EXTRACTING A LOT FROM A LITTLE

Hello everybody

Every month, I’ll be posting an image or a text or a combination of the two (as you’ll find today) which has worked for me in the classroom or in teacher training sessions over the years. The main idea behind these posts is that a lot can be extracted from very little. You don’t necessarily need a long text or an incredibly impactful image (although the latter can help!), it’s all about responding to a “found” piece of material and working out how to get the most out of it. Extracting a lot from very little– here there is the minimum amount of text possible – can be a fascinating business.

The found piece of material (I call it “Meet Robertinho”) this week is something that I have been using for years. I found it in a Spanish airline magazines a long time ago. Just goes to show that you can find a gem in the most unlikely of places sometimes! So, my advice is to keep a look-out wherever you are.

What’s fascinating about this image / text collage is the relationship established between the images and the captions. It takes a few minutes to work out what it’s all about but, after a while, it slowly becomes apparent. The captions, in reality, represent the different names that Roberto Costa has, the different ways that people refer to him according to the context. For his son, he is ‘Papá’, for his football-playing mates he is ‘Robertinho’.

The first question I would ask learners is “Looking at this collection of images and captions, what do you know about Roberto Costa”. This generates a lot of language and, of course, each group of learners will come up with something different: “He has a wife, a kid and a pet dog, he likes running”. In fact, the hypothesizing can get quite detailed: “He goes to the same café everyday and orders a cappuccino, the waiter knows him well”.

(Click on the image to see it more clearly)

robertinho
It is then very easily personalizable. Learners can create their own image / text combinations for their lives, depending on the different names that they have for different people or the different roles they play in life. In fact, it could be an interesting way to get to know each other in the first week of class.

So, you may be asking… where did this come from originally? Well, it is actually one side of an advert but, funnily enough, knowing the product and the aim of the ad kind of spoils the beauty and simplicity of the idea.

I hope you enjoy using this material. Next month, we’ll be looking at other ways to extract a lot from a little.

Ben Goldstein

Ben teaches on The New School’s online MATESOL program (New York). He is co-lead-author of the coursebook series ‘Framework’ and ‘The Big Picture’ (both Richmond). He has also published the teachers’ methodology handbook ‘Working with Images’ and co-authored “Language Learning with Digital Video” (due October 2014)

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4 Comments
  • Cintia Zaitune
    Posted at 15:36h, 28 janeiro Responder

    Dear Ben,
    As usual, great ideas out of simple, ordinary stuff! I can picture myself teaching with the image and your directions.
    “Que ninguém se engane, só se consegue a simplicidade através de muito trabalho.” Clarice Lispector
    Look forward to your next post!
    bjs,
    Cintia

    • Ben Goldstein
      Ben Goldstein
      Posted at 21:34h, 28 janeiro Responder

      Thanks, Cintia. It’s true that the simple stuff is not always that simple! Bjs from Rio

  • Stephen Greene
    Stephen Greene
    Posted at 22:24h, 10 fevereiro Responder

    Thanks a lot for this Ben, this is really interesting.

    I like this idea of of giving students less and getting more out of it. If we have an all-encompassing text with supporting visuals there is often no room left for students to get involved; every student gives the same answers because there is no other possibility. An activity like this, though, would be different every time because it is left up to the student to decide where to take it.

    • Ben Goldstein
      Ben Goldstein
      Posted at 06:47h, 11 fevereiro Responder

      Thank a lot for the comment, Stephen. Yes, essentially this is a critical thinking task – allowing the learners freedom to provide their own answers. As you say, there is always that surprise element as you are not sure where they will go with it. It’s amazing how much they read into it, to be honest.
      By the way, in my next post, I’ll be looking at another way of “Extracting a lot from a little”, by analysing how a single phrase can have unforeseen implications (for example, by going viral). I’m fascinated how so much can be read into these small details of communicative behaviour.

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