Review of Text Chat Activities (Mark Oliver, 2015)
by Peter Clements
Text Chat Activities is self-published resource book from Mark Oliver. The book, published in late 2015, provides 29 ICT-based lesson tasks focusing on pair and group work. It is available as an e-book only.
The introductory section gives an overview of text chat, explaining what it is and how text chat activities can benefit learners.
Here’s Oliver’s description:
Text chat refers to a conversation performed using an instant messaging program, such as Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp, or a chatroom website. Participants chat in real time, typing what they want to say and reading their interlocutor’s replies. They can upload documents or paste links to websites or shared files as they chat.
By giving our learners practice using text chat in the target language, we help them develop an important real world skill
Oliver expands on this by suggesting text chat activities can be used alongside other spoken communicative activities (rather than as a substitute for them), and can encourage pair and group interaction in class. He goes on to list further benefits of using the resources, most of which are underpinned by references to research findings. Examples include:
- The demands of using text chat can force learners to use target language (Blake and Zyzik, 2003)*
- As text chat is typed and has some permanence, it increases the likelihood of learners noticing responses to errors (Lai and Zhao, 2006), which is a necessity for second language acquisition (e.g. Schmidt, 1990)
This section could be expanded with more feedback from learners themselves on the benefits of text chat activities. The author does reference a few studies in which learners have extolled such benefits, but could add some feedback from his own experience of using these resources.
Further chapters in the introduction cover the practicalities of implementing such activities in the classroom, and are well thought out. They are short (often one or two pages), and address what seem like FAQs for text chat activities:
- What issues may I face when using text chat activities?
- What role does the teacher perform during the activities?
- How can the teacher provide feedback on activities?
The most important chapter here is the one covering issues with the use of text chat in class, and where the chat takes place. My gut feeling when I initially viewed the book was that there would be issues with safeguarding. I thought that if conversations were to take place on social media then this would pose many problems, and be impossible with most of my classes. However, Oliver explains that there are alternative online platforms (notably TodaysMeet) where teachers can create safe and secure temporary chatrooms for the class. Instructions on how to do so are provided.
Regarding chat content, Oliver highlights the need to agree on the ‘text chat’ language used during activities, and stresses that rules should be made for things like abbreviations. On the topic of feedback given to learners during text chat activities, Oliver mentions the highly contentious use of recasts. However, recognising that this feedback technique has come in for criticism, he proposes an interesting alternative method which he terms a ‘hybrid recast’. I’ll let you read the book to find out more!
The activities in the book are separated into two sections – pair work and group work. They follow a fairly typical EFL cookbook format, with aims, target language, level, duration, procedures, and so on all provided.
The most useful thing for each activity is that the instructions for learners have been provided (and already graded), so to be copy-and-pasted into a chat window. This is good forward thinking and saves planning – it also means that an e-book format essential.
Many of the activities are traditional speaking tasks adapted for the text chat medium. This is by no means negative, as the medium is the key thing here. Picture dictations, ‘guess who’, and ‘lie detector’ may be familiar to many experienced teachers, but I can see the potential in undertaking such tasks via text chat, especially for the replication of oral communication in real-time, and for the vast amount of content on which to provide feedback. There may be issues with how the teacher does this, and I will need to trial Oliver’s ‘hybrid recast’ method myself to truly evaluate it, but I can see these tasks interesting my learners. I can envisage a highly engaged class with most activities. I feel the medium of a chat room lends itself better to the group activities (debates, planning a class party, etc). The activities in general may not all replicate authentic real-world tasks (for example, you would never do a job interview via text chat), but the mode of interaction (text chat) does so I can see why the book is suggested as supplementary.
One of the best features of the activities are that they often integrate further use of ICT in the classroom. Google Maps is used for an activity on directions, Wikipedia for tasks on research, YouTube for video activities, and various news websites for information exchanges. The online platform itself will likely be knew for the learners. Some sites are merely used as part of the teachers’ lesson preparation, but others form part of the procedures during activities.
It’s a niche book, but it’s well worth a look – especially for the cost. The author has made an attempt to base his approach on relevant research findings and past ELT literature. It is good that most activities are familiar – it will make teachers feel more confident in trialling them through this different medium. Some ideas regarding implementation of text-chat activities could be expanded, especially regarding feedback methods, but an attempt has been made to address this. I look forward to trying out some of the ideas in class next term.
Text chat activities is available on Amazon.
*All references taken from Text-Chat Activities
Author’s Bio: Pete Clements works for the British Council in Bangkok. He has previously taught in Spain, South Korea, Hungary, Vietnam and the UK. He holds a CELTA, DipTESOL and an MSc in Reading, Language and Cognition. His interests include supporting newly-qualified teachers and blogging for professional development. He blogs at www.eltplanning.com