Project-Based Learning for ESL Conversation: Using Timetoast to Present, “The Butter Battle Book”

The Butter Battle BookThis semester in my adult ESL advanced conversation class, I have a lot of refugees from Iraq, Syria, and Myanmar along with students from many other corners of the world.  We have had a lot of enlightening conversations about world affairs, and so I’d like to share with you one particular lesson which we all enjoyed that tied in with that theme.

We started the class by brainstorming that week’s current world events and followed it with Flocabulary’s Week in Rap, a regular part of our current events lessons. (My adult students enjoy using this as both a listening, vocabulary, reading, and speaking activity. It often includes a bit of current U.S. slang as well.) That week, there had been a lot of news about Syria’s chemical weaponry and the build up of nuclear power in the Middle East and North Korea, which reminded me of Dr. Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book, written in the 1960s during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.  So I decided to find an online copy of the story and have the students read it to each other in cooperative groups of three.  They enjoyed reading it aloud since it was rhythmic, rhyming, and though presented as if for children, it was reminiscent of what was current in the world, and they could readily tell it was for adults as well. Even the nonsense words were fun for this higher level of students to sound out and analyze.

After the students had read the story to each other, we watched a cartoon video of it and discussed the differences between the two versions.  We talked about forms of propaganda used by the Yooks and the Zooks, the two battling groups in the story, to motivate themselves to build bigger and more destructive weapons. Next, the students developed an imaginary time line of the events in the story using an application called Timetoast.

timetoastTo present Timetoast to the class, along with one of Timetoast’s featured timelines, I showed them a portion of my own timeline on Timetoast which included pictures of many of the major events in my life such as my graduations, my wedding, births of my children, etc.  Several of the students commented on how they would like to develop a timeline using this website for their families or their new babies.  So, they were anxious to learn how to get started.

The  assignment, then, was to develop an imaginary timeline based on the events in the Butter Battle Book that led to the escalation of weaponry, to search for and upload online pictures showing the escalation, and to present it to the class incorporating the past perfect tense in their oral presentations.  The students worked in cooperative groups of threes with at least one person in each group who was comfortable using technology and who would mentor the other two in the group on the computer, and one person who was stronger in English to help the others develop and present the oral presentation portion of the assignment.

The last part of the assignment was to present their timelines to the class.  They did this very well including their use of the past perfect.  One student assured me that after this lesson, they would NEVER forgot how to use the past perfect!  I took that very positively since they really did have a lot of opportunities to practice this structure in a variety of ways.

Here is an example of a public Timetoast timeline based on Dr. Seuss’ works:  http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/timeline-of-dr-seuss–2

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