There is a lot of evidence to prove that sustained silent reading is exceedingly beneficial both inside and outside the classroom and a key advantage of mobile devices is the ease with which students can have access to rich reading resources. Additionally, it is also possible to follow the written word on the page, whilst listening to an oral rendition of the text. This is particularly important to students whose mother tongue is written in a script that is not the Roman Alphabet and as in the case of Arabic, does follow the same spelling rules. Vowels are often not represented in written Arabic,: and thus students forget to incorporate them into their written English.
Our institution subscribes to the Oxford Bookworms Series of Graded Readers for EFL students. I would like to share some of the activities I have done with my students using this online reading resource and other digital programmes.
Conventional Pre and Post Reading Activities
I listed and used the conventional pre and post reading activities frequently employed to test comprehension, enrich vocabulary acquisition and foster prediction skills when a class set of readers is used. These included:
. Saving pictures from the book onto the Camera Roll and using the slideshow function to present them to students. During the slide show students predicted the genre,possible plot, and the role certain characters would play. I also elicited target vocabulary.
. Playing snippets of conversation of the story to the students and asking them to predict the next few scenes. I did the by playing the audio on one iPad and recording the excerpts with another iPad using Sound Note.
. Creating vocabulary reinforcement exercises in Spelling City, Quizlet and Socrative.
. Creating follow up comprehension questions in Socrative.
. Playing You Tube videos connected to a key theme or event in the book. For example, after listening to a description of the skies darkening before a volcanic explosion in ‘Last Chance’, we stopped the audio and quickly switched to a volcanic eruption on You Tube which caught the students imagination and enhanced their understanding of the dangers the protagonist was facing.
. Saving several pictures from the online book into the Camera Roll and then inserting them into a Pages document as visual prompts which scaffolded the students recapping of the story.
These were all effective activities, but I wanted to utilize the social networking possibilities of m-learning and engage students in tasks they normally do outside of the classroom in their real lives. So I turned to iFaketext.com.
This site allows you to make realistic counterfeits of documents such as SMS texts and Facebook accounts.
The Facebook Account of Police Woman Sue Parker from Police TV ( OUP) .
I created a Facebook Account which situated Sue Parker in central London. It was easy to add photos saved and cropped from Camera Roll and to enter the key events in the story as events in her calendar. I then wrote an open comment saying that she was worried about the number of thefts that had recently occurred in North Street and asking her Facebook friends for suggestions on how to catch the thief.
Students logged into Sue’s page as User Name: SueParker, Password:english because I felt this was a safe way to proceed. I did not want students to use their own authentic Facebook accounts and disclose personal information. However, several students decided to do so and others who had not previously owned an account, felt motivated to open one. The task was simply to read several pages of comments, photo albums and event recordings and to feedback to the class the information they had gathered about the police officer. Each group took it in turn to reveal more information and not to repeat the information provided by other groups. This gave students a reason to listen carefully to their peers. Afterwards, students chose the comments or pictures they wished to reply to. Whilst moving around the class, I was able to post answers to student comments, encouraging further reading and writing.
There was a strange blurring of fiction and reality. Although I had created the account using iFaketext.com and the character was obviously from the storybook, the verisimilitude of the Facebook text and the authenticity of the tasks set, led to some students questioning whether or not they were corresponding with a real person.
Warning: A good activity goes wrong.
I used a fake document website, rather than the actual Facebook site so that the information posted was not in the public domain and to substantiate the point that this was a classroom based simulation type activity. I used my own email address to create the document, but had to add a fictitious gmail address for the protagonist. I did not need to create an authentic gmail account before creating the Facebook account. However, during the activity someone must have changed the class shared password for Sue Parker and once I had exited the account, I could no longer log back in. I tried to rectify the situation by creating the make believe email address, but a genuine Sueparker@gmail.com exists and so I have not been able to get the security code to change the password and now need to create the bogus account again. It would therefore be prudent to register an email account under the book character’s name before developing their webpage. This really does blur reality and educational exercises!
IFaketext.com also helps you produce text messages. I created one from the police officer to the class. I could not get this sent properly and so I took a photo shot of it and emailed it to students, who opened it in Skitch and typed in their responses. Sue Parker asked them a personal response question about how things were going in Abu Dhabi first, and then asked them questions referring to the plot of the book, asking them to infer who the thief was. This started students asking how they could contact an English speaker abroad with whom they could genuinely text.
A Puppet Pals Interview Between the Police Officer and a Suspect
As the target language at present includes simple past question forms, students worked in pairs to write, rehearse and then record a dialogue in the form of a police interview that took place between Sue Parker and a character from the book who many students believed was the thief. An advantage of Puppet Pals is that photos saved from an online book can be turned into the background and characters of the puppet show. Hats off to technology, photos can be manipulated in such a way that a character who is looking left in the original photo, can be made to look right on stage and during a three person dialogue characters can actually change the way they are facing to look at the speaker!
Students uploaded their dialogues onto eBackpack from where they were viewed via Apple TV. The whole class discussed the merits of a dialogue, awarding points for the variety of questions asked, the usefulness of questions asked to the police investigation and the accuracy of the grammar and vocabulary. eBackpack has a review function into which grades and comments are entered, and saved by the teacher(as a representative of the class) and viewed by the material’s creators.
In conclusion, students interacted with the content of the short stories in creative,mobile, social, visual, gaming and story telling ways, meeting all five educational materials criteria recommended by Dr Ruben Puentedura,Founder and President of Hippasus, and designer of the SAMR model of change and innovative implementation.
Their language use, especially in the Facebook activity was meaning focused and not simply for display purposes. In the last three e-learning activities outlined here, students not only used language communicatively, but also developed many digital literacies.