A British source
Rummaging in Britain
This page sets out to explore Projectbritain.com - a skilfully developed and detailed site produced by Woodlands Junior School in Kent - and to suggest how this site can be a starting point for further research. Evidently, the basic value of the site is as a useful one-stop source for information about the customs and traditions of Britain, thus providing fuel for the Customs & Traditions Option.
However, I would like to propose a range of different ways in which the site can be used to develop specific skills relevant to our purposes in English B. After all, we are primarily concerned with developing the students' skills, both linguistic and intellectual, not with preparing them for some kind of factual exam in British Citizenship ! In addition, these different procedures should be seen as, and are intended to be, highly transferable to other source sites ... I offer this page as a kind of tool kit of ways to use any complex website productively for English B purposes.
A couple of provisos, which you should take on board before using this site with students. Firstly, it has largely been produced by junior school students (7-11), and so both language and content can be seen as rather simple ... but (a) this leaves the site accessible for all students, even those with quite elementary language skills; and (b) if the ideas seem simple, then ask the students to research more sophisticated facts and arguments. And secondly, the site is perhaps rather dated in some aspects, since much information seems to have been entered several years ago - so use this as a springboard for up-dated research. It is worth noting that, so far as I have seen, the vast majority of the factual content (e.g. historical information) is reasonably reliable.
The tool kit
You will notice that the following procedures all involve the fundamental skills of skimming, scanning, response & comment, and critical questioning, in some cases combined. It must be worth pointing this out to students, and emphasising that these skills are basic to all research; and that skilful, efficient research involves using them at the right moment in the right way.
This is essentially a skimming exercise, requiring students to grasp content which might be expressed in quite a lengthy way with excessive detail, and then representing the essential ideas concisely and clearly. For this you need quite a complex section, which can usefully be edited down.
For example the section History of Britain: timeline & facts. Ask the student to provide a clear short summary (e.g. a 2 minute speech, or a 250 word article) cover the overall pattern.
Make use, here, of the fact that this is quite a simple site, and the facts are, at times rather basic. Require the student to research fuller details than are provided in the site - and you might specify that at least 3 or 4 other sites have to be consulted (and duly acknowledged by references).
For example you might try the section The people of Britain today, pick up on the sentence "Britain is a country of mixed cultures", and require the student to summarise what the site has to say about the racial and cultural mix of contemporary Britain. Then, research fuller more detailed facts about populations of various minorities.
This procedure moves beyond basic disciplined 'objective' summary, by adding on a degree of subjective comment and information. Require the student firstly to summarise objectively what the site has to say about a topic - and then ask the student to add a summary of related information from his or her own personal background knowledge. This procedure combines the skills of skimming and response & comment.
For example direct the student to the page on etiquette, Acceptable behaviour in Britain , require a summary of what the site has to say, and then ask for a summary of behaviours which are handled differently in the student's own home culture.
This procedure moves beyond basic skimming, and more involves scanning for particular useful details. This can be set up in two ways: (i) choose, more or less at random, 3 or 4 pages from the site, and ask the student to produce some text which makes use, coherently, of several bits of information from each page; OR (ii) set a basic task which requires that the student scans all pages for anything which will help to fulfill the task. Thus ...
For example (i) specify the pages A-Z of Britain, Daily life, Tourist information and Sports and leisure - the student has to select 2 items of information from each page (duly acknowledged), and tie them all together into a coherent text, with some sort of thesis about 'British culture'. [This overlaps very closely with the procedure Text type-based, below]
For example (ii) propose this: "If you lived in London for a year, which examples of British traditions would you be likely to see or take part in ?" The student has to skim through quickly, note down items which seem to be related in some way, perhaps scan for other related details, and then link them (more or less ingeniously) into a properly-linked text.
This procedure focuses on the successful production of a type of text, and the web site is simply the source material which is to be included.
For example (i) use the page Daily life, and ask the student to write a diary entry as if he or she was living in Britain, researching up as many details as possible by scanning sub-sections of the page. Actually, they may stumble across the sub-section Teenagers , which contains exactly such a diary ... well, ask them to write a diary entry which emphasises how differently they would live, compared to this young-person's kind of diary !
For example (ii) in slightly more challenging vein, ask the students to write a speech which is clearly for or against the motion "The website ProjectBritain gives a simplistic and superficial view of the British" You might propose the page on English stereotypes as a starting point ...!
In the English B classrooom, we should be constantly encouraging students to think critically about anything we put in front of them ... and, by extension from English B, about anything they find on the interent. Essentially, 'critical thinking' comes down to 'critical questioning', or at least it starts with asking thoughtful questions which stimulate developed argument. Such 'critical questioning' is obviously likely to be rooted in preliminary skimming and scanning procedures, to the results of which thoughtful questions should then be applied.
Require the students to take any section or page of the website, and prepare a list of questions about
- statements made which need more detail
- assumptions and/or value judgements which need examining more deeply
Collect the questions, sort out the most acute, and debate ...
For example you might focus on the pages under Government about Elections and Making and passing laws - these provide very basic, even thin, explanations of the British system, which is actually extremely complicated and confusing. You might point out that the UK does not have a written Constitution (unlike practically every other established country); and that it may appear strange that the country claims to be a democracy yet no law can be passed without the Queen's permission ... (???)