Last updateFri, 02 Jan 2015 5pm

NatGeo photographer Ben Horton visits Guadalajara: How ‘Wow’ photos can save sharks and teach English

This was a talk I did not want to miss. National Geographic photographer Ben Horton was to speak about his work as an explorer during a conference promoting a new series of textbooks for teaching English with NatGeo photos and themes.

Since I’m interested in both exploration and teaching, this looked exactly like my cup of tea, and so it was. I just regret that so few people turned out for what I’d say was one of the best adventure and conservation presentations I’ve ever experienced.

This event took place on December 2 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Guadalajara. It was organized by a textbook-multimedia publisher called National Geographic Learning, part of Cengage Learning. Jair Felix of Cengage started off by introducing us to Our World, a colorful six-level course for young learners of English. You open the books to any unit and the first thing you see is one of those “Wow!” pictures from National Geographic, the kind that makes both kids and adults ask: Is this for real? Does this place or creature actually exist?

For example, in a unit for beginners, a page innocently titled “My House” shows an amazing photograph of a cozy little house perched high upon a decidedly too small rock smack in the middle of a river in Serbia. The kids learn the usual vocabulary related to houses, like roof, window and yard, but through images that raise their eyebrows and rivet their attention. At a higher level, this sort of picture may accompany a reading on how King Tut died or a discussion of Anthropology by a NatGeo “explorer-in-residence” explaining what it was that attracted him to this profession. What an improvement over the boring textbooks that used to discourage kids from learning a foreign language!

My wife Susy, who teaches Spanish, commented on Our World: “I liked their concept of children learning English by visiting other countries through the photos and the themes. This might awaken in them a desire to travel, to know the world. What a great idea for children to discover the world while sitting in the classroom.”

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