experience with the Virtual Visitor
progress report by Ruth Sheffer
After returning from the Etai summer conference inspired by Jack Pillemer's presentation of the Virtual Visitor
idea, I felt fired with enthusiasm and knew it was the type of
activity I would like to try in my class, when I returned to work in
September. But how to begin?
And where to get a virtual Visitor from? And which class to
choose for this experiment?
Fortunately things quickly became clearer. Being an avid
"real" traveler, I have many friends on a travel site I frequent
when I want to research my next trip. This is called The Virtual
and it is a site which enables travelers to exchange information and
tips about tourism with others all over the
One of the friends I have made there is a woman
called Ann, who lives inPerth,
Australia. We had
exchanged a few emails and so I asked her if she would be interested
in writing to my class and telling them a little bit about herself
and her family. I explained that the class
were very elementary in their English but are nice, motivated
kids who just have a lot of difficulties both academically, socially
and otherwise. The class that I had chosen for this project is a
Yud Mabar class
for the following reasons. Firstly there are only 22 kids in the
class, and I thought for a first attempt it would be easier to
handle the project in a small class. The class
are relatively well behaved, although they have the usual
Mabar problems of limited attention span,
low level of language and so on. Nevertheless I thought that they
might benefit and be curious about a person from another country. My
other classes being a Yudbet 5 points, and
2 large and rowdy Yudalef 4 point classes,
Yud seemed the likeliest
Anyway, I came to the class and told them that I had a friend
in Australia who was
interested in writing to them and would like to know about them too.
I explained that we had never met ,but that
we had emailed each other.
They were immediately
curious and asked all kinds of questions ,
to which I replied"I don't know, why don't
you ask her"?
The next lesson I came in
with Ann's first letter, which I simply read out to
I am very excited to write to you. My name
is Ann and I have a lovely family. I have a husband and 4
children, 2 girls and 2 boys. My children are Kelli (21),
Dylan (17), Janine (14) and Jesse (8). Kelli is married and
her husband's name is Tom. They have a little baby boy
called Gabriel. He is just 3 weeks old. I am a very
We live in Perth on the west coast of Australia.
Australia is very
big. You can see beaches, rainforest, desert, wide open spaces
and unusual animals.
I work for a Bank
and my husband works on the buses. Have you thought about what
you will do when you leave school? My daughter Janine is in
grade 9. She would like to work in a shop as a florist
when she leaves school.
I would love to hear from
you and learn about your country. Do you have any
hobbies? I love to take photos with my camera. I love
beaches and flowers. I also love to go camping with my
Here is a
picture of our family in the Mekong
Delta. The Mekong Delta is in Vietnam. We had a
family cruise holiday in 2006.
I hope to hear
from you soon and answer any questions on life in Australia.
friend from Perth,
The kids were thrilled. We
decided we would make a corner in the class for our Virtual Visitor.
I selected a shy and rather underconfident
girl to be the one to collect all the stuff and stick it up on a
poster on the wall. She got really into cutting out the photos and
the letters, and arranging them on the poster. I also printed
them a map of Australia and showed them where
Perth is on the
The following time, the
kids wrote letters to Ann ,telling her
about themselves.I gave them a sample of
the kind of things to say…" I am 16 years old, I like basketball, I
have 2 brothers," etc. I collected these and sent them to Ann by
scanning them and sending them as attachments. So as not to make it
too arduous for her,I selected only 5 or 6.
The next time she wrote,
Ann addressed the kids separately and related to what they had told
her in their letters.
I enjoyed reading your
letter. I like computers too but I wish I could understand
them better. My son Jesse likes football. Football
here in Australia is
different. We run with the ball & kick it. The shape
of the ball is oval. In Perth we watch AFL football (Australian Football
Thank you for writing.
Needless to say the kids
were thrilled again. She also sent them a picture of her
Today I had another letter
from her with a more detailed, slightly more difficult level of
language, relating to a question the kids had asked, namely how had
she and her husband met.
The letter went like
"Ok Ruth, here we
go....a letter to the class.
Your teacher has told me that you are very
happy to hear from me. I am smiling. Do you want to hear
how I met my husband? Ok, here is the story. I was born
Australia. When I
was little I rode my bicycle everywhere. We lived in the
bush. There was a small village close by. After I
finished College I worked for the Railways. When I was 16 my
family and I moved to Sydney. I worked again for
the Railways in Sydney. My job was to look
after the supply of radios for the guards and tarpaulins & ropes
for the freight wagons. It was a very busy
My brother is 18 years older than
me. He was living in Sydney. We moved there
to be closer to him and his family. My brother and his
family all play musical instruments. One day they were having
a 'jam session' - that is where everyone comes together and plays
music. My future husband was playing the base guitar. He
asked if I was single ..... and two years later we were
So, why am I living in Perth?
Perth is on the other side of
husband and I have lived in a lot of places in Australia. We came
to Perth because it is a good place to
live. It is smaller than Sydney. Perth is a very
clean City. It does not have as much pollution as Sydney.
It has lovely wild flowers and you can see kangaroos in the
wild. I will send you some photos of Perth.
Thank you for
reading my story.
Bye for now.
I printed out this letter,
and the accompanying picture of the beach at Perth, and I
will give it to the kids tomorrow (11/11/08) as a reading
I underlined some of the
more difficult words and translated them at the bottom, and then
added some questions. I hope it will continue to go
I am not entirely sure
where this will go. So far it is definitely successful. I assume
that at some point either the students or Ann or both will tire of
it. But I feel that if nothing else it has opened the minds of the
students to other cultures, to language in a natural and meaningful
context, and of course in Jack's own words, it has "brought the
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