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A Desert Odyssey

The Back Story
Your friend's father is working on an agricultural project for UNESCO in faraway Pakistan. Your friend is going to spend school holidays with him and has promised to send you e-mail whenever possible. Your friend has never travelled alone before but isn't too worried about making a stopover in Delhi, getting through customs or meeting up with staff from the project at the airport in Islamabad. Sometimes plans just don't work out and it seems this is one of those times as there is another adventure waiting along the way.
Join your very own Travel Buddy on an unforgettable odyssey in cyberspace. Choose a nickname for your Travel Buddy and a nickname for yourself then add your e-mail address and -- presto! -- the journey begins. Your Travel Buddy will do all the hard work, reporting back to you on a regular basis. Fill in the form below and let the Desert Odyssey begin.


Your Nickname:

Travel Buddy Nickname:

E-Mail Address:

Note: For added security all subscription e-mail addresses must be verified through response e-mail. Please read our Privacy Policy for further details.

Teachers: Sign up to test Desert Odyssey out for possible deployment with your students. Your feedback would also be appreciated.

Desert Odyessy is designed to give students short but regular exposure to written English in an engaging format. As involvement in the story line is reward enough for students, follow up is not essential. When assigning subscription to a whole class regular progress reports and speculative sessions can heighten interest. Keep them breif.

Desert Odyssey is suitable for elementary school-aged native speakers or English as a second language students of all ages.

After subscribing, the e-mails arrive into students’ mail boxes at intervals of from one to three days over the course of a month or so. Each e-mail is very short and a few are sprinkled with pictures. You can use this activity as a starting point for discussion in the classroom.

Subscribe all your students to Desert Odyssey at the same time, using the same Travel Buddy Nickname. Choosing a single Travel Buddy Nickname for the entire class can minimize confusion. One option would be to make sure you don't subscribe to it yourself. That way you have an instant information gap. Then on a regular basis get the class to bring you up-to-date on the events of the Desert Odyssey. Over time students will start to look forward to these debriefing sessions.

Desert Odyssey is specifically written to be open to conjecture so that students can share, argue and debate their personal take on the events that they are privy to. Some people aren't so comfortable with this kind of lack of clarity. The objective here isn't to be clear, the purpose is to use reading as a tool for communication and to maximize oral output. There are no right answers; it's just a story with as many interpretations as there are participants.

Every time you debrief preface it by eliciting the story thus far. By doing so you work in some extra vocab review and refresh everyone’s memory. End by elicting speculation as to what students expect to come next.

Another approach would be to assign the story to half the class. This works well if you are already familiar with the story. Again you have an instant information gap. This way the students themselves generate the questions, as well as the answers so you're getting even more output though a little prodding might be necessary here and there depending on the level. You can also expect some in the non-recipient group to cheat, subscribing on the sly, as interest in the events starts to warm up. Imagine that: students sneaking around, reading English behind your back!

Describing pictures from memory is another activity that should immediately leap to mind. Don't show the pictures in class; just get students to share what they think they remember. You'll find them going back to the e-mails after class and reading things, looking at things much more closely because they have made commitments and have a vested interest in getting it right.

You can also get students to debate geography from memory. It doesn't really matter where the action takes place. It does matter that students are using language to express their confusion. Keep the maps out of the classroom and you'll get a lot more dialogue happening. Get them to start drawing maps on the whiteboard relying on their existing knowledge of South Central Asia. They may not get the maps right but there will be a lot of noisy arguing. Who could ask for anything more? Guaranteed they'll be running to online atlases as soon as they are out of the classroom.

There are some other little bugaboos in the story as well like the mysterious "Kelly". You can milk these things for an awful lot of real, as opposed to pretend conversation. Who, for instance, exactly is "Parcheesi"? What is "dhal" and how do you make it? How come the Blackberry works but only one way?

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