Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Teacher Ideas: The Media Center Made Easy

Thanks to Gabriel Skop for this installment of the Teacher Ideas series.  You can find this article along with information about supporting our college-bound students in the Fall 2013 issue of the faculty newsletter.

The Media Center Made Easy

by Gabriel Skop

If you’re like me, you have not always shown up with your class for your regularly scheduled time in the Media Center. I don’t know if your reasons were similar to mine, but the following were among my excuses: I lost track of my schedule and forgot to go. Since our classrooms were converted to smart rooms, there is less reason to go. It takes too much time and effort to prepare meaningful activities for the Media Center.

Well, I can’t help you with the first issue. If the second one is your excuse, know that you can more effectively and more intensively monitor multiple student conversations in the Media Center than you can in your own classroom.

Little Ideas, Big Impact

If, however, you just don’t have hours to spend creating complex lesson plans for use in the Media Center, then this article is for you. It would be great to have extra time and energy to devote to putting together multilayered lesson plans, but few of us have the luxury such an effort demands. Here, then, are several simple ideas with maximum impact – Media Center class activities which do not require a great deal of preparation. At the end of each activity description, you will see a suggestion or two for ways of following up when your students return to your classroom.

Activity 1: Dictation and Conversation Questions

Dictate a series of questions to the class in the Media Center through the headset. Students should listen and copy.

What kinds of questions work best? They could center on a recent topic of class discussion or a class reading in order to reinforce understanding of that lesson. They could serve to preview a topic you plan to introduce during the following class. You could use questions to reinforce a grammar point you have recently taught (e.g., a series of questions in the present perfect tense). You could dictate questions incorporating words from your students’ new vocabulary list.

How do students know that they’ve understood what you’ve said and written it correctly? You could just put the questions on the board or distribute a handout with the questions, but here is a more interesting suggestion. If you have dictated, for example, six questions, pass out a strip of paper to each student containing only one of the six questions – a different question to each student. Then students will use part of their conversation time to check with each other that they have written the questions correctly.

The main focus of the activity, of course, is the conversation practice. Put students in pairs, let them discuss their answers to the various questions, and change their partners every ten or fifteen minutes – depending on the students’ level and the complexity of the questions.

Follow-up suggestion: Have students use the questions as prompts for writing paragraph-length responses for homework. Students can use the questions for impromptu speeches in class.

Activity 2: Sentence Starters

Dictate a series of sentence starters to the class (e.g., When I woke up today, On rainy days, Three days ago). At a lower level, students once paired up could take turns reading the sentence starters and completing them (e.g., When I woke up today I felt tired.) At a higher level, students should use the sentence starters to form and pose questions to one another (e.g., How did you feel when you woke up today? What did you do when you woke up today? How was the weather when you woke up today? Did you check your text messages when you woke up today?).

Again, use this activity to reinforce what you have been teaching in the classroom. As you change students’ conversation partners over the course of an hour in the Media Center, encourage students to vary the questions they create with the same sentence starters.

Follow-up Suggestion: Students can use the sentence starters and the related questions for interviewing friends, family members and/or coworkers as a homework assignment. Additionally, students can use their smartphones to record the interviews and play them back for them class, introducing the video clips with a spoken introduction (“I conducted this interview with my boss during my dinner break yesterday…”).

Activity 3: Grid

Distribute (or have students make) a grid on a piece of paper. It can be simple, perhaps five boxes by five boxes. The organization of the grid is entirely flexible. For example, along the left side of the page, students will write the name of each student they speak with – one name per row. Along the top of the grid, there can be one word or one topic or one question per column.

The words might be from a class word list; students have to use the words in their conversation. Or give them topics and students ask questions related to the topic.

Lower level topic: Breakfast
Sample student questions: What do you normally have for breakfast? Do you eat breakfast every day? How is your breakfast in New York different from the breakfast you ate in your country?

Higher level topic: Death penalty
Sample student questions: Does the death penalty exist in your native country? What forms of execution are used in countries where the death penalty is legal? In your view, why should the death penalty in this country continue to be legal or be eliminated?

Students use the grid to fill in short answers based on their partners’ responses during the Media Center paired conversations.

Follow-up Suggestion: When students bring the completed grids back to the classroom, they can use the responses for face-to-face conversation practice. It’s an especially good way to review and reinforce the use of the third-person singular, as well as reported speech, direct speech, and narrating past events.

Student A: Who was your first partner in the Media Center?
Student B: I spoke with Martina.
A: What did you and Martina talk about?
B: I asked her about her breakfast routine.
A: Where does Martina usually have breakfast?
B: She told me that she eats at Burger King almost every morning.
A: Why doesn’t she eat at home?
B: Martina said, “I have no idea how to cook.”

This activity also lends itself to writing practice. Students can take their grids home and for homework construct complete sentences from the short answers they filled in in the grids. At a higher level, students can create entire paragraphs or even essays with the short answers as their basis.

Activity 4: Engaging In and Sustaining a Conversation (Follow-up Questions)

Distribute a list of questions to the class. During the practice time in the Media Center, for each question on your list, students have to come up with follow-up questions with the purpose of extending the conversation and obtaining more detail from their partners. You might need to model this.

The question you give the class: Which of your English skills has improved the most since the start of the term?

Follow-up questions: What is your advice for learning vocabulary quickly? How much time do you spend doing homework? Would you like to practice conversation on the telephone with me once a week?


Of course, the above suggestions focus on a fairly narrow range of speaking and listening skills centered on conversation. There is so much you can do with songs and videos and film clips and so on, but these are materials that require more work in advance to transform them into viable lessons. For more ideas on what to do in the Media Center, talk to Heather. She has amassed a wealth of resources. You can look at the following websites:

You already know that you can adapt any of the above activities to suit your own needs and interests. I welcome any feedback you have on this article as well as any questions about the topic. I wish you an enjoyable and constructive time on your next visit to the Media Center. Just don’t forget to check the schedule!

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