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The Office (Image from BBC SKillswise)

UPDATE: Since I originally wrote this post, the BBC Skillswise website has been updated considerably all the previous activities appear to have been retained, but new activities have been added and each section now has an explanatory video

The recent ELTchat on story telling made me think about how I’ve used stories in class and got me thinking about a resource I’d used recently.

The Big Scan – Who Killed Angela Spelling‘ a resource designed to develop scan reading techniques on the BBC Skillswise website. This year I have been teaching far more teenage groups than previously and I have needed to find fun activities to keep them engaged; this resource worked for a number of these groups.

I have previously mentioned the Skillswise site from the BBC; it is a classic Web1.0 e-learning resource in that there is no customisable element to it, the content and tasks are supplied by the developer. Nevertheless, it is free and of high quality, so this should not necessarily be a problem. I have been using the site for the last seven years, so it is not particularly new, but it does seem to have aged better than a lot of other websites have.

The context of the resource is that of a classic US private detective film or TV show – it plays on this intertextuality, using many of the typical features you would expect from the genre. As you would expect you play the role of a detective investigating a mysterious murder.

Learners are provided with a printable clue sheet (which you will need to print off before the lesson) . This contains a number of questions, the answers to which can be found scattered around the various game locations. Learners have to search through the texts at each location in order to find the specific information needed to answer the questions. The settings include the local police station, morgue and the houses/apartments of the principle character/suspects. There are a number of different text types used – case notes, letters, labels, diagrams, notes etc.

In terms of classroom management, the key feature is the time limit. There is an option to turn it off, but be strict about this.. the point is that learners have to scan through the texts quickly to locate precise information, practising this skill. The other area to manage is to ensure that learners keep a note of thir answers on the clue sheet as they go through the activity; otherwise it is less likely to be effective in developing scanning skills.

After finishing the activity you can move learners on to the quiz activity, where they can apply the skills developed to a more real-world context, giving them the opportunity to reflect on how to use the skills developed in the lesson. This offers texts at three different levels – the first involves scanning for information in a catalogue, the second is based on scanning for bus times from a timetable which the highest level asks learners to find specific information in a magazine-type text. There are also three worksheets which can be printed out and used offline, providing an offline alternative to the online quizzes. Finally, Like all the resources on the site there is a teachers’ page, giving advice on how to use the resources as well as links to further resources.

This may not be a new resource – apologies if I’m just describing something you use already, but I found that it did provide a nice way of getting learners to practice their reading skills, and I feel a key part of that was the narrative theme running through it. Is this another demonstration of how storytelling supports language and literacy development? Do you know of any similar resources? Please share your thoughts below, I’d love to hear them…

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I was shown this website about 5 years ago, when I was teaching loads of classes in an IT suite, and needed to find ways to exploit it; incredibly, for something on the Internet, it has really stood the test of time . It’s an interactive game for practising following directions. It’s so simple, yet so well put together, that I’ve been using it for all this time.

DestImp1

Destination Impossible

The basic idea is that the application consists of a map of a fictional town, and players are given a written instruction, and have to choose whether this is taking them to place A, B or C. The game takes them through a series of instructions so that they complete their ‘mission’; A time limit can be set to increase the pressure (and difficulty). I find it to be a good exercise for practising reading for information and also for consolidating vocabulary. It is suitable for strong beginners or elementary level students (good E1 or E2 in UK ESOL language). It always seems to get the learners engaged and allows you to give individual support for any students who might need it. I just add a link to the site in Moodle, so students can access it easily in the lesson, and return to it outside of class should they want to.

There are quiz activities and worksheets on using the imperative here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise/topic/instructions/resources/e3 (E3/Pre-intermediate) and http://www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise/topic/instructions/resources/l1 (L1/Intermediate). Here you could use the game as a warmer, and then shift the focus on to the quiz questions (or other resources on the topic).

The Skillswise site in general is well worth bookmarking (I’ve added it to my links page, as it has some great interactive word and grammar games, it is more aimed at adult literacy students, but still has plenty of stuff relevant for ESOL/ESL/EFL students. There are also a lot of numeracy links, should you need to do some work with numbers.

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