I Left My Head and Heart on the Dance Floor

Nope. This is still no tell-all of my secret romances, and definitely not a revelation of my non-existent life of partying and clubbing either…

Confused? Then do catch up by reading the first two posts about my wonderful Advanced class:

MLearning, Mini Whiteboards, and Emergent Stuff

and

Only in a Dogme Class

In yesterday’s blogpost, I described another lesson with this class.

To recap…(I can hear Kiefer Sutherland‘s deep voice resonating in my head, ‘Previously, in Chia’s class…‘)

  • My students re-arranged the lyrics of Tom Waits’s I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You‘ while listening to the song.
  • A discussion about pub etiquette in different countries and chat up lines ensued.
  • Students listened again and visualise the lead character of the song.
  • Student made drew sketches of the lead character accompanied by descriptions of him and his history.
  • Students looked at each other’s work.
  • Students wrote a dialogue based on the two characters meeting again, and performed it to the class.

(For more details, see Part Three yesterday : All Because I Hoped I Didn’t Fall in Love with You. )

As homework, students had to print out the lyrics of their favourite English song and bring it to class the next day.

This is (Part Four) what happened the next day…

The following day, after a thorough recall of what they did the day before, the students animatedly told their partners about the songs they have picked. The conversations went from the use of metaphor in Elton John’s Rocket Man, to the syncing of Pink Floyd’s album The Dark Side Of The Moon to The Wizard Of Oz, to how commercialization of singers like Adele could turn listeners off. We then talked about the concerts that we had been to and somehow the conversation led to Lady Gaga and how some of the students felt that she was being dramatic and shocking for the sake of album sales.

I asked students if they had seen the music video of Lady Gaga’s Telephone, and when all of them replied in the negative, a brainwave struck.

I put the students in groups of three and had one of the three with their back facing the IWB. As I played the music video, the other two students had to describe what they were seeing to their partner, who would then furiously take notes. A third of the way into the video, I paused it and got them to swap seats so that a different student was now unable to see the screen.

Straight after screening the music video, I conducted open class feedback and got the students who did not see the relevant sections to try and explain to the class with the help of their notes what they had ‘seen’ in the video.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise, but the groups that consisted of girls seemed to have only described the clothes and accessories that Lady Gaga was wearing, while the group with all the boys consistently said things like, ‘Then a helicopter flew by, and she got into a car. A car with red and yellow flames.’ Perhaps we are reverting back to gender stereotypes a little here, but it certainly got us all laughing as we realized the differences in what the different groups were describing to their group mates!

Meanwhile, there was a lot of opportunity for feeding in language students needed, e.g. barb wire fence, surveillance camera, police tape, prison warden, fancy dress party, safety pins, a fight broke out, etc.

As we watched the video a second (this time with no one back facing the screen), students had to note the number of product placements and brand names that were featured in the video, and had to answer the question ‘What is the message behind this video?’

(Why don’t you try this with the Youtube video link above? Answers in Part Five, to be published tomorrow…)

In feedback, some of the students pointed out the references to ‘Thelma & Louise‘ and ‘Kill Bill’ at the end of the video, but our three hours were up, and so I instructed students to do some online research on the pop artist ‘Roy Lichenstein’ as homework, and to draw relations between his work and the music video.

Sorry for making y’all wait for the continuation of the blogpost. But as Lady Gaga says, ‘I’m k-kinda busy’…

Part Five, Concluding Part : To be continued tomorrow…

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All Because I Hoped I Didn’t Fall in Love with You

Before any of you think that this is an out-of-character blogpost that is going to tell all about my very exciting love life, I would like to first refer you to the two previous posts I had written about lessons with my wonderful Advanced class:

MLearning, Mini Whiteboards, and Emergent Stuff

and

Only in a Dogme Class

This is Part Three.

Taking on Phil Wade’s advice about using songs to motivate my class of young students, I told them to print out the lyrics of their favourite English song to share with the rest of the class.

To set an example, I then brought in my own – Tom Waits’s I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You. I did not anticipate that this would turn into three days of amazing conversations, language input, and critical thinking workshops.

To spark the conversation, I had brought in the lyrics of the above song cut up into pieces (supplied kindly by my colleague, Richard Chin). In the spirit of a bit of good ol’ bottom-up processing, students had to rearrange the sentences as they heard the song, gradually revealing the surprise ending.

We listened to the song again, this time paying attention to the storyline, using the questions ‘Where is he?’, ‘Who is he singing about?’, ‘What happens in the end?’

In open class feedback, we decided that the singer was in a pub and was trying pluck up the courage to chat a girl up. This led the conversation to things that we do in pubs and the difference in pub etiquette between their countries and the UK. Phrases like ‘Whose round is it anyway?’, ‘to sip, ‘to gulp’ and ‘to have no guts to-infinitive’ and ‘cheesy chatup lines’ went up on the board.

Franshesca, Gabriella, and Sophie's Group

I then got the students to close their eyes and visualize the main character as I played the song again. They were then given time to discuss with their partners and come to an agreement as to how they wanted the lead to look like. They were given poster paper to sketch out this man in the pub, and had to write a description of him and his history (how he ended up alone and lonely in that pub). Meanwhile, I was roaming around the class making myself available for any lexis that might arise or needed feeding in, e.g. stubble, bags under the eyes, creased checked shirt, dishevelled appearance, His career was going downhill, a derogatory term, She is freaked out (by him), etc., all went up on the board.

 

Richard, Johnny and Alessandra's Group

The posters went up on the walls of the classroom and the students walked around reading the descriptions pinned under the sketches and picking their favourite story.

Marco and Alejandro's Group

Then when the student sat back down, they were given the task to predict what would happen if he met the girl in the song again a couple of weeks later in the same pub. They then proceeded to write out the dialogue that they thought would take place between the two main characters of the song, and then performing it in front of the class. (Some of the stories were so funny, I could not stop laughing! One group decided that their main character would collapse on the spot and die of a broken heart…)

Evandro and Jacqueline's Group

If I had had more time, I would have got them to analyse each other’s dialogues and perhaps look at the appropriacy of what was said in the dialogues, and how they can reformulate the discourse so as to maintain face in the interaction. Students could have negotiated ways of saving face when asking a girl out and ways of rejecting someone politely. But my 3 hours were up and I reminded students to bring in lyrics of their favourite songs the next day.

(Part Four : To be continued tomorrow…)

Only in a Dogme class…

Thanks for all your interests in my previous post! Today was Day 2 of my Advanced class and boy, are they amazing! Conversations flowed, topics took surprising turns and interests were piqued in a way that only a Dogme class could afford!

The day started with a recall of the previous day’s discussions and language, and this led to them reminding me about how I clearly had a pet peeve with the London Underground and RMT. I fed in the lexis ‘pet hate’ and ‘to rant about something’ and that led to the binomial ‘to rant and rave about something’. This then led to the discussion of what a binomial was.

I decided to put them in pairs  to brainstorm in pairs and write on their mini-whiteboards as many binomials as they could think of. What emerged in the eventual mind-map I had on the board were gems like ‘out and about’, ‘down and out’, ‘rhythm and blues’, ‘trick or treat’, ‘back and forth’, ‘hit and run’ and ‘pros and cons’.

But what was more interesting was the emergence of ‘high and low’, which we figured only really existed in the expression ‘to search for something high and low’; ‘black and blue’, which often occurred with the phrase ‘He was black and blue all over’; and ‘odds and ends’ which frequently collocated with the verbs ‘to tie up’.

Once the geeks in us were pacified by this nice chunk of a language lesson, we went on to discuss their homework from the day before – finding out why some countries drove on the right and others drove on the left. Putting students in groups, I had those who did do their homework to relate to those who hadn’t a summary of what they had found out, and then moved those who had not done the necessary reading to the next group in the style of a carousel so that they could relate back what they were told to their new group members.

In open class feedback, we were fed with all kinds of information – from the mounting of the horse from the right to the avoidance of samurai swords from banging against other samurai passer-bys, but one thing was clear: We all used to drive on the left, UK-style. The righteousness of being right-handed dictated that driving on the left was a necessity. Somehow, along the way, some countries deflected…then others followed. Now, those that drive on the left are a minority…

After their break, the students were meant to come back with the adverts they had brought with them. Their homework had been to spot an advert they liked…but coincidentally and interestingly, one of the students was eating straight from a Nutella jar during the break and the conversation became about how Nutella was a lot cheaper in London than it is in Peru…

We started talking about spreads and I asked if they had tried Marmite. We looked briefly at the bell curve compared to the Marmite curve and then I showed them an advertisement of Marmite. In pairs, they then discussed the following questions: Considering the slogan, font, layout and pictures used, what do you think is the target market? What image are they trying to portray. We then went to the Marmite website and saw the memorabilia they sold and how they even had an area for haters of Marmite.

This was the perfect lead-in to the adverts they had brought to class. Using the same questions they had been asked about the Marmite advert, the students discussed the adverts they brought with them.
But in true Dogme fashion, not everything is predictable. In open class, a student was sharing a dentistry ad laid out in the style of Facebook.

The conversation moved on to social networking sites and we started talking about digital natives and how they learnt differently from digital immigrants. The students started on their views about Facebook and social networking online and it only seemed natural to put them in pairs to talk about the disadvantages of such social networking and the stories they had heard.

The buzz in the classroom reached a significant peak at this point. Students were clearly enthused by the topic and had a lot to say about it. They started talking about stories of cyber bullying and celebrity slagging matches. It seemed pointless at this point to pursue the adverts they had brought with them. This was clearly a much more interesting area that sparked reasonable debate.

I immediately searched for ‘Tom Scott’ and ‘Flash Mob Gone Wrong’ on Youtube and set the following questions ‘What happened in this story?’, ‘What happened in the end?’, ‘Is this a true story?’ and ‘What is the presenter’s message?’ and played the clip as a listening text. The discussion of what a flashmob was and how the phenomenon of the internet took us to the end of another very fruitful and exhilarating lesson.

Gosh, I love my job! Wouldn’t you?

MLearning, Mini-Whiteboards, and Emergent stuff…

As homework yesterday, my Advanced learners were told to take a photo of something that they might see between yesterday afternoon and this morning which they found interesting. The conversations and language that emerged was so unpredictable and so magical that I couldn’t help but blog about it.

This morning, I offered each pair a mini-white board and told students to sit with their backs to each other. Student A was then to describe the photo they had taken to their partners (Student B), who would then proceed to draw it on the mini-whiteboard.

When the pictures were described and drawn, the students would compare the drawings to the photo and then Student A would explain to Student B why they had picked that photo. This was a good chance for me to monitor and fill students in with words they needed to express themselves.

In open class, each Student A then took turns explaining their chosen photos to the rest of the class while holding up the drawing on the mini-white board.

What then took place was fascinating.

The first student had chosen to take a picture of the way people on the London underground kept to the right on the escalators. He started talking about how he was on one hand impressed by the orderliness of the British passengers, while on the other perplexed and uncomfortable with the clinical soullessness of such organized behaviour. This got the other students talking about the London underground and comparing it to the public transport in their countries. While the Japanese student remained not too impressed by the British tube system, the majority of the class being from Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay took the opportunity to start a rant about their countries’ public transport. Somehow, this led to a discussion about crime on public transport, and soon, several students were sharing personal stories of being pickpocketed, robbed, asked for bribes under different circumstances. Lexis like ‘Crime is rife’, ‘to deter sb from –ing’, and ‘to conduct an inquiry into the matter’ emerged.

Another student had taken a photo of the electrical plugs and sockets in London, and the engineers of the class started to share their knowledge about the preferred safety that three-pronged English plugs provided. The non-engineers started to protest, claiming that the UK was the only country where plugs were ‘upside down’ and different from everyone else, while the Japanese student pulled out his Japanese plug and extolled the virtues of how much more convenient the smaller-sized plug was.

On the topic of electrical household appliances, another student showed us her picture of her shower head in her host family’s bathroom, and complained about how she had to either hold the shower with one hand and wash her hair with the other, or crouch down really low to get the water over her head. We started talking about baths and showers and my South American students were shocked to hear that I had a bath every morning and that the Japanese student had a bath every night.

The Japanese student then showed us his picture of what he called the ‘crime-preventing bus stop’ in London and explained the structure of the bus stop and how it served to prevent anti-social behaviour. The conversation went back to crime at this point, and more crime lexis emerged: to press charges, breath(an)alyser, to have a hidden agenda, to congregate, etc. as we discussed how the governments in our countries tried to prevent crime, the advantages and disadvantages to arming our police officers, and the ways to deal with corruption and officers asking for bribes in the students’ countries.

The conversation then moved to the pros and cons of self-checkout counters when a student showed his photo of the supermarket checkout machines and we ended up discussing the evils of big corporations and how their bottom-line prerogatives could lead to staff redundancies and a worsening of the unemployment rate.

After two and a half hours of student-led conversation-driven discussions, the final student showed us a photo of the roads in London and professed to be confused by everyone driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. She had thought that only the UK practised such strange driving habits and was surprised to hear that there were other countries like, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, etc. that drove on the left too. I stoked the fire by telling students that everyone used to drive on the same side of the road as the UK and that we were the original ‘right’ way of driving. Then as homework, I told students to google this and find out why certain countries drove on one side and some on the other.

Phew! Now, that’s a Dogme lesson!

Dogme in Exam Preparation Classes

It’s often widely argued that Dogme cannot be applied in Exam preparation classes as they often follow a syllabus and have strict guidelines as to where students are headed and the language they need to know in order to pass the exam.

However, many exams these days no longer utilize discrete item tests like gaps fills. Instead, most exams seem to be looking at what students can do with the language they know, and through the use of topics as prompts, assess the range and accuracy of language students use to communicate and organise their ideas. For instance, students answer essay questions such as ‘Sports do not bring people together. They tear people apart. Do you agree?’

In fact, the IELTS exam itself is a bit like a Dogme lesson – Here’s a topic, let’s see what emerges.

So why do we feel that in order to effectively prepare students for these exams, we need to systematically take them through the exercises of a coursebook and strictly follow a syllabus?

I took an IELTS preparation class recently and was prescribed a neat little coursebook which I embarked on trying out. However, in the classroom, instincts seemed to take over and using the topics of the coursebook as  a departure point, I started to do the following:

For lexis

  • Get students to brainstorm words related to the topic while I mindmap on the board.
  • Do lots of revision and recall sessions using back-to-board or board rush games.

For speaking and discussions

  • Get students to discuss certain issues related to the topic in pairs, mindmap on their mini-white boards, and feedback to the class.
  • Divide the class into two with one group agreeing and the other disagreeing and conduct a class debate after some prep time.
  • Get students to close their eyes and visualize a scene they have to describe as the teacher raises awareness of all their senses, taking them through the sights and smells of the scene. Students then open their eyes and take turns describing to their partner (great for IELTS Speaking Part 2).

For writing

  • Give each pair a different essay question to draft the main points of the essay for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, the question is passed on to the next pair. After the brainstorming ideas for all those different questions, the class writes the introductory paragraph to the first question. The teacher writes one too. They show each other the paragraph and the class is guided into noticing certain features of writing the teacher has used. The class attempts to emulate what the teacher has done with the introduction paragraph of the next topic.

The above procedure can be done not just with introductions, but with any paragraph or short piece of writing. Repeat as many times as you like because each time, different language issues emerge, and it allows you to take students through everything from linking words to thematic structure (theme and rheme) to how to write overview statements.

For listening

  • Get students to pick a TV programme to watch as homework. You can specify the genre e.g. documentaries, or the film e.g. An Inconvenient Truth, Supersize Me. Students have to make notes and summarise the film for fellow classmates.
  • Do intensive listening exercises e.g. using the BBC News Headlines in class.

For grammar

  • So much grammar emerges from the discussions and the writing tasks that it is really a matter of the teacher being principled in the eclectic way they improvise in the classroom.
  • I find corrections for written homework best done with the whole class as a delayed correction slot so that students can learn from each other’s mistakes and think about how they can reformulate sentences to make them better.

So my one-month IELTS class went the Dogme way and feedback from my students was overwhelmingly positive. A couple said that they had never learnt so much in a month before.

And the irony is – everything they learnt came from them.

What do you do at Christmas?

Christmas is a family occasion where we gather around Christmas trees after a Christmas dinner of roast turkey and stuffing to open up presents after listening to the Queen’s Speech.    True or False?

Christmas is a time spent with friends, partying and clubbing in silly party hats and wishing each other Merry Christmas at the stroke of midnight. True or False?

Even if certain cultures don’t celebrate Christmas in the same way, they must surely know about the family Christmas of the west, thanks to the omnipresent Hollywood films.                     True or False?

Perhaps it is much harder for Hollywood to influence our family routines and traditions, but its impact is often much more clearly seen in our perceptions of romance and how we conduct our social lives and relationships. In Japan and Korea, Christmas Eve shares more in common with the Valentine’s Day we celebrate in Europe, where couples meet for a romantic candlelight dinner over which they exchange presents and whispers of Merry Christmas.

So if Christmas is like Valentine’s Day, what then do Koreans and Japanese do on Valentine’s Day? Well, here’s where local interpretations of European festivals take a slightly interesting turn. Valentine’s Day in Korea and Japan is now set aside as a day when women buy men chocolates as a declaration of their feelings. While Japanese women of all ages buy beautifully packaged gourmet chocolates for their partners, it was the teenagers that gave Valentine’s Day its real significance.  As it is not common for women in Korea and Japan to make the first move in expressing their interest in the opposite sex, this special day meant that women could take control and let the men they fancy know about it. This saw tonnes of chocolates delivered in truckloads to male celebrities making the tabloid news every year.

In order to avoid the threat to face that men might face when confronted with chocolates from a woman he’s not quite interested in, the Japanese created White Day a month after Valentine’s Day (14th March) for men to reciprocate with white gifts such as white chocolates, marshmallows or cookies, and jewellery after having a month to think about the advances on Valentine’s Day. An absence of gifts from the men they have showered with chocolates on Valentine’s Day can be taken as a form of polite rejection. In Korea, the 14th April has been named Black Day – a day when those who did not receive any presents on Valentine’s Day or White Day get together to celebrate being single.

But I digress. Christmas in Japan and Korea may not be a bank holiday, but it certainly is a chance to celebrate, a chance for shops to get out their fairy lights and fight to attract customers with the best decorations. In Singapore, Orchard Road, the main shopping street, is decorated with the most lavish lights, and every shopping centre competes to win the title for the best decorated. Unlike many countries in Asia, Christmas day in Singapore is indeed a bank holiday, but it isn’t quite the family occasion it is in the United Kingdom. So friends get together and party the night away.

The Spanish, on the other hand, certainly know how to make a holiday last. Presents aren’t exchanged until the 5th and 6th of January, during the festival of the Three Kings, when floats grace the streets of villages and sweets are thrown into the crowds as they reenact the coming of the three kings.

How do you celebrate Christmas?

How do your students celebrate Christmas?

Who do they celebrate it with?
What traditions do they have? What typical foods do they eat?

If you teach a multilingual, multicultural class, this could be a great chance for a discussion and some lovely sharing to take place.

If you teach a monolingual class, how about a task? Have different groups of students conduct research online about the different Christmas traditions of different countries and report back in the form of a presentation.

And check out websites like www.santa.net for some inspiration.

So, what do you do at Christmas?

How I use the BBC News Headlines to enhance listening

This is something that I’ve been doing for a while and I find that instead of ‘testing’ my students’ listening ability, which most listening exercises you find in course books seem to do, this truly provides listening practice by sensitising the learners’ ears to how English sentences are said. I have had learners, who previously found listening to English TV programmes intimidating, not only display a marked improvement in their listening ability after only carrying out this procedure once every day for a week, but also enjoyed a remarkable boost to their self-confidence.

I’ve done this successfully with learners of a Low-intermediate but I would recommend that learners be at least a good Mid-Intermediate Level for the BBC News Headlines to be satisfactorily exploited.

That said, this procedure could be applied to other kinds of authentic listening texts as well, and does not have to be restricted to the BBC News.

A) Prediction task

Ask leaners to predict what they think the news headlines might contain. Write the predictions on the board.

B) Google ‘BBC News Headlines’ and click the first link listed

C) Listening for content

  1. Teacher tells learners to listen to the news headlines and check predictions, and also count the number of news stories there are.
  2. Pair check and feedback
  3. Listen again and state what country/company/topic the headlines are about.
  4. Pair check and feedback
  5. Listen again and take notes in order to summarise the story for your partner.
  6. Pair check and feedback

These three listening tasks provide the learners with opportunities to process the content from top down, practising extensive subskills gradually combined with listening for detailed understanding.

D) Intensive Listening

  1. Teacher plays the news headlines sentence by sentence and get the students to identity each word which is then transcribed onto the board. Repeat each sentence as many times as necessary.

E) Noticing chunks

  1. Teacher gets students, in pairs, to find collocations, fixed/semi-fixed expressions and grammatical collocations from the transcribed text.
  2. Feedback

 

F) Progressive Deletion

  1. Story by story, headline by headline, the teacher rubs off parts of collocations and fixed expressions from the board and students fill in the gaps verbally in pairs.
  2. Quick feedback – teacher nominates a student to read out the news headline with the gaps filled.
  3. Teacher rubs off more words from the board and students fill in the gaps.