Postcards from Buster: Hit the Road with Buster!
In a children's television first, Postcards from Buster blends animation and live-action footage as it shines the spotlight on the lives of children throughout North America. A spin-off of the popular children's series Arthur, Postcards from Buster is designed to intrigue and delight young audiences while accomplishing two goals: building awareness and appreciation of the many cultures in America and supporting the language learning of children in the process of acquiring English.
The series follows Arthur's best friend, Buster, as he wings his way across the country with his father, who is piloting fictional rock band Los Viajeros on its concert tour through the United States, with forays into Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. In each new location, the kids invite Buster (and us, the viewers) into their lives, sharing their enthusiasm, experiences, and family cultures.
Turning his video camera on to record his travel adventures and understand life in different venues, Buster creates a series of live-action, P.O.V.-style video postcards to send to his mother and friends back home. Buster is a curious and open learner, always ready for fun and adventure. Each episode introduces useful English vocabulary and sentence structures in a natural, authentic way. Key language is featured in the opening song, and then woven through the animation and live-action segments. An accompanying Teacher's Guide for English Language Learners supports and extends the language learning opportunities, offering teaching strategies and activities for before, during, and after viewing Postcards from Buster episodes.
Because educators have one-year taping rights to Postcards from Buster, you can tape any and all of the episodes that support your classroom activities. To find out when the series airs on your station, check out the TV schedule or contact your local public television station.
Using the Series in the Classroom
Appreciating Cultural and Geographic Diversity
If you would like to focus on the cultural and geographic diversity exposed through Postcards from Buster, encourage students to keep a record of the places they visit with Buster, the people they meet, and the things that capture their interest and remind them of events and people in their own lives. Students can follow along with Buster's travels on a copy of "Buster's Map," included in the teacher's guide. The map shows all the places that Buster visits in the first season's programs. Help your students locate where they live and add their town or city to the map. Then before viewing each episode, help students find the new location and color in that section of the map. Have any of your students visited that state? If they have, let them share related experiences and information, and encourage them to predict what Buster might see or do in the episode.
On the Web site, Buster writes about each place he visits in his Blog (Web Log). Have your students make their own Travel Logs, attaching their copy of Buster's Map to the cover or as the first page. After watching each episode, have students record an entry in their Travel Log. They can draw or write about their favorite part of the episode; list cultural similarities and differences, pose questions, or express opinions; or draw or write about a related experience from their own lives. You'll find more ideas for geography activities using Buster's Map in the teacher's guide. Students can also practice their knowledge of U.S. geography using two games on the Postcards from Buster Web site, Connect the States and Where's Buster?
Postcards from Buster presents real children and families from a wide range of cultures. Some of the cultures will be familiar to your students and others will not. Pause the video periodically and talk about what you've learned. Ask questions to help students think about the concrete aspects of culture (such as food, festivals, and traditional clothes), the behavioral aspects (such as languages spoken, gender and family roles, the way people interact with each other), and the symbolic aspects (for example, the underlying cultural significance or meaning of a traditional ritual or dance). You can use different graphic organizers to help reinforce what students have learned. For example, create K-W-L charts (Know-Want to Know-Learned) before each episode, focusing on either the place Buster is visiting or an aspect of the culture he experiences (you can find out what the focus of each episode is by checking out the Episode Descriptions on the Web site). After viewing, encourage students to draw comparisons to their own lives and cultures. Use a Venn diagram to chart the similarities and differences that students point out.
In addition to the programs, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers will be launching a 12-book series of leveled readers for children ages six to nine written by Marc Brown and based on Postcards from Buster episodes. You can use students' enthusiasm for the series and their affection for Buster as motivators to encourage them to read more about Buster's travels in these books, as well as related books.
Developing Language Skills
In many classrooms, students are at varying levels of English language proficiency. In some classes, everyone is in the process of learning English, while in others, some students are native English speakers and others are in the process of learning the language. You can use Postcards from Buster to support the language and literacy development of all your students, using multilevel teaching strategies. For example, using labeled pictures and real objects to introduce key words and concepts will not only help students who are learning English but will also help students who are learning to read.
Each episode of Postcards from Buster has specific language teaching goals, for both functional and content language. For example, in "A Sense of Direction," in which Buster meets a Muslim girl in Chicago, the functional language focuses on making introductions (I'd like you to meet my dad. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you, too.), while the content language focus is directions (close, far, over there, turn left/right, go straight across). In "The Giant Pumpkins," which takes place in Mt. Hood, Oregon, the functional language focuses on describing and comparing size (the biggest, bigger than, even bigger), while content language includes measurements (400 inches, 5,027 feet, 1,123 pounds), describing size (giant, massive, huge, enormous, extra large, jumbo), and crops (pumpkins, corn, vegetables, seed, plant, stalk, fertilizer).
Repetition is a key to language learning, so you may want to replay each episode several times. Pause the video at different times to discuss, clarify, and act out scenes, to repeat key phrases and sentences, and to encourage students to make personal connections with the content. You may also want to turn on the closed caption option on your TV from time to time. Reading captions builds students' literacy skills and helps clarify parts of conversations that are hard to hear or understand.
The teacher's guide includes a lesson for each episode that outlines the location, the topics/themes of the episode (e.g., chores/responsibilities, families, cultural traditions, careers, etc.), the functional language, the content language, and recommended books. Each lesson also includes ideas for introducing the episode, as well as viewing strategies and activity ideas that help scaffold, support, and extend students' understanding of the episode and the language that is introduced.
Postcards from Buster uses an innovative new format and the most popular character from the Arthur series to deliver a new series with considerable educational impact. In the words of series advisor Lily Wong Filmore, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, "There's so much richness in Postcards from Buster that kids cannot help but learn a lot from it, particularly if teachers build on what is there and help kids make sense of what they are seeing."
Published: February 2005