We went out to Miaoli to pick strawberries on Sunday and got a nice little history lesson thrown in for free. As we were getting our strawbs weighed we got chatting with the owners of the farm. The wife spoke Chinese with a slight accent so my wife asked her where she was from. Turns out she is from Northern Thailand and is a fifth generation descendant of the KMT soldiers who were war refugees after losing the Chinese Civil War and who basically decided to settle in Thailand (more background of the history here). She married a Taiwanese farmer and has been living in Taiwan since 1995. She talked a bit about the Chinese who migrated to Northern Thailand from Yunnan province and said that the government in Taiwan (or perhaps the KMT party?) has reestablished contact with some families over there and sends small amounts of money every month to help support them.
It was fascinating to hear her talking about Chinese immigrants in Thailand, especially as she is connected to that history...and all the while munching on very delicious Miaoli strawberries! [Other things I learned that afternoon are strawberry-based factoids. The strawberries at that farm are actually a Japanese strain. Taiwanese strawberries are generally smaller and bruise easily. Chinese strawberries are small, harder and not particularly tasty.]
Since starting my new job teaching at a senior high school in September I've been thinking of ways to increase the students' overall motivation to learn English. I would not say that motivation is a problem at my school (thankfully!) but I'm up for anything that might give them that extra bit of interest. Many of my students are avid text messagers so I'm wondering if they might be ripe for an introduction to Twitter.
Many ESL teachers already use regular blogs as a teaching aid and as a way of connecting with their students. There aren't that many teachers using Twitter at the moment and most of those are using it to connect with other ESL teachers and to post links to their ESL blog or site. (I've recently started following Chris Cotter of Heads Up English and Sean of EFL Geek 3.0 and I'm discovering more all the time.) I've found all sorts of useful things by browsing ESL teachers' Twitter pages, but there doesn't seem to be much information out there about how ESL learners might be able to use Twitter. I teach roughly 250 students a week. I think it would be pretty cool if I could get a proportion of them regularly posting tweets to each other in English, either from their phones (not in class!) or from the web.
At present I have not really decided the best way to introduce Twitter to the students. I think I will do it in stages and gauge the students response as I go along. The first step will be to give them a quick survey about how they use the Internet and mobile phones. Then I will start a group blog so that I can post stuff that we've done in class as well as related material. As part of their homework each week I will ask students to post at least one photo (or link, video, etc.) on a given topic with a few lines of text and to leave a comment on another students' post.
I am hoping the group blog will generate quite a few conversations on and offline and provide the starting point for a little expedition into Twitterland. Twitter would therefore be an extension of the group blog. Now it may well be that the students will simply not be all that interested in microblogging in English but I guess we won't know that until we give it a try.
Wish me luck! If anyone has any experience using Twitter, or blogs in general, with adolescent ESL students, please leave a comment or contact me via Twitter/naruwan.