Monday, September 22, 2014

Fresh Ways to Use Traditional Textbooks, A Series

What I carry to class.
by Ann Abbott

I'm not afraid to admit that I use a textbook in my Spanish for Business course (Éxito comercial). Sure, I wish it was less expensive, but I think that it offers students--and me--a lot of value: he information they have compiled and presented in coherent ways, the vocabulary they have distilled and defined, the audio exercises, video exercises, short case studies, maps, charts and so much more.

Although I know the students will probably sell the book at the end of the course, I wish they wouldn't.

I wish that they would keep it as a resource. That when they get jobs they will look up information about the countries where their company does business. That they'll reflect on the cultural information and strategies the book presents.

But in the meantime, all I know for sure is that I have three 50-minute class sessions with them each week. I try to make those count.

Here's what I did today. It's all based on the textbook, and it's not the boring, "En la página 33, lean la sección X y contesten las preguntas al final. Ahora lean la página 34 y contesten las preguntas al final.¨


At home and before class, students have to read the section that is indicated in the course calendar, choose three of the "¿Qué sabe usted de...?" questions at the end of the reading and upload their answers to our online course management system.

Because they choose which three questions they answer, today I did this with them:
  • I told them to raise their hand if they answered question 1. Those who did, I put in pairs. 
  • Raise your hand if you answered question 2. Those who did, I put in pairs, and so on until everyone had a pair. 
  • Then I told them to summarize for their partner their answers and compare/contrast the information they included. 
  • Then they had to find a different partner to compare/contrast their answers with.
  • Then they had to find a another partner to compare information with.
What did this achieve? Well, first, it holds them accountable for their work. It isn't just something they upload; it is information they will be expected to use. Second, it keeps the class dynamic and changing. Third, they get to know their classmates better. And finally, they are speaking Spanish--and using the textbook as a support if they need it, as you can see in the picture above.

The reading

Before class, students had to read Chapter 3's "Lectura comercial: Requisitos y modelos administrativos estadounidenses e hispanos."

After the homework activity I described above, we dove into one specific part of the reading. I went over the information on page 63 about the skills that make a good manager. There are five "habilidades" listed in the textbook: técnicas, interpersonales, conceptuales, diagnósticas y analíticas.

I led a discussion about those five skills, clarifying their meaning and giving concrete examples. This lasted about five to seven minutes.

Then I assigned five students *one* of the habilidades. Those five students sat in a line facing the back wall. The other students sat in a line in facing those students. For five minutes, the students facing the back of the room had to interview the student facing them about that one particular managerial skill. For example, Christian had the first skill, "técnicas." He had to interview the student in front of him, Grant, about his technical skills and managerial experiences using that skill. 

This wasn't easy! Some students don't have a lot of experience to draw upon. Others have a lot. But they managed to keep the conversation flowing very well for four or five minutes.

Then the students facing "the interviewers" all had to move down one seat and for the next four to five minutes they were interviewed about their experiences with the next "habilidad." For example, Grant now had to move down and sit across from Mónica who interviewed him about his ¨habilidades interpersonales

To give you an idea of how well this went, you can click on this very short video and listen to them talking to each other in Spanish.

Textbook activities

Because I knew that I would have more than ten students for the above activity, there would always be ¨extra¨ students waiting to be interviewed. 

I planned ahead for that.

I printed out four activities from the book and taped them up in different spots in the classroom. The ¨extra¨ students had to answer one of the question or do the exercise as much as they could in the four or five minutes that the other students were using for their interview ¨turn.¨

My favorite: the second page from the top on the photo above. On page 62 of the textbook the authors include the quote, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to lose it" by Warren Buffet. I asked the student on the paper to give an example. He wrote about Donald Sterling. What a perfect example.


I often describe my experiences in grade school and high school as this: "Read the book and answer the questions." Honestly, that was basically it. Except for my junior high teachers Mr. Parrot and Mrs. Todd who did very creative things with us.

I want to be my students' Mr. Parrot and Mrs. Todd.  

But I don't always want to create a curriculum from scratch, either!

Using a textbook isn't always the right choice. But for me, for this course, it is.

If you'd like to see the other posts I've written so far about using the textbook in creative ways, click on the titles to read them:

Do you use a textbook? Do you have ideas for me? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

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