Live Description

- Two ESL groups connect via skype to practise their descriptive language -

Context - provider and class / course

The classes are Level 1 English at PRACE. CSWE I course, Module F (listening and speaking skills for descriptions). This activity can be adapted for any level though. For levels II and III for example students could describe scenes and more complicated photos/pictures.

About the learners

o The learners range in ages - from 23 – 76 years of age.
o In communication skills - some students have lived in Australia for many decades whilst some others have arrived recently. One student has been here for 40 years and another for two months.
o Experience with using Skype and technology for communication – a couple of the students are aware of Skype and have used it with family but never independently.
o Some were very eager to speak whilst others were extremely nervous.
o Learners at every level can benefit from this activity.

Goals for the activity

The goals for the activity are for the students to have an opportunity to practise speaking with ‘outsiders’ (people not in class and comfort zone). Also, to work on their listening skills. This is ‘pure’ listening as aside from the photos there are no visual aids, gesticulation, etc Students described themselves and others many times in class prior to ‘Skype’ activity but this is a more ‘real’ situation which calls for great skills and patience in the oral communication area.
- Goal No. 1 – for the technology to work! J
- To give both tutors and learners more confidence in using technology in the classroom.
- To give learners more authentic practise in listening and speaking.
- To give learners the opportunity to achieve modules in certificates/courses of learning, etc (In our case we provided the learners with a checklist for recording information about one of the speakers from the other class.)

Outline of the activity (process)

Provide colour photos of students in other class. Connect two classes via ‘Skype’ along with a microphone and then the students take turns to listen to others and then give a description of how they look and what they are wearing in the photo. We numbered the photos and then provided a list of names matched with numbers.
For example: A student from one class gives a description and students in the other class look at the photos and try to guess which person is speaking.
‘Is it number 4, Fatu?’
‘No, it’s not Fatu. Please guess again.’
‘Oh, it’s number 6, Angelina?’
‘Yes, that’s right!’ (Which should be followed by lots of cheering and clapping J.)

Technologies (equipment, rationale)

We used the Internet, ‘Skype’ and a microphone.

What happened in class?

I asked my more confident speakers to go first as this gave the others more confidence. Initially some students were hesitant but all but one gave a description. They all participated in the guessing and eagerly scanned the photos so that they could guess quickly J. We had jokes, people not being entirely honest about their age J, a reunion between two old friends and even singing. It really was loads of fun and I recommend this activity to anyone. J
Sound sometimes faded but we only lost connection once (and easily and quickly called each other again) which was great because then we got to say, ‘Can You Hear Us?’ J We spent approximately an hour and half on this activity. The following day a student asked me when we were doing it again.

Reflections: what worked, what would you change?

Next time, I would provide more complete copies of the photos as there was only one A3 sheet and it was difficult for everyone to see and we had to spend time passing it around. Also, if possible I would have a longer microphone (although the microphone really did not present any problems) for the sake of increased mobility.

Reflections: from the learners

Though some students felt shy at the beginning they soon got into it and some even got carried away with jokes (lying about age J) and songs, which was great! I have already been asked when we would do it again. Students found the activity challenging and fun.

Additional - ways to adapt the activity

This activity could be used and adapted in many ways:
- For practising providing personal information (name, date of birth, etc)
- For practising to make medical/children’s school appointments
- For practising telephone job interviews
- For practising making emergency phone calls
- For practising ordering products over the phone (pizza, Danoz Direct J, etc)
- Great for all listening and speaking modules across all curriculums. A great way for students to achieve outcomes
- A great follow on activity would be to match students up as pen pals and have them write to each other weekly. It would be great fun also to get the two classes together over time for a real face-to-face meeting. Great way to foster friendships between students who would otherwise perhaps never meet.

By using this medium practise is more ‘authentic’ as an overly sympathetic interlocutor J is absent and it is therefore really important that students speak clearly. It can also help a student to gain confidence in asking for and providing repetition. Best of all – it’s fun!