Over the past two weeks, myself and my colleagues have had our learners working in groups on the Desert Island project. My colleagues carried it out last year and were really pleased with it. I am not sure where the original idea is from so cannot credit it, but if anyone can tell me, then I will update the post.
In the school where I work, there are 7-8 classes of each grade with around 19-21 students in each class. We did the project with 4th grade learners in the Turkish system, so they are around 9-10 years old and most have been learning English since they were in Kindergarten. We don’t stream learners in the 4th grade so, all classes have learners with mixed abilities.
We didn’t plan anything concrete and just swopped a few ideas before. The basics that we spoke about were that the students were supposed to work in groups of 4-5, the concept of a desert island should be discussed and some materials, such as maps and flags should be created by the learners.
Each lesson is 40 minutes long and I spent 6 lessons on this in total.
In the first lesson, I showed them a picture of desert islands to activate their schemata and they brainstormed vocabulary they associated with the concept. We spent some time discussing what one looks like, where they can be found, why it is deserted, what would happen if they got stranded and so forth. Every class had a slightly different take on it and so the questions would differ a little.
I then did some mental imagery with them. I asked them to put their heads down on the desk and close their eyes. I set the scene by telling them they were on a big ship, having fun and chatting to their friends who are on their desk… I then told them they had to get in a lifeboat and they arrived n this island with the people in their group. I asked them to imagine what the island looked like, smells, animals, noises, things they could eat and drink and so forth. I let them digest all of this as I spoke in a quiet voice and then asked them to share and make notes.
In the second lesson, the students named their island and described it to the other students. They designed a flag appropriate for their island name.
In the third lesson, I gave them a blank A3 piece of paper and discussed with them how big their island was, what the shape was, where they would sleep, wash, get fresh water, cook and hunt. They then designed their own maps and labelled them with some of these things that they felt were the most important. different groups and classes came up with different things as it had now become personal for them.
In the subsequent lessons, they made lists of what was in their backpack that they had managed to retrieve before the ship sank, they wrote diary entries on how they felt and what they were doing on the island, some of the groups wanted to ‘discover’ a new animal and drew and described the animal, they wrote rules for their island and assigned jobs for everyone in the group (they had lengthy, passionate discussions about that part, with some girls refusing to cook and wanting to hunt instead!).
No project was the same and each member of the group put their own stamp on the work they did.
The final session was to be based on them interviewing other people who wanted to come to their island and stay there, so they had to be aware of the rules and jobs and so on, and the island ‘community’ members would decide if they could stay and live on their island or not. I gave them each an A1 sheet of card and they decided how they would present their island information, some even talked about designing passports! (Private school children collect more air miles than I do :D)
All in all, the aim of creating a new community was achieved and the children didn’t want to stop doing the project. My colleagues did some slightly different things such as, writing a help letter and a final spoken presentation of their island. I will upload some of their posters as soon as I can so you can see the finished product.
This was an excellent way of getting students to use their English (they spoke mainly in English with some odd slips of the L1) in a creative way and required them to use lots of different language.
If anyone decides to do this, please let me know how it went and if you did anything differently. We will be doing this project again next year with the next 4th graders, so any feedback would be welcome.