|A Lesson on Product Origins for Global Education
Alice Svendson, US
Alice Svendson teaches in Tokyo at Jumonji Womens College and Soka University. She enjoys working with students in research writing and engaging them in global issues projects. Her on-going interests include student motivation and literary dialect.
3-day lesson outline
Example product 1
Example product 2
Useful websites for researching coffee, sneakers, tea, bread
A fact-filled general resource on production and consumption
“Londoners will drink it at their breakfasts tomorrow, won’t they?” she asked. “Strange people that we have never seen. …Noble men and noble women, … and babies who have never seen a cow… Who don’t know anything of us, and of where it comes from; or think of how we two drove miles across the moor to-night in the rain that it might reach ‘em in time.” (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy)
Even in the late 1800’s city dwellers were not very mindful of their relationship with rural people, creating a gap between urbanites and the farmers, and producers of goods, as Hardy’s character reveals. Today, we find a wider gap, and the same questioning and pursuit of answers can lead to enriching our lives with a broader global perspective.
The idea for a practical lesson on product origins came from my college professor years ago who gave a lecture retracing the process of bread from the farm to the table. You could hear a pin drop as Mr. Tally had our social studies class meditate on where our bread came from, and the chain of labor involved in the process as it moved along. Thanks to Professor Tally, I can impress upon my students an appreciation for the beginnings as well as for the complexity of many of our daily products. Rather than lecturing though, I can let students choose a product and guide them through their research to a successful in-class presentation to share with other students.
Of course, today, product origins and global awareness are an even more important part of education in a world characterized by free trade, outsourcing and global markets. Indeed, this interconnectedness of products jumps out at us all the time. One of my students brought back to Japan some souvenirs from his trip to the U.S. As he generously handed out pens to his classmates, one of them disappointingly exclaimed, ”Hey, these were made in Japan!” And sure enough, the cute little San Francisco souvenirs had been made in Japan, and were returning home in an ironic way.
Even more recently, such pens, along with many other countries’ souvenirs might be made in China or a southeast Asian country. In one way or another, our lives as consumers are interwoven with the economic lives of those whose soft hands or gnarled fingers, young or old, have played a part in bringing the products to us. They need our purchasing power for their very livelihood, as well. So, whether it be researching hand-woven oriental rugs or Arabica coffee, I really wanted my students to benefit from a greater awareness of our interdependency with people from far-away places, and cultures far different from their own. The everyday product, as a medium, seemed to be a good way to get the message across.
As I began to plan a lesson I realized that it could go in so many different directions, there were so many tangential aspects – global economics and commodity markets, outsourcing and fair trade issues, environmental issues, sweatshops and empowerment of workers, and on and on. The need to find a focus drove me to do the assignments myself; to experience the difficulty helped me to imagine the possibilities and to discover how to narrow the topics, in short, to realistically predict what I could expect from the students. Indeed, the points I would like to stress in this paper are the importance of the teacher doing the assignments first. Secondly, the value of giving the students focus questions for each topic of research.
While struggling through the research, I became keenly aware of the daunting task that would be before my students, and almost dropped the idea as unrealistic and impossible for them. But I decided that if I had been through it and knew what was involved I could better assist them, support them and advise them. And most of all, I felt it was worth doing.
3-day lesson outline
The project started with a pre-intermediate class of about twenty university students. They would be divided into groups of four for the projects, each choosing one out of four topics – coffee, sneakers, tea, or bread. Presentations within the group rather than in front of the whole class wouldn’t be boring, and would allow students to stay within a comfort zone. The assignment would have a three-week time frame, since classes meet weekly, for 90 minutes - thus, the three-day lesson outline, taking three weeks to cover the projects. A brief outline of the plan is given below.
Day 1 – Begin with a warm-up on the origins of a few everyday things in the classroom, like sneakers and T-shirts, with questions for reflection. It’s always surprising and amusing to the students to discover they don’t know where their clothes were made, or they assume they were made in the home country, only to read labels from Korea, China, and Vietnam.
After the brief warm-up, divide the students into groups of four and let them decide in their groups which of the four topics they would like to research. At this point, I would like to mention a word of advice on ways to organize this phase. One way would be to let each student research a different product, the result being a class of twenty would have about twenty different products. This has advantages - one being all students would listen to a greater variety of product research. However, based on experience, I chose the second way, which was to introduce only four products. Each group had the same four products to research. There were several reasons for this; one, it seemed a lot easier to manage if the groups had the same three or four products. That way any whole class discussion about the products would engage everyone and benefit everyone. As well, I could work with “same-product groups” in the preparation time before they gave their presentations. Finally, testing the students on the content of the presentations would be easier. It would be possible to evaluate them since they had all covered the same topics.
Next, setting down some simple guidelines helps because most students need structure and support with presentations. The number of words for students’ presentations would be about 250. They would take 10-15 minutes each, including questions, and they must use visuals. One important requirement was that they had to think about the origins on their own, before checking the internet. In their report they have to include about 50-70 words on their impressions. After reflecting, they should check several sources, not just one or two, and they must use their own words, not a computer translation. They should take notes as they research, not just print out. Also, I would remind them that paraphrasing requires documenting sources. Always cite sources.
Day 2 – In the next class, students would bring in their outlines and rough drafts, as well as a list of their sources. They would meet with their same-product groups, called “study” groups at this point, and read each other’s reports. So, all those researching coffee would get together, and so on. Peer feedback, plus teacher feedback, in a non-threatening setting, would be an invaluable learning experience for all involved.The teacher’s role would be to give advice, encouragement, ask clarification questions and be a catalyst to the work in progress, giving them the tools they need. In this lesson it is a good idea to give examples of the presentation methods you recommend. One example might be a poster presentation with a chart that visually represents the product’s route from origin to the consumer. Another might be a simple poster presentation with pictures of laborers and maps of the countries involved, or a simple power point presentation. It is very important to encourage the students to think about the process first on their own, not to solely rely on internet research to do the thinking for them. As preliminary work, it is a good idea for the teacher to conduct a short vocabulary lesson of useful, common words students would need, as both presenters and as listeners. Teachers can make a list of terms such as fair trade labeling, sweatshops, wholesale vs. retail, wages, and child labor.
Day 3 – This would be the actual presentation day. Students would be seated in their groups and take turns presenting their product research. In order to ensure that the group members understand and communication is taking place, the presenters could begin with defining their key words, explaining about five difficult but essential words. Then, during the delivery, the presenter could pause a few times so the group could ask questions. After all the presentations, each group member would fill out a “participation sheet” which lists the topics and asks the students to describe what they had learned, and what impressed them about each topic.
After all the presentations, questions and the participation sheets (about 15 minutes) have been completed, the teacher could have a short wrap-up period to close the lesson, emphasizing the strong points of the students’ work, eliciting highlights, and stressing the need for continued critical thinking and involvement in global consumerism.
Example product 1 – coffee
The following notes resulted from my own findings on two of the four products I assigned the students. As has been mentioned, I decided to help students focus and limit the research, thus the focus questions on each product.
In summary, the research I did on coffee resulted in the following focus questions as guides for students who chose this topic. The questions are graded from easy to more complex and difficult. The students should include the information for #1-3 in their presentations. They could choose from either #4 or 5.
1. What are the two basic kinds of coffee grown today, and how do they differ in quality and taste?
2. Which are the major coffee-growing countries in the world? (Five or six countries)
3. Describe the process of making coffee, from growing to grinding.
4. What are the major effects of fair trade labeling on coffee growers?
5. What are the major environmental effects of the two different coffee-growing methods?
Give students tips on the best websites, like Wikipedia, firstname.lastname@example.org and Starbuck’s homepage (Our Coffees, then go to Coffee Education). Prepare them for the dizzying effects of Wikipedia’s fast and easy reference features, the hyperlinks. Although one can go far afield, encourage the students to take notes along the way, and like a good scout, be able to retrace their steps and back track. For example, from the main page of Wikipedia’s history of coffee one can read about cash crops, and a click on that leads to an explanation about pricing, commodity markets and consequences on the individual farmers in developing countries.
From past experience I know that many students will read and research in their native language. As already mentioned, I emphasize that students must understand what they are reading well enough to put it into English without computer translations, and we discuss plagiarizing. I encourage students to question their findings, and to ask when they are confused. Enthusiasm fuels effort in critical thinking.
Example product 2 – tea
The research I did on tea enabled me to focus on the following focus questions as guiding points for students who chose this topic. Again, the questions start off rather easy and gradually become more complex and difficult. As with the first topic, students have to include #1-3 in their presentations. They could choose between #4, 5 and 6.
1. Where does most green tea come from? What areas of China grow it?
2. Where does most black tea come from, and what areas of India grow it?
3. Chart the process, from picking to packing, in about six steps.
4. How do companies like Stash take social responsibility?
5. How do some tea companies take environmental responsibility?
6. Compare the different processes for growing green tea and black tea. Be sure to point out not only the differences but also the similarities.
My internet findings for the topic of tea most closely resembled what I had initially envisioned I would find for all the topics, i.e. a clear and easy process from start to finish. This was never the case, except for tea. And thanks to the clever and convenient website from Stash tea, the students can take an online tea tour – a must for anyone researching this topic.
Wikipedia’s site was second on the list of search results for Google, and very good, with a helpful process chart the students could enlarge. Scrolling down I found Stash tea, sixth on the list at the time. There, under the site index I went to videos, and under “about us” I clicked on the tour, and it was well worth the time and trouble. I mention all of this to emphasize the importance of stepping into the shoes of our students and monitoring the process, taking notes so that you can specifically direct students to certain hidden gems of information. It is far more difficult for our students to navigate through the information available in English than for us. Letting them know you are on their side is very important to a successful outcome.
I have only included examples of two of the four topics – coffee and tea, with the focus questions and tips to the best websites. Teachers will probably want to choose other products suitable to the level and background of the students.
Any number of labor-intensive products might be suitable, such as chocolate, maple syrup, bread, sneakers. I encourage teachers to do the research on origins of other products they are interested in. Paper products, for example, might work well, or assembled products, like cameras. After some brief investigation, I abandoned some products because of the complexity in the process (Persian rugs) or because too many issues were involved (meat products). I have no doubt that other teachers around the world have already used such topics and lessons with their classes, but I hope that the mini-lesson, 3-day format for group presentations, the focus questions, and tips for student-friendly research presented in this paper will contribute to more effective lessons.
Some of the benefits of tracing a product back to its origins are long-lasting. They could likely have positive repercussions on students’ other academic subjects. For example, this kind of study and reflection integrates geography, and cultural/global awareness. Students can also develop a connectedness that leads to sensitivity to others, especially in developing countries, and to an empowerment as consumers to try to effect change where needed. Students learn to be inquisitive and proactive with regard to product purchases, to do more recycling, and think more critically concerning the advertising industry and the companies who control what we consume.
Coincidentally, the joke in Humanizing Language Teaching, (August 2009) is apropos. I would like to quote the first few lines here.
“John Smith started the day early having set his alarm clock (MADE IN JAPAN) for 6 am. While his coffee pot (MADE IN CHINA) was perking, he shaved with his electric razor (MADE IN HONG KONG), he put on a dress shirt (MADE IN SRI LANKA), designer jeans (MADE IN SINGAPORE) and tennis shoes (MADE IN KOREA)…”
Hardy, Thomas (1983) Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Humanizing Language Teaching, Jokes, Year 11; Issue 4; August, 2009
Useful websites for researching coffee, sneakers, tea, bread
A fact-filled general resource on production and consumption
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