Virtual Visitor Project for the Central Galilee English program

(Partnership 2000, Rashi Foundation, Ministry of Education, Local Authorities: Migdal Ha-emek, Nazareth Elite, Jezreel Valley)

1. Background

In 2006 I was asked by the Rashi Foundation to present ideas on what could be done to improve the level of English in peripheral areas around Israel where the Rashi Foundation was active in educational initiatives. After much thought and consultation with others, as well as drawing on experience I had directing  a pre-reading-to-reading program for grades 1-3 in similar areas , I presented a model which provided the basis for an extensive English program in part of the Galilee.

One aspect of the program is to find ways in which teaching could be made exciting and relevant to pupils who tended to feel threatened and very inadequate when studying English. “The Virtual Visitor Project” - described in detail below—  is one of a number of approaches used to increase pupil motivation.

2. A brief description of the project

This is a very simple project and was decided upon because it is simple to carry out but has unlimited potential for English teaching.

An English speaker living outside Israel  whom I refer to as “the virtual visitor”– in most cases an adult but not necessarily so – writes a simple letter of approximately 10-15 sentences addressed to a specific English class. The letter is sent via email to the English teacher of the class who then uses the text of the letter in numerous ways to bring the "outside English world" into the classroom.

The virtual visitor sends a letter approximately every 3-4 weeks (depending on the teacher) and each time the teacher announces to the class that he/she has received a letter for them and then after reading the full letter, works with the text. The focus of the teacher with each letter may differ – vocabulary building, grammar, sentence structure, reading, reading comprehension, style etc. The personal nature of the text, (unlike a textbook piece or article), with the guidance of a teacher to provide the required focus for a specific level of student, can prove to be very motivating and effective.

·(See below  - Section 5—  for detailed ideas of how to work with the text)

In time, the class gets to know more and more about the life of the virtual visitor (family, geography, weather conditions in the country, culture, national/local events etc.) and in certain cases the visitor may even materialize one day and come for a real visit.

·See link for a description of one such visit: Habad School Nazareth Elite—Virtual visitor Tova visits Tobi Grade 7 class

The teacher gives feedback to the virtual visitor about what is being done in class and gives guidance regarding level or topic and may even have special requests such as to send a picture postcard or to mention a pupil’s birthday etc.

The project was conceived of at the end of last year (2006-2007) and very quickly virtual visitors from all around the world were found who wrote letters. Unfortunately, the project was not successful as it was introduced very late in the year and the English teachers were unable, under the end of the year pressure, to give it their attention.

This year (2007-8) it was decided to start at the beginning of the year and to find virtual visitors from among  Partnership 2000 (Michigan - Central Galilee) members who are connected directly to the schools in the Central Galilee. The program ran in 6 classes with varying degrees of success. Probably the most successful class was a grade 6 Girls class in Habad School in Nazareth Elite.

3. What and how to write—Instructions to the Virtual visitors

Here is an example of a letter sent to someone who had volunteered to be a Virtual Visitor and wanted to get started.

Compose a simple text of around 10 – 15 sentences. You don't have to be a talented writer or an English teacher.

Here are some subjects that you can include in your letters:

the weather, pets, shopping, sports, your house, family community  and national events,  celebrations, food, clothes, fashion, plans, mishaps, American icons,  shopping, very local news, national news.

All you have to do is imagine an Israeli child (the age will depend on which class you are given), bright -eyed and full of curiosity and know that whatever you write will have a freshness of the unfamiliar that the teacher will be able to exploit.

Your first letter is your initial introduction to you (and your family),  to where you live (in the most general terms as most pupils will be unfamiliar with any detail of American geography) and to any other subject that might have interest value.  Use simple but authentic language.

·See the examples at the end of this letter  - Section 4—  to get an idea of style, content, length etc.

Your responsibility is to write a letter to the class and send it to the teacher via email on average every two to four weeks. The teacher should give you feedback about how the letter was used, whether the level is too low or high, what might be a good idea to include etc. the teacher might request that you write less often or more often. Attach pictures. Send a real card by snail mail. Ask the teacher to take a picture of the class and send it to you. Perhaps you might send something cute/tasty for the kids. The point is that your letter and whatever is developed around it is going to be a catalyst for meaningful language learning.

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4. Example letters.

Note: It is difficult to write exactly to level. Simple is better than complicated and simple texts can be used at all levels. Teachers will let you know if you have to change the level.

        (i) For grade 5 and 6

Hello,

My name is Sara Lee. I live in Chicago, U.S.A. with my husband Ted and two sons, Ben   and Danny.  Ben is fourteen years old. He is playing baseball outside with a friend. Danny is much younger. He is only six years old. Right now he is eating pancakes in the kitchen. He loves sweet things. He has syrup all over his face. What a mess!

I'll write again next week and send some pictures.

Have a nice day.

Sara

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Hi kids,

Wow. Today is very, very cold. It started snowing yesterday morning and it is still snowing. Everything outside is white. Does it snow  in Migdal Ha'emek in winter?

Skippy, our dog likes running outside in the snow. She is crazy. She digs her paws in the snow, barks and rolls over and now she wants me to let her inside. No way! Skippy will have to stay in the garage until she is dry.

Here is a picture of Skippy and my son Danny.

Have a great day.

Sara

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Dear children,

I'm sorry I didn't write to you last week. I went away to New York to visit my sister Sharlene. New York is such a busy city. There are so many people in the streets and the buildings are so tall. Sharlene lives very near Central Park. It is a very big green park in the middle of the city. On the weekends, people jog there, play frisbee, ride their bikes or just sit around and have picnics. It is fun.

Sharlene is going to be in Israel for a visit next month. She will visit your school and show you lots of pictures of New York. If you want, you can write me a letter about yourself and give it to Sharlene and then she will give it to me.

Bye

Sara

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Example of a 3rd letter for a Junior High Class

Shalom my friends Natalia and her students,

Sorry that I didn't write sooner --- I think about you often but just never found the time to sit down and write to you.

First of all, great news:  I am definitely coming to Israel in July for the wedding of the daughter of my very good friends who live in Moshav Nahalal.  I will definitely arrange with Natalia to come and visit you at school. 


A few weeks ago I traveled on vacation to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  What an amazing place!  The Galapagos Islands are located on the Equator about 1000 kilometers to the west from the coast of Ecuador, and collectively the islands are a protected national park of Ecuador.  Have you studied the life and work of Charles Darwin, whose book "The Origin of Species" outlines his theories of evolution?  Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in the early 1800s and wrote about the wildlife that he saw there, including iguanas, giant tortoises, rare birds, penguins, and sea lions.  Anyway, at the end of this letter I have included some of my favorite photos from this wonderful vacation, and when I visit you I will tell you more stories about my trip.

For Yom Ha'atzmaut we celebrated with a community festival, lots of food (of course), games for the children, Israeli music and dancing.  Everyone really enjoyed it.

Okay, my friends, that is all for now.  I hope to see you soon in Israel!

Regards,

Mark

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5. Ideas for Israel English  teachers

BEFORE YOU START

Tell the class a few days before that someone is going to write to the class from abroad.  Create curiosity and expectations. One way is to play a guessing game:

Is it a man/woman/boy/girl? Is the person from America/England/Australia/ South Africa? Is the person married? etc. Make a big envelope and let the children look inside the day before and find it empty once or twice and then, when you intend to read the letter, let it be inside.

GETTING GOING

·Make sure you have a good printed copy for each pupil. Hand it out. Stress this is from a real person who will write again and again and wants to help them with English by sending letters. Try to get a picture of the person and show it to the class.

·Make a special corner for the "visitor". Always put up a large copy on the wall so future letters, pictures objects can be added to it.

·Make up some pre/during reading questions. For example: Find all the words that tell us where she lives. Find all the words about family. Find things she likes. Find things she did.

·Make sure you have a map to show the class where the person lives. Teach names of cities, counties, continents etc.

·Draw the pictures of the "visitor's" family relations on the board so it is clear who she is related to. This is very important. Through it teach and practice the vocabulary.

·Take any sentence and use it as a model to create others with the same structure.

·Choose certain parts of the letter/words/ phrases for reading practice.

·Let someone pretend to be your visitor and read the letter dressed up as the visitor.

·Let someone choose to read any line from the letter and the others have to find it.

·Ask the pupils what they want to ask the visitor. [Ask the visitor to relate to some of these questions in the next letter.]

·Ask pupils to find things in the letter that they never knew about or are different from their lives.

·Ask pupils to draw things in the letter and copy the sentence they are drawing

·Ask pupils to divide the letter into sections: what is at the beginning, middle, end?

·Find all the words which have capital letters and then discuss why.

·Find five words that are easy to read and five that are hard to read. Choose a "hard" word from each pupil and work on it.

·Don't forget to create interest for the following letter by creating expectations.

·[If you know it is someone's birthday coming up, ask your virtual visitor to mention this]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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