next meeting,
  4. The task was time efficient, considerably cheap, and fun.

I could say that this assignment was a part of my experiment in making my class more engaging and effective. I would be very happy to receive any comment or input on any aspect of this experiment from you. Thank you and I hope you can find it useful.

Photo credit: mobighar.com.