As I’ve been checking students’ first homework task using a word cloud for the past week, I find myself pondering this question.
Inspired by the activity described on the macappella blog, I created a word cloud from a text which my student teacher had just read with the students. The original activity involved creating sentences using words from the cloud in class. I assigned it as a homework task.
Since I give a short homework task once a week (which I always check!) it made a lot of sense to have students review the vocabulary taught by creating sentences using the vocabulary items from the text. If I relate to Christina Markoulaki’s list of benefits that can be derived from suitable homework tasks (post on the iTDi blog) this certainly was a task that looked attractive, was something they could do on their own (all my students use Google Translator for homework) and left room for creativity. The students were free to write about anything they wanted as long as they used at least one word from the cloud on each sentence.
So, you may ask, what is the problem?
If I get back to Christina’s list, she talks about homework being an opportunity to consolidate grammar and vocabulary.
The students certainly reviewed the vocabulary. That goal was achieved. Even if there was a grammatical error in the sentence (and believe me, there were grammatical errors) I accepted sentences in which the words were placed in the correct context, i.e. used correctly. Some of the students wrote sentences that were related to their own lives and were pleased when I was able to make comments related to their interests in class. That was really great!
However, the grammar aspect remains an unresolved issue. I had the opportunity to sit with some of the students individually in class and work on their sentences. Since we were working on their own original writing they were more attentive than usual to explanations about grammar when correcting the sentences. That was incredibly useful – those students had had reading comprehension (the original text), vocabulary practice AND grammar practice!
The rest of the students did not get this grammar practice. It is not possible to go into the same detail when replying to a student’s homework task by email. I do not want to return a task full of error markings (much more efficient to focus on one or two points). In addition, a student will not really read a long reply from me. In any case, long replies are not sustainable as giving homework on a weekly basis demands creating and checking it every week.
In short, giving word clouds for homework made it rain. But it seemed to rain harder when done either in class, or with a follow up in class. Learning curve hasn’t been completed yet…