TOPICS Online Magazine

Changed
Our Lives

Coming to
America

Overcoming
Difficulties

Personal
Experiences

Teachers'
Corner

Home Page

The Look Book Project for Beginning Writers

Julia Karet from California

Julia Karet is Professor of ESL at the English as a Second Language Program at Chaffey Community College.

Julia Karet
Photo from Julia Karet
I started to search for a meaningful project that would provide some real world purpose for the often tedious task of learning the grammar and sentence combining skills that form the basis of English writing at this level. I came up with the idea of producing a class "look book" in which the students would share information about themselves and their lives.

 

A Bit of History
I teach ESL at Chaffey Community College in southern California. The editor of this e-zine (TOPICS), Sandy Peters, and I worked together in Japan for two years. It was there that we both became fascinated by the idea of using the www to enhance our teaching. We both left Japan with the basic skills needed to produce www pages and tons of ideas for inspiring students.

My first attempt at using what I learned in my new environment was in an advanced writing (Fundamentals of Composition) class. The technical aspects were so frustrating (see Processing Process Paragraphs for Publication: A Teacher's Tale in this Teacher's Corner) that it still amazes me that we managed to pull it off.

What's a Look Book?
After a year of teaching advanced writing in a computer classroom, I was assigned the beginning level writing (Sentence Structure) class, and I returned to a traditional "paper and pencil" classroom. For a while it was a relief, but then I began to miss the stimulation that an internet-rich environment provides.

I started to search for a meaningful project that would provide some real world purpose for the often tedious task of learning the grammar and sentence combining skills that form the basis of English writing at this level.

I came up with the idea of producing a class "look book" in which the students would share information about themselves and their lives. The purpose of the writing project was to give students an opportunity to expand what they were learning into writing real paragraphs for real audiences. It is, after all, easy for beginning writers to get discouraged and lose sight of the fact that the skills they are learning can really be used to communicate in English.

 

Julia's students writing stories
Photo: Karet Karet
Some of Julia Karet's students writing their stories for a Look Book project.

For the look book, each student wrote an introduction of a classmate and a narrative about some event that changed his/her life in some way. The introductions gave them the chance to get to know a classmate and then to share that information with others using the two present verb tenses they had studied.

Then the students were asked to write a story about a significant life event. The narratives they wrote practiced the simple past and past progressive tenses, transitions and adverbial clauses while providing an opportunity for creative self-expression.

What I found amazing was the variety of tales they told. Some students wrote about coming to America while others shared deeply personal, and sometimes painful, life events. Still others wrote about travel adventures, good luck, and personal triumphs.

Production Logistics
In the printed booklet, each student has his/her own page with a photograph, the introduction written by a classmate, and their own story. As part of the process, students brainstorm, interview each other, share their stories, work on revisions together, edit their own work etc. In other words, they learn first-hand what goes into writing for an audience.

To date, my classes have produced two look books. In fall 1999, the students named their look book, Friends Around the World. In spring 2000, the students decided on the title, One Language, Different Cultures. The covers were designed by students, and each semester the look book was distributed at an authors' reception (see photo) on the last day of class.

The students' self-satisfaction and pride are evident as they open the printed version of the books for the first time. In addition to building students' confidence in their writing ability, the project facilitates bonds of friendship across cultures and ages. (My classes are very diverse with students as young as 17 and as old as 70. They are also heterogeneous in terms of cultures, languages, educational levels, and economic status. )

The first Look Book
The first Look Book was designed by Tracy Yu.

 

From Print to Ezine
TOPICS has published selections from the look books online, enabling the students to reach a much wider audience with their stories. I have simplified the print-to-online transfer process that presented so many technical problems in the beginning by pressing a CD of the text and photos for the TOPICS editors.

In addition, I am lucky to have in-class help from an advanced ESL student-tutor who does all the photography, inputting and formatting. (Teachers be forewarned - these tasks are very labor intensive!)


The Future
In fall 2000, my beginning writing class is moving back to a newly-renovated computer classroom. Now, if I can figure out how to combine English writing instruction with word-processing, graphics, and internet literacy skills, the students should be able to produce the next look book both ways- in print and as an ezine. Stay tuned!

Julia Karet
jkaret@chaffey.cc.ca.us


Writing from the first Look Book project: Friends Around the World:

Writing from the second Look Book project: One Language, Different Cultures:
(Published since this article was written)

Writing from the second Look Book project: One Language, Different Cultures:

Return to: Teachers' Corner | Home Page

TOPICS Online Magazine - ©1997-2008 - Sandy and Thomas Peters - topics.mag@gmail.com