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TESOL Connections (June 2011)

by User Not Found | 11/08/2011

Lesson Plan: Let's Take a Trip, by Sarah Sahr

  • A Free Article from June 2011 TESOL Journal Special Topic Issue:

    "Listen to My Story and You Will Know Me":

    Digital Stories as Student-Centered Collaborative Projects,

    by Polina Vinogradova, Heather A. Linville, and Beverly Bickel

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  • 1


    Lesson Plan:

    Let's Take a Trip

    by Sarah Sahr

    download the PDF

    One thing I have learned is that students love to talk about where they come from. Even more so, students love talking to people who are going to visit their home country. Travel lessons are some of my favorite activities… mostly because I LOVE to travel. Watching these types of lessons unfold with a multilingual, multilevel classroom warms my heart because there is always something for everyone. This “Let’s take a trip” lesson is a great end-of-year project when you are looking for authentic, engaging activities to fill those days between standardized testing and the last day of school.

    Language Level:

    Intermediate, with adaptations for beginning and advanced language learners


    Encourage students for weeks prior to this lesson to bring in location-specific items such as travel guides (in any language), maps, vacation brochures, souvenirs, photos, ethnic artifacts (clothing, pottery, etc.), and travel Web site URLS. Make sure the items are identified by the student’s name.

    These items will be used in the Travel Show and Tell portion of this lesson.


    This project can take several days, but it can also be spread out and worked on for a series of weeks.


    Students will be able to:

    • Produce a travel information packet (flyer, brochure, power point, wiki, etc.) with useful information about a region, country, city, or town.
    • Focus on a particular grammar point based on their language proficiency.
    Present their travel information to the class in a 7–10 minute group presentation.

    Introduction (Motivation): 15 minutes

    Travel Show and Tell! (This involves some initial planning.)

    Show and Tell is a simple public speaking activity used at various levels of education:

    • Students bring in a small item that can fit into their bag and is school appropriate.
    • Each student who has an item, one by one, comes to the front of the class and talks about that item for at least 45 seconds.
    • Participation is voluntary.
    • There is no grade given.

    Let students know about a week ahead of time that they can bring in an item that they would like to talk about. Let them know this will be “Travel Show and Tell,” with an emphasis on travel. This item should be from their home country or a place they have recently visited. Let students take a few moments to get together their thoughts on what they would like to say about their item. Give them some guidance on what they should talk about in their 45 seconds:

    • Where is your item from?
    • Do you think people would like to visit where you got that item? Why?

    If time allows after the show and tell, ask students in pairs to decide on the three places they would go based on what they’ve heard and why. Have pairs share this information with the class.

    Making Groups: 5–10 minutes

    The class will be divided into groups. Often as teachers, we are faced with the dilemma of making groups. In this activity, group creation is pivotal to how the lesson moves forward. Groups could be made homogeneously or heterogeneously:


    • Groups based on ancestral regions (Middle East, South America, Africa, etc.): This allows students to bring personal and prior knowledge to the group.
    • Groups based on language proficiency: Students are all on the same language level, reducing feelings of intimidation.


    • Groups can be randomly selected: Students are subject to “luck of the draw.”
    • Groups can have a mix of language proficiencies: Students can divide tasks more easily based on language complexities.

    Groups of 4–6 work best, but your classes might be bigger or smaller. Decide what is best for your class and go from there.

    Empower your students to make their own decisions as groups. There is no correct way of getting the travel information to the class. Let the groups decide how they want to present things.

    Create Travel Information: Time varies
    Each group will need to produce a certain amount of travel information. This information can be presented as a brochure, a power point, a flyer, and so on. Each group will produce several “Must Haves.” Groups can also produce “Could Haves” if time allows and students are able. This could take days, it could be homework, or it could be revisited every week for up to 4 weeks. Look at your calendar and see how it might fit in. Some suggestions for the lists follow, but you know your students best; choose what you’d like as the “Must Haves” and if they have time, they could elect to put a few of the “Could Haves” in their travel information:

    Must Haves

    Travel Sections

    • Short History Section
    • 3 “must see” sites
    • Best time of year to travel, including weather
    • A recommended daily budget

    Presentation Format

    • Paper flyer/brochure
    • Photos

    Could Haves

    Travel Sections

    • Common Phrases
    • Places to eat
    • Festivals and/or holidays
    • Places to stay

    Additional Presentation Format

    • Power Point
    • Wiki*

    Suggestions: Use symbols and icons to denote information, i.e. $ / €, C, D, ‼, etc. The Travel Sections can be paired up so each group member has to write two. Bring in travel books like Lonely Planet, Let’s Go or Frommer’s as reference. Allow for computer time to research links that would enhance presentations.

    Assigning Responsibilities: 5–10 minutes

    Once groups have been decided, look at the lists of “Must Haves” and “Could Haves.”

    Assign roles be assigned to each group members; I strongly suggest the following, though any roles can be chosen. When assigning roles, please take into consideration proficiency levels:

    • Travel Agent (1 student): This person will lead the group. This includes setting deadlines, making sure people stay on task, and editing all content. This person will also present the bulk of the information to the class.
    Tour Guides (3–5 students can take this role): These people will be creating the bulk of the travel information. They should choose items they are comfortable writing about.


    I would recommend having a grammar focus and specific word lengths for language proficiencies (please use grammar points students have worked on in class):

    Beginner – each item must be at least 50 words using present tense

    Intermediate – each item must have at least 100 words using at least one conditional


    Advanced – each item must have at least 100 words, at least one conditional, and

    at least one compound/complex sentence.

    Presentations (assessment):

    Revisit Travel Show and Tell but have students come forwards as a group. They should bring the items they have created and explain each one. As mentioned above, the Travel Agent would do the bulk of the presentation. However, each student should present their pieces to the class. Don’t let the Travel Agent run the show (no matter how much they want to). Make sure each student gets a chance to speak.

    *Possible pages for creating online wikis:




    Download the lesson plan here


    Sarah Sahr works at TESOL and has her Masters in ESL administration. She has managed a school in Vietnam, trained teachers in South Korea, implemented school reform in Qatar, run a circus train classroom for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and taught 8th grade writing in Maryland. Prior to all that, Sarah was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. She is also a certified ashtanga yoga instructor and has managed an eco-lodge in Chugchilan, Ecuador.


    This article is from TESOL Journal, Volume 2, Issue 2

    Special Topic Issue: Learner Stories for Language Learning and Community Building

    June 2011

    "Listen to My Story and You Will Know Me":

    Digital Stories as Student-Centered

    Collaborative Projects

    by Polina Vinogradova, Heather A. Linville, and Beverly Bickel

    download the PDF

    I . . . liked [making] the digital [story] because it made me talk about something that is important for me: My family. Discussing my story with my classmates was very awesome because they appreciated it and its sadness made them think a lot. I made my story for my parents and sisters and I will show it to them. Of courses I am thinking about making not only another story, but many other stories even if I have to do it myself. (Student from Cameroon, Final Essay)<a title="Journal assignments were focused on fluency and reflection, with no instructional concern for spelling or grammar. Thus students’ journal entries quoted in this paper are done so verbatim; we have not edited them for spelling and grammar. Similarly, we have not edited interview transcripts for grammatical accuracy.">1</a>

    Digital stories—short and economical personal narrative pieces that use image, voice, sound effects, and music to convey meaning—can be a powerful form for creative and engaging student projects. In our English Language Center, we use digital stories as final projects in the advanced-level class Cross-Cultural Communication and University Life. This content-based instruction (CBI) class asks students to consider cultural concepts and contexts as they learn to navigate diverse U.S. cultures and the academic discourse community that they will encounter when they enter full-time undergraduate or graduate careers.

    The student’s words at the beginning of this article remind us of the transnational context of students’ cultural experiences and the simultaneity of transnational audiences for their new media projects. Students’ cultural experiences, as members of both their home culture and the new culture of the United States, become the instructional basis of stories in our classes. In this article, we discuss how the use of digital stories as final student projects creates inclusive classroom communities of practice and fosters development of multiliteracies. As students develop and produce digital stories, they choose topics and themes that are meaningful and of genuine interest to them, while also collaborating with each other in class and outside of class, and sometimes with friends and family in distant places. As they consider multiple audiences, students begin their stories by discussing their ideas with diverse, international peers in a story circle and then continue by writing a short verbal narrative, collecting still images, selecting music and sound effects, mapping their stories, recording their voices, and finally producing the digital stories using video editing software. These steps require that students explore concepts of cross-cultural communication in a collaborative context as each person develops a meaningful personal story that incorporates multimodal elements and can be digitally disseminated to diverse audiences.

    In this article, we describe digital stories and how we use them in our classes, show examples of stories and students’ journal reflections on their work, explain how the story projects contribute to students developing multiliteracies within a pedagogy of an inclusive community of practice, and finally detail the steps and stages of making stories and the challenges instructors might expect. Although we offer practical suggestions to teachers who would like to try this genre in their classes, we do not view this article as a how-to manual for teachers, nor would we like it to be a critique of the digital storytelling genre. The goal is to discuss how we use digital stories in our teaching practices for the purpose of bringing students’ lifeworlds (New London Group, 2000) and interests into the curriculum. Appendices include links to stories, online resources, and teaching materials, including suggested pre- and postviewing guiding questions and a sample grading rubric.


    Digital storytelling is a broad term that can include video games, advertisements, PowerPoint presentations, and electronic photo albums, but researchers in the field of education generally use it to refer to a distinct nonlinear narrative genre that uses new media technology to produce short, personal narratives using high-quality sound and images (e.g., Banaszewski, 2002; Burgess, 2006; Chung, 2007; Davis, 2005; Freidus & Hlubinka, 2002; Hartley & McWilliam, 2009; Hull & Nelson, 2005; Kajder, 2004; Lambert, 2006, 2009; Lundby, 2008; Nelson & Hull, 2008; Ohler, 2008; Rance-Roney, 2008; Tendero, 2006). Given the educational potential of this work, digital stories as a multimodal narrative genre are being utilized in the fields of cultural production, education, and counseling, and language teachers have begun incorporating digital storytelling into their curriculum (see Nelson, 2006; Rance-Roney, 2008; Vinogradova, 2008).

    In our university, we generally follow the model of the Center for Digital Storytelling, in Berkeley, California, which is dedicated to a democratization of this new media form in which authors control the story and the entire process of production (Lambert, 2009). Student authors create and deliver a story using various symbolic means, and in the process they learn basic video editing and production tools and techniques. This work demystifies these ubiquitous technologies and creates the basis for students to become more critical consumers of media who can therefore cast a more analytical gaze on media texts.

    The short (2- to 5-minute) personal and sometimes autobiographical narratives may include focused logical or chronological storylines, dramatic storytelling qualities, and often impressionistic or poetic forms of expression. The stories combine verbal narration, visual images, and a musical background and are produced digitally using various video editing software (such as Final Cut, iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, Premiere, and Photo Story). Other components shared by most digital stories include multimodal communication, accessibility of story context, and the relationship between the producer and the digital story content (Paul & Fiebich, 2005). The combination of these aspects explains the power of student engagement and expression in the content of digital stories. Digital story authors use multimodality in every aspect of discourse design and production. They choose from a variety of materials such as still images, photographs, cartoons, short digital videos, or a combination of these visual techniques to express themselves as storytellers and filmmakers. Additionally, some authors add computer graphics, their own drawings, and text to the images in their stories in order to frame their narratives, dramatize meanings, and draw viewers’ attention to particular story elements.

    Similarly, they draw upon a variety of sound and music materials that include sound effects, music files, and self-authored music and sound effects using software like GarageBand. Students use these multimodal tools to express stories that are often a reflection on important or life-changing experiences. The stories not only explore connections between people, events, and places, but they also develop connections between the author, the story, and the audience. Authors establish a multidimensional and multimodal dialogue through which every story triggers the evolution and development of other stories in a potentially ever-expanding web of stories (see Lambert, 2009; Lucas, 1999).


    Digital story projects allow students to deeply explore the cultural content of our content-based cross-cultural course while using language in focused and purposeful ways, with the specific goal of developing fluency in the written and oral language. The story projects reflect CBI goals of helping students link meaningful content with language instruction so that they improve their disciplinary knowledge and academic language and literacy skills, preparing them to manage the language and sociocultural demands of their future academic endeavors (Grabe & Stoller, 1997). One aim of this work is that students learn to engage in complex thinking similar to what will be expected of them in university-level content courses (Crandall & Kaufman, 2002).

    Download the full article free here


    1 Journal assignments were focused on fluency and reflection, with no instructional concern for spelling or grammar. Thus students’ journal entries quoted in this paper are done so verbatim; we have not edited them for spelling and grammar. Similarly, we have not edited interview transcripts for grammatical accuracy.

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