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Category Archives: ideas

R. Michael Medley, Ph.D. – Eastern Mennonite University

I have recently drafted a content-based textbook for English learners that teaches principles and skills for coping with difficult situations in life.  It is called resilience and is based on materials developed by my university’s program of Strategies in Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR).  The materials are premised on the idea that we need to appeal to and stimulate learners’ multiple intelligences.  To this end, I have included some music in almost every chapter of the book (there are 14 chapters).

In a content-based course like this one, it is important to use songs or instrumental music that are thematically related to the course content.  Some of the language may be beyond the range of students’ ability to (re)produce it, but in the context of the course, students can still work on comprehending the music and lyrics, taking them as matters for discussion.

For example, in a chapter that focuses on what trauma is, I have chosen to use a hopeful song, Ben King’s 1961 hit “Stand by Me.”   One interesting thing about this song is its longevity.  Not only was it a theme for the 1986 movie (Stand by Me), it has recently been recorded in bachata style by the US Latin pop singer Prince Royce (2010) and most  movingly by Playing for Change in a version performed by a team 35 musicians in about ten countries on their CD/DVD “Songs Around the World” (2009).

This way of using music seeks to insert several important effects into the classroom beside the fact that there is a simple chorus that is repeated many times, which even beginning level learners could reproduce (practicing the simple imperative “stand by me”).  These other effects include (1) the stimulation of positive, hopeful emotions, which is something language learners need in order to persevere in their long march to proficiency; (2) the theme of solidarity: we can accomplish these challenging tasks of language learning and surviving in a messy world if we stick together or stand by each other; (3) the realization that as language learners we are involved in a multi-cultural endeavor: no matter which cultures we belong to or attempt to bridge, we can harmonize and we can appreciate music in new and refreshing flavors.  As learners are encouraged to reflect on how the various musical styles convey the message, those class members who are already musically inclined will feel that they can make some important contributions to the class discussion.

Those whose musical sensibility is not so strongly developed will have a chance to develop their musical intelligence.


>By Stian

I’ve been teaching this class for about a month with another teacher, but this is the first time I had a “free hand” and she just sat down like a student. The topic was radio and TV, and first I pretended it was a TV-show. I walked around with the blackboard eraser as a microphone, interviewing students about their favourite TV-programmes, the benefits of TV over radio and vice-versa. After a while I had a list of different program categories on the blackboard (sports, national news, international news and so on).

I then explained to the students the concept of improvisation, and asked who likes watching the news. The (poor?) student who raised his hand was given my improvised microphone and told to make a news broadcast. I provided the sound effect and intro jingle.

I was rather nervous as to how this would go, since they always prepare carefully before performing a dialogue for the other teachers, and their English level is not always great, but the student rose to the challenge! And so, with different students, we had fascinating but rather short broadcasts of international and national news, sports (featuring me as a javelin thrower with a broom in slow-motion as the excited sports journalist, aka student who had almost never spoken before the class before, described my gracious moves), and game show (with host and two contestants who had to answer questions in order to gain the prize). We also had educational TV about the use of computers in Chinese classrooms (I never supplied the topics, the students invented them off the top of their heads, except for the game show and sports), but looking back I see that I forgot the weather.

In the second class, I woke up that half of the students that had clearly been sleeping during recess with a bit of Simon says (problem is, I’m no good at hosting Simon says, since I always get so dizzy from all the jumping and head wiggling and so on, that I give up before half of the students are out. Then we did the 20 questions that were described here earlier. In the end we sang Happy birthday to a student which had her birthday today.

All in all, it was very much fun, the students responded wonderfully, it was very much improvised from my side, and I walked the thin line of making fun of myself and them (so far they think I’m hilarious, but I’m afraid someday they’ll call my bluff and see that I’m just a pathetic guy a few years older than them, with no prior experience, trying to teach a university class. If every day was like this, I wouldn’t need pay to do this job.

>By Barry Bakin, Pacoima Skills Center, Division of Adult and Career Education, Los Angeles Unified School District, USA

I’ve become a real enthusiast for role-plays derived from reading passages. In one text that I’m using (Townsend Press’ “Everyday Heroes”) one of the stories relates how a young Mexican boy really wanted to start going to school but his grandmother wouldn’t give him permission because she needs him to take care of the farm.

He sneaks off and starts school (at the age of 9) but his grandmother comes looking for him. She finds him at the school after one week and he sees her approaching. He’s afraid she’ll force him to come home with her, but after a long meeting with the principal of the school, she comes out and says that he can stay, as long as he does all of the chores before coming to class (a two hour walk). The story doesn’t say anything else about the discussion between the principal and the grandmother.

The role-play I assigned the class was to recreate the conversation. What did the principal say to the grandmother that caused her to change her mind? What were the grandmother’s arguments about why the boy had to come home? I was very pleased with the outcome of the exercises. The arguments for education were so heartfelt, but the understanding of the grandmother’s need for him to work on the farm was deep.

The students also did a good job presenting both sides of the argument and then using the right language to talk about reaching a compromise. The students really did great jobs and the best conversations/performances were applauded with real feeling.

If you haven’t tried using a reading passage from a newspaper, book, or website as a starting point for a role-play, I’d urge you to try it with your students.

>By Lesley Woodward, MA, M.Ed.IELP, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio USA

This is a writing exercise which has always been popular in my classes.

Ask students to sit in a circle (if possible) and take out a few sheets of paper. Legal size paper is ideal. Talk with them about thinking of a question which they truly want the answer to. It has to be a serious, thoughtful question and I give examples of what kinds of questions NOT to write down such as, “Do you think it will rain?”, Will I pass this course?”, etc. The teacher must impress upon the students the need for serious questions, and that the question and answers will be anonymous.

After allowing thinking time, tell the students to write down their questions at the top of the paper. This is all done without any student/student discussions. Tell the students, and keep on reminding them, NOT to put their names anywhere on the paper. The teacher should also write down a question (I usually ask for opinions/suggestions about the class).

Tell them to draw a circle around their question. Ask them to pass their paper to the right, read the question, and write a thoughtful, serious answer to the circled question below it. Depending on the size of the class, allow about 2 minutes for writing, then pass the papers to the right again and the next student responds below the first response. Be sure that the students wait for the teacher’s instruction to pass the papers. Continue until the teacher receives her/his own paper back. No student talking during this exercise.

Allow time for the students to read all the responses to their questions. Any students who want to may share their question and some responses if there is time.

The teacher must plan the time carefully. This exercise works best in intensive classes which are 2 to 3 hours long so there is no hurry. The number of students dictates the length of time given for the written responses. It all takes longer than you might think.

I have heard some very penetrating questions and deeply thoughtful responses during this exercise and many students have told me that it was the best class of the term!