Flash fiction

Sorry, folks, I’m using this blog to think through some stuff today. I’m Moodling again, at least theoretically, to prepare for an upcoming workshop. Can’t show off old user content anymore since I deleted all former users and their work as an antivirus precaution, and don’t want to do what I did before because I’ve been there and done that. My current challenge is to break down my own steep learning curve into the right kind of bites to pass on to fellow teachers, both in the workshop and on the Ask Auntie Web blog. The Island Weekly is my home office blog, and since I’m hardly teaching at all at the moment, this blog is going through yet another change. Stick with me, baby :)

What are the most productive uses of Moodle in EFL? How about students writing flash fiction? A famous work of flash fiction, probably the shortest, is Hemingway’s “Short Short Story”, which goes like this:

“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

Brevity is the soul of wit, said Shakespeare, and this type of writing is based on omitting needless words yet delivering the full story in all parts and engaging the reader completely. Some types are based on an exact word count, e.g. Drabble (100 words), the 69er or 55 Fiction. Joan Popek summarizes flash fiction very nicely, and shows how trimming language makes it more vibrant:

Long version: The freezing, icy wind which was blowing from the North made John’s face feel cold. (15 words)
Flash version: Icy wind bit into John’s face. (6 words)
S. Joan Popek, Writing Flash Fiction

In Moodle, this type of assignment could work in various ways:

  1. It could run in the open forum as one-off postings that are shortened by subsequent commentators using copy and paste to pull it into their window, and then editing it down. The forum is a brilliant tool because it makes subsequent steps nice and transparent. This would have the advantage of not having any nasty markup to distract in version 2 or 3. I love the forum for the freedom it allows learners – it’s akin to classroom participation.
  2. It could be a collaborative team assignment for a group forum, who, when they are finished, simply post their product as a nicely styled pdf. This would have the advantage of allowing for a bit of graphic design fun. Hm: I had this type of assignment when I was learning Moodle, and I didn’t like it. It feels more like “homework” when the process is in a private group and you have to deliver one document as a final product.
  3. It could be a wiki project, especially as the teacher can prepare a framework for students to fill in individually. I especially like the idea of wikis for pair work, because it’s an intimate and focussed collaboration. However, the Moodle wiki is truly awful. One could link to an external wiki (eg wikispaces) but that’s not as neat, because it involves an extra sign up. And then all that setting up of pages, just for pairs? Boo. So unless the wiki is used over and over during a course, it’s not worth it. They are very effective in summarizing the fruits of learning.
  4. One could include rewriting exercises in a test/quiz format, providing multiple choice alternatives like I do in the exercises for Spotlight Online.
  5. Polls on a regular basis on troubleshooting grammar mistakes and style issues that are typical when students try to shorten phrases – the way Germans tend to use noun phrases, or overuse the gerund
  6. One could also provide an assignment with a Word document containing text bites to be edited and handed in as an assignment to be graded in the traditional way.
  7. One could start things out with a picture or film or object to generate a word list, i.e. these words must appear in each story. Not everything needs to happen online and in multimedia. But it would be fun to get the whole class twittering, send them to a photo stream and then take the words they post.

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Anne

Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

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