Guest Post by Alice Mercer, my very talented Sacramento colleague.

Cool Tool sessions abound at a conference like ISTE. I even attended one. These can be great for finding a new online tool for using with EL students, but as my fellow “official” correspondent points out, sessions that show you how to use a tool effectively are also needed. ISTE does have model lesson sessions, which I unfortunately did not get to this time (only so much time in the day, etc.). I did see one short session in the CUE (Computer Using Educators – the ISTE California affiliate) Room that did talk about how he used the tool with students. I’m going to share how Jon Corippo did this, and then show some suggestions about how you could adjust the lesson for working with EL students to make it more successful and effective.

The session was on Powerpoint Karaoke. I know, you’re thinking, “Who thought that was a good combination?” Apparently, it began as a “drinking” game in Germany, the land that brought us Boxing Chess, so I’m sure now it’s starting to make sense, but you still may not be convinced it’s a good idea. The basics of the game are this, you are given a random slide deck with some pictures, to which you must speak extemporaneously as each slide appears for a given amount of time.

At this point, it probably does not sound like a good activity for students let alone ELs, even if it’s been made more wholesome by the absence of beer. What Jon did was choose pictures related to either vocabulary words being studied, or historic events the class had learned about. In this way, the students would have background to talk about the picture. He’d do this as a review or formative assessment of students.

Why would I suggest this for ELs? There is a tendency to shy away from putting ELs on the “spot” by calling on them, but they do need to learn to speak in spontaneous and natural public speaking situations. This activity is good for intermediate level students, and something like it is necessary for advanced level students so they develop oral language fluency. The only group that I may not use it with would be absolute beginners to the language. Here are some steps I would take to prepare everyone in the class for this activity.

  1. Explain and model the process to students showing them a slide with a word you are currently studying and then ask them to volunteer or you can do a “think aloud” about how it could be appropriately dealt with.
  2. For students, give them wait time, previews, etc. to help them through the first few times. Ask the student which word they liked or felt strongest on, and have them do that one, but this should just be for starting out. As they get more comfortable, they should be able to do it.
  3. Make the speaking times short (20-30 seconds) because that will be easier at the start, and will keep the activity going on a fast pace. Since this is review, and not the initial teaching, that should be fine. If the students need more time to process, have a little decompress between each slide, where you debrief on what just took place.
  4. If you have a mix of abilities in your class and some beginner level ELs, continue to use the scaffolds in number two above, and have them work with partners to do it as a team (as a modified pair-share), or read from their vocabulary sheet/notes..

What about pictures? Flickr, PowerPoint itself, and other online resources abound in them. Other ideas, you can take this from a recall level activity to comprehension, etc. by having student discuss concepts and ideas learned, rather than just vocabulary.