Thursday, October 9, 2014
By Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
Did you know that wolves can actually change rivers?
I didn’t, until I came across a great “Sustainable Man” video clip that one of my friends had posted on Facebook. According to the video, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 after having been absent for some 70 years. Since there had been no wolves to control the population of deer, it had pretty much exploded and the deer had eaten a great deal of the vegetation in the park. When the wolves were reintroduced, they killed some of the deer and pushed many of the others out of valleys and gorges.
Predictably, with some of the deer gone, the vegetation grew back in those areas, which attracted animals such as beavers, whose dams create habitats for other animals. Also, the wolves hunted the coyotes. When their numbers diminished, the species that they feed on also returned. As a result, the eagles, hawks and bears had more food and returned in greater numbers, too.
But, the most amazing result of the wolves’ return to Yellowstone National Park has been (and this is where the narrator gets really excited) that the trees have regrown along the banks of the rivers and stopped erosion, so the rivers have actually changed. The channels have narrowed and there are more pools and more riffle sections (whatever those are), all of which are good for the wildlife habitats. In short, the wolves changed not only the ecosystem of the park, they changed the physical geography as well. I, for one, think that is pretty amazing!
From Video Clip to Lesson
As a teacher, however, I never just watch videos on YouTube. I am constantly thinking about how I might use whatever I come across as a teaching tool. As I was being wowed by the wolves, I was thinking in the back of my head about how it would make a pretty nice fit with the cause and effect lessons I had been teaching. The students had already been exposed to cause and effect connectors, done several practice activities (Azar has some great ones in Understanding and Using English Grammar) and written an essay about the causes and effects of not studying for an exam; however, they still needed more practice using a variety of connectors accurately.
To that end, I created a handout complete with screen shots and gap fills for students to complete while they watched the video.
We had to watch it a couple of times because I have a mixed level group and the vocabulary was a big challenge for many of them. The first time, they just watched the video and tried to understand the main idea, that the wolves had been reintroduced to the park and that it had changed the plant and animal life as well as the shape of the rivers. The second time, we completed the handout together, filling in the gaps. Finally, I wrote a variety of cause/effect connectors on the board and students took turns orally creating sentences by joining phrases from the handout with the connectors. For example, students made sentences like “Since the deer stopped eating the trees, they started to grow again.” and “Since the wolves killed some of the coyotes, the number of mice, rabbits and badgers increased.” Even my beginning level students were able to make some pretty nice sentences with the help of the phrases and video.
An Alternative Chain Reaction
Of course, my students are preparing to join mainstream secondary school classes, like Geography and Science, so a video about animal habitats, keystone species and erosion is ideal. However, for other, more general lessons, there is a hilarious video on YouTube from an old Tom Hanks movie called “The Money Pit.” In it, Walter and Anna are having their house renovated. One morning, she is trying to make tea and pulls out a plug that causes a chain reaction that will not only have your students in stitches, but will also prompt them to use a variety of causal connectors to make sentences like “The bricks fell on the board. Thus, Walter was thrown out the window.” and “Walter was blinded by the curtain; consequently, he fell into a chimney.”
Bringing complexity and variety to their speaking and writing is a major challenge for many of our students. The more practice they can get, the better, and video clips are one great way to provide it!