Language Learning and Public Performance: Part VI
Student Original Performance Skits: Commercials
Beth Waschow, South Milwaukee High School
 

A commercial is a product assignment and should help students -- individually or in groups -- rethink, use, and extend what they have learned. Products are important not only because they represent students' understanding and application, but also because they are motivating and bear the creator's personal mark.

As teachers, we would like our students to learn basic core information and master basic competencies while maximizing their capacity as learners. By allowing students to develop original material, e.g., commercials, we encourage them to validate what they know and expand on it by using the intelligence areas and learning styles that they are most comfortable with.

Howard Gardner believes that students differ in at least seven distinct intelligence areas: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, or intrapersonal. Commercials can be designed using a variety of these intelligences and students may learn more easily when they use their strongest ones. They can talk, sing, dance, draw, or do whatever they feel comfortable doing. In addition, there are many other natural preferences which combine to create a student's individual learning profile. Some learn better alone, others in groups. Some need movement and action; some need quiet. Some need to go from specific information to forming generalizations; others need to grasp the generalizations before they can find meaning in the specifics. Allowing them the freedom to create within parameters can accommodate a wealth of learning preferences.

Commercials can be an assigned activity or one option of many. Offering multiple and varied avenues to learning is likely to be a more accommodating and effective for a mixed ability classroom's wide range of student learning profiles. Even if it is an assigned activity, there can be a wide range of in-put on the part of the students.

Design

1. Build assignments around a theme. See some suggestions at end.

2. Help students see real-life application. Note the recent occurrence of foreign commercials, language, and music on TV and the cross-cultural possibilities.

3. Allow variations to address individual learning styles and intelligences.

4. Be sure all students' products make them rethink ideas and information learned so they can draw on vocabulary, grammatical concepts, and skills previously learned.

5. Talk with students about the need for both critical and creative thinking. Help them develop a passion for their product.

Production

1. Give clear and ample directions, but leave room for a great deal of individual student choice.

2. Stress planning and a time line for the finished product.

3. Ensure that the students actually use the entire block of time allotted to the product. This may vary from minutes to a class period or two, depending on desired product.

4. Support students' use of language, content, props, technology.

5. Help your students learn required production skills.

6. Require students to use multiple sources if research is necessary.

Assessment

1. Clearly lay out criteria for success in content and production. If using a rubric, share with the class ahead of time so they know exactly what they will be graded on.

2. Use formative (during the project) and summative (after the project) peer and self-evaluation as well as teacher evaluation.

3. Set a clear standard of high expectations for the products.

4. Tape the commercials, if possible, to share with other audiences.

Make the assignment meaningful by tying it to the current vocabulary, grammar, culture being studied. Here are some ideas for themes:

1. Toiletry articles / reflexive verbs

2. Food items

3. Type of store and what they sell (e.g. boulangerie)

4. Restaurant

5. Travel ad to a country of the target language / geography terms

6. Transportation modes

7. Movie or TV show

8. Personal ad (video dating)

9. Singular monument e.g. Notre Dame or la Tour Eiffel

10. Original invention

11. Toy

12. A charity

13. Sell tickets for an athletic or cultural event

14. School supplies

15. Advertise a concert or CD by a French singer

16. Ad for a tradesman e.g. plumber or electrician

17. Ad for a car or a car mechanic

18. Postal services

Other Options for Original Products

1. News show

2. Game show

3. Talk / interview show

4. News live at a historical event (e.g. CNN Live at the French Revolution)

5. Fortune teller (use of future tense) or psychic (use of past tense)

References:

Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann.(1995). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms.

Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Beth Waschow, South Milwaukee High School

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