Learning through stations: It isn’t just for Kindergarten

Adults teaching adults can benefit from strong teaching practices in other contexts. Today I led a workshop for adults who teach ESL to new Canadians in volunteer community settings, usually housed and sponsored by churches. The event was the Spring Training for ESL Cooperative Ministries http://eslcooperative.ca/. I presented a session with the above title, based on a class I had prepared for university pre-service teachers. The room was set up with five stations and each participant was given the instructions to choose whichever station they wished to start at and move at will around the room, in no particular order and with no requirement to complete all five stations. The participant traveled with a two column worksheet on which they were asked to reflect after each station: what did I learn at this station? How could I incorporate this in my ESL classroom?

Here is a list of the five stations and some of the insights the participants gained.

*Artistic expression: Using the small square of watercolor paper provided, participants would use watercolor crayons to paint a picture to describe how they were feeling. Afterward, they were to share their painting, their choices of colors and images, with another person at the station.

Here the participant gets to experiment with a mode of expression that is very kinesthetic and artistic. There is choice in color and image as well what aspects of the painting one chooses to describe. Watercolor crayons are user-friendly, but they also provide blurrier lines than drawing, which takes away the element of precision and encourages students to take risks.

*Props: On the table lay an assortment of interesting objects: a fur hat, an Ikea catalogue, an hour glass and a die. Participants were asked to write a short paragraph story based on one of the props.

This activity once again provides choice in which object to choose. The students’ imagination and language level determines the direction the story will take, but there is no prescribed direction. There is room for creativity, humor, cultural knowledge and risk taking. The stories can be shared through read alouds.

*Poetry reading: Participants were asked to choose a poem from the book Eenie Meenie Manitoba by Robert Heidbreder. This book of short, humorous poems on Canadian themes lends itself well to this activity. Another student uses a stopwatch app on a smart phone to record the length of time it takes to read the poem once. Then the reader rereads the poem, attempting to beat his/her previous time.

This activity is set up with choice and engagement in mind. The student is motivated to increase read aloud fluency through the use of the stop watch and a humorous poem, yet the participants may need to discuss how fast is too fast?

*Twitter: Participants at this station are asked to create a tweet about the workshop. Those that don’t have Twitter accounts are given a 14×10 grid to plan out their 140 character tweet.

This station usually attracts a healthy mix of Twitter users and the curious. The latter group learns what hashtags and mentions are and has the chance to find out how others use Twitter. The 140 character limit encourages precision and creativity and the grid takes away the fear factor for those who don’t have a smart phone in their pocket.

*Signs and Symbols: Participants at this station find a Bingo with pictures rather than numbers. Their task is to explore the meeting space to find these signs and symbols, sharing with others the meaning or location of those which are more difficult.

This activity encourages collaboration and getting to know the meeting space. Each culture has specific signs and symbols and some are universal. The resulting discussion draws upon the personal and cultural knowledge of each participant as experiences with signs and symbols are shared.

As evidenced by the engagement with the various stations, this workshop effectively demonstrated how adults can interact in activities at stations. The resulting discussions are a welcome addition to ESL classrooms where newcomers are sometimes shy to talk.

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