Is the art of writing postcards dead? Not exactly.
However, when we want to consider motivating our students to write them and to motivate them in practising language that is typical of postcards, there are a few things to take into account.
- appeal & reality of the postcard
- the language needed (present continuous, simple past; friendly expressions like “hi, see you soon”; prepositions of place) –these should have been reviewed before considering the project, either in practising emails, notes, etc.
- the content – will they have background knowledge of a city or will they be sufficiently motivated to find out more to say “what they have done” in the city you assign them.
- will it have some meaning in the end?
With this in mind, it becomes clear that it’s impossible to just say “write a postcard to an imaginary friend about a trip”. Also, a postcard is a very short writing task, so writing one in various stages is not a bad idea.
Thus, in the project I am describing there are four stages:
- Warmer stage. Show pictures of the 12 cities included in the Postcard sheets included in this blog entry. A simple Google search can bring up some great images. The images in the Postcard sheets are all copyright free and open for printing and sharing. Students guess what cities and try to share what there is in each of the cities. Some are more difficult than others so it’s also important to share an idea for each one.
- Rough draft stage. Students draw the city names (1 city per student, although you may have to repeat cities depending on your class size). Have all students’ names written on slips of paper for a drawing. Don’t let them pick their own name or their neighbor’s name! Distribute just the back side of the Postcards (1 per student). Explain that when they finish the project they will get the other side, before giving to their classmate. Students then write a postcard to the classmate they have chosen from the city they have chosen. Teacher should circulate to help with ideas and also note the names of the students and cities.
- Exchange stage. Once students have written their postcards, then they should exchange with their neighbor. Then, as a class, discuss the type of language used. Did they start off saying Hi _______? I am in _______ and am doing X. Also find out if each student has done at least one activity since arriving. As homework, the neighbor should add one new task and make suggestions for changes on a Post-It and attach to their colleague’s postcard.
- Final postcard stage. Next class, students return the postcards to the original owner. Distribute the final postcard printed in color, front and back and on thick paper (papel cavalinho). At the completion teacher collects the postcards, which will then be handed out in the next class.
I have tried this project several times now and students find it interesting to write a postcard, provided they know the smallest thing about the place and the picture is sufficiently catchy to inspire curiosity. Perhaps this won’t be a task they will do in their lives, but the language ties in with their social media interests, while at the same time is a project they will value, as it creates a good final product and also is something where one student shares with another. The collaboration process, while not intensive, is also useful to promote interaction and also raise students’ awareness about these world cities. So even if they’re just here, they’ll have a bit of a trip and will learn something “old school” and have a bit of fun at the same time.