In praise of quiet websites

Luara Ashley Quilt © Ann Rippin

Luara Ashley Quilt © Ann Rippin

As promised in my last post, here are a couple of my favourite quiet websites. One is primarily visual, the other has plenty of white space. The first belongs to Ann Rippin, Management lecturer at Bristol University and passionate quilter. Two posts on this page show her progress with a quilt made of Laura Ashley fabrics.

I was drawn to the Regency figures on one scrap of cloth. The two ladies are having a private conversation – one perhaps looking at us, but with no intention of sharing everything. The face of the other is completely hidden behind her bonnet; we will never know her face, let alone her thoughts. They have their privacy, stories which will never be known, and so too must some of the fabrics which Ann works into her quilts.

The second quiet website is The Letters Page, a literary journal in letters, which only accepts submissions on paper.

Each site uses the web to celebrate an off-web activity; the pull of cotton through fabric, the glide of ink over paper. I couldn’t help thinking of Winston Smith’s fountain pen and cream-coloured writing paper in Orwell’s 1984, which he jealously guards from the all-seeing eye of Big Brother. An extreme parallel to be sure, but there are many parts of our experience which the web can’t (and shouldn’t?) reach.

So what does this have to do with language teaching? Well, visual or tactile stimuli can be a great resource for online or off-line lessons. I don’t just mean photos of people chatting in a café to encourage conversation practice, but more puzzling or exciting sources. As a starting point in a lesson, these sources can put the student on more equal terms with the teacher since they do not need to be understood through language. And they can then encourage unexpected statements, questions or observations which require more sophisticated grammar and vocabulary. This can make a more interesting and challenging session for both teacher and student.

April 19, 2015