My mother is currently visiting Turkey and she reminded me today of a project I had done over 15 years ago, in which she took part for young learners. This project was code named ‘Flat Stanley’, after the story of the boy who was flat and could slip under doors or travel in envelopes. The participants in this project were about 120 10 year olds in a Japanese school where I was working. The aim of the project was to get these 10 year olds to actually make contact with foreigners and foreign culture in a meaningful way. At the time we did not have Internet use or the array of technological devices that we have now, but I have been thinking about this project and how to upgrade it with all the tools we have now available to us.
The original Flat Stanley Project
The Ground Work:
Each class of forty students were split into eight groups. They had to create their very own ‘Flat Stanley’, which was an A2 sized paper Japanese cartoon character that was popular in their culture. They then needed to write a letter to send with ‘Flat Stanley’ explaining who they were, something about the character and what the instructions were for the person receiving the letter and for the character to do. The recipient of the letter was instructed to take pictures of their life that included the character and send the pictures back with brief explanations about each one as well as resending the character. These projects were then sent out around the world to various people who had agreed to take part in the project. At the time this was done through friends and the extensive foreigner network in Japan.
We were very fortunate to get all of the 24 A2 characters back as well as amazing photo logs of each one traveling in various towns or cities around the world. The English department corridor was really long and the school agreed that we could have the whole wall to display the projects as they came in. When the character returned to Japan, the group who had sent it would come to the office, look at the contents, take time to read it and then together we would stick that project to the wall. That corridor became an area of excitement in the school. Whenever a new project came in and was up, nearly the whole school came to have a look. Not only did the year group taking part become interested but all of the students. These projects traveled to America, Canada, China, Papua New Guinea, the UK, France and so on. All the explanations displayed were in English. It also generated tons of questions about other cultures, life outside Japan and the meaning of words and sentences. As I couldn’t speak Japanese so well at that stage we had very natural and meaningful communicative exchanges in that corridor.
The Modern Day
Now with the technology we have there are so many other possibilities for a more meaningful exchange. I still like the idea of the actual character being exchanged physically, but the visual work either photos or even video on the other end and the explanations could be done in so many different ways. Here are a few:
1)A glogster/powerpoint project-where all the information is compiled together
2)A serial documentary of various places, taken on iPhone
3)A Photo blog from all the compiled data on part of the school’s internal web so all could access it.
4)A Voice Thread presentation
However with a young age group if the people photographing the project are older and not a peer exchange (i.e as in between schools) there are many ways for supervised exchanges so that instead of asking the teacher for explanations they could go to the direct source. Here are a few:
1) A supervised Skype session with the person who completed the project based on a pre-organised list of questions
2) An email correspondence through the teacher’s email account.
3) If Voice Thread is used for the visual data, comments can be left where learners want to ask something, again through a teacher supervised account.
I am sure that there are many more ways to do a similar project, but if you are teaching in a foreign country and looking for a way to break out of the classroom to make language alive for the learners then this is the project for you.