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Category Archives: innovative ideas

>By Dick Tibbetts – University of Macau, Macau

I’ve just been reading Letters (Burbidge, Gray, Levy, Rinvolucri) in the resouce Books for Teachers series and it seems to have some rather good ideas. Written in 1996, it tells how mario collected his letters unopened for a few days, brought them into class and gave them to students. He explained that he’d been to busy to open his mail and asked them to open his letters, read, summarise and suggest a course of action. It occasioned much surprise and interest.

There must be something similar you could do with emails, with the advantage that you can secretly vet the contents first and then mark them unread. You’d need to forward them enmass somehow – I wouldn’t want to do it to individuals or to allow access to my account.

A second idea is to show one of those chain letters that promise wealth if you pass it on and misfortune if you don’t. Then students write their own but give as content 3 phrasal verbs and meanings for the receiver to learn before passing on. you could do it with items other than phrasal verbs and you might need to check the explanations but this is a great idea for students to inform each other and can spread outside the class.

Some of the resource series are available in Chinese printed versions. If Letters is available it should be quite cheap. I like it.


>By Daniel T. Parker

I have a Korean professor friend who is perfecting his English this by watching movies on DVD. He watches at least one DVD per day and follows this formula: (1) play a few minutes of the DVD and try to transcribe everything he hears; (2) replay the same segment and try to correct any mistakes he made or add anything he left out; (3) replay the same segment again with English subtitles to check his transcription; (4) if there’s any vocabulary confusion, he plays the same segment again with Korean subtitles. It takes him several hours to watch one DVD…. but he’s very determined.

>By Margaret Orleans

[In reply to a teacher who is planning to use movie, The Sound of Music, with her students.]

I haven’t taught the movie to students that age, but I would suggest that rather than having students try to re-enact scenes they’ve just watched, it might be better to stop at key points and have them act out what they think is coming later in the movie (if they really don’t know the story already).

To identify such points, you can look over the script, which I’m sure is available at, though I haven’t actually looked for it. At any rate, I’ve always found scripts there for the movies I teach (though it’s best to find the actual script rather than the screenplay, since there are sometimes differences as big as whole scenes between the two versions–probably more of an issue for more recent films than for a classic like The Sound of Music).

Something else I do before teaching a movie is to run the script through a concordancer to see what words show up time after time and which words appear frequently enough and are likely to be unknown to students that they should be pre-taught, or focused on when the appear for the first time.

Since there are songs, it might also be useful to give them partial lyrics and ask them to predict what fits in the gaps (a good way to get them to understand the concept of rhyme, for example), and then check their guesses against the film. Get them to put together an additional verse of “favorite things.” Get them to exhibit fear through body language, get them to make a list of things people are afraid of–or better yet pantomime items in such a list for the rest of the class to guess.

Taking a leaf from “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” have them create scenes for the characters when they are off the screen. What does Maria tell the nuns when she returns to the abbey? What does vonTrapp do and say before he returns to his home to find his children out of their uniforms.

Use Dick’s suggestion from the other day and have them translate a scene into another genre.

>By Dick Tibbets – Macau University, Macau

It’s quite possible to use humour in language learning with Chinese students but you have to make sure the students have a key. Nothing is more humiliating for them than to have to have the joke explained.

A lot of UK humour depends on wordplay and for learners who have been taught to view English as a very referential language, this is difficult to grasp but I work on representational language, language that engages the imagination by making sure my everyday interaction with students covers this area.

Here’s a humour lesson that uses absurdity of situation rather than wordplay and worked well with an advanced class. I used Monty Python’s ‘Thomas Hardy begins his new novel, done as a sporting commentary’. (and he’s strolling out to his desk now, pen held lightly but firmly in his right hand … and it’s the first word and it’s THE, T H E, and over to you Dennis. Dennis: Well he’s running true to form, in the past he’s had 7 THEs, 2 As …) from memory but you get the idea.

They listened and read the script and although they’ve not actually read Hardy they knew of him. They creased – they loved the way it put serious literature down. Then we looked at how the language in this genre works, when present simple is used (not as often as one might think), how the speaker works in real time, the repetition to fill time, the introduction of the expert etc.

Then they took a romantic encounter from any work of English literature they knew and re-wrote it as a sports commentary. I found a lot of attention to detail and a desire to really get it right. Some spent time watching TV sport to try and get a feel for the thing.

Some time I will try Monty Python’s ‘Tonight I’m going to talk about word association football …” I’ll give the text again but layer it so that they can see how the speaker slips from one collocation to another. Then they can try and do something similar, perhaps by writing sentences and challenging a partner to slip a collocation in.

>By Margaret Orleans – Meiji Gakuen Junior/Senior High School, Kitakyushu, Japan

Joe Tomei of Kumamoto Gakuen University (a private four-year school known for its barrier-free campus in Japan) provided a series of well-thought out projects he uses to force/encourage his students to use English with each other outside the classroom.

The work for each project takes up the final twenty to thirty minutes of four consecutive once-a-week ninety-minute sessions. The earlier part of each class period is used for teaching/reinforcing skills/language that will be useful in carrying out the project. (Feedback language, types of questions, etc. for survey project; discussion phrases, postcard writing, etc., for good country project, etc.) The fifth week’s class is entirely consumed with oral reports on the projects. Each class having been divided into eight groups, one group is stationed in each corner of the room, while the remaining half of the class is randomly assigned as audience for each of the presenters. After a ten-minute presentation (given without notes but with a prepared poster), the audiences rotate and the groups present again.

After the fourth time through, the presenters and audience switch roles for the second half of the class.

The projects? His favorites over the years have come down to:

1. an interview (conducted in English, the students eventually realize, because it is much easier to ask the questions and get the answers in English than to translate all the questions and answers from Japanese afterwards) of students on the campus on any issue they wish

2. creating a flag, history, and economy for one of the eight fictional countries Joe has carved out of a world map

3. explaining and justifying their plan for spending $2 million on campus improvement

4. identifying problems with accessibility for any building on the campus and interviewing one of the handicapped students at the university.

5. a project that goes over very well in all-female classes is planning a wedding (including the writing of the vows)

The very nature of the projects, as well as the time necessary for completing them, necessitate the students meeting and working in English outside the classroom.

>By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

You don’t always have to concentrate on music that you think the students will like. There will, in any case, be a spread of tastes in music across the class. What you need is a good reason for using the song and a hook of some kind that will drag the students along. This could be a tune, vocabulary, language or lyrics or task.

I’ve used pop, rock, blues, folk, punk, country, humour, doo-wap and other genres with a reasonable amount of success. I doubt that students would cover all these types of songs if left to their own devices but although they might not rush out and buy George Formby, Etta James or Bert Jansch CDs the songs work because they can see the language learning taking place, whether it’s metaphors with Emmy Lou Harris, word play with the Everly Brothers or lyric prediction with the Five Satins.

So for me it’s the task that is more important than the song, though the song may suggest the task. I really reccomend Alan Maley’s Short and Sweet and Maley and Duff, Literature for a list of language learning activities for texts and examples of how to exploit and develop these activities. Maley uses written texts but you can do just the same with songs.

Here are Maley’s 12 generalisable procedures with some very brief examples of how they can be applied to songs, though you should realise that there are many ways of interpreting each procedure and the examples shouldn’t be looked on as limiting each procedure.

Many songs tell a story but condense it. Springsteen’s Wreck on the Highway is an example. It’s easy to add detail to the story and in this case you could get learners to comfort the dying man found after the car accident, an event slipped over in the song. They don’t need to do it in lyric form.

Reduce a song to its bare bones. Pare it down to its message. If it’s a story turn it into a two line newspaper report (yes, this is also media transfer – the procedures can overlap).

Rose Murpy’s Busy Line can be turned into a telephone conversation. New York Mining Disaster into a news story, Chumbawamba’s She’s got all the Friends that Money can Buy into a bitchy conversation between friends.

Match songs with pictures using the themes to match. For lower levels one might use events in song and picture to match.

Select songs for language to be used in different situations. Rose Murphy’s Busy Line vs Lou Reed’s New York Telephone conversation for useful telephone chat.

Compare two versions of the same song, perhaps sung by a male and a female with small lyric changes. Compare Dylan’s heroic John Wesley Harding with the real nasty little psychopathic J W Harding.

Listen to the song, give jumbled lyrics and ask them to put in order.

Retell the story. Tell Laura I love Her and Teen Angel work well for this. They can really ham it up and they love it. Leader of the Pack would work as well.

Any songs with depth can be used. Dylan, Bragg, Chumbawamba, Linton Kwesi Johnson, the list is endless. You could interpret less serious songs too, I guess.

Quarry words from the song to create a new text. write a parallel story on the same theme as the song.

Look carefully at the language of the song. Etta James Almost Persuaded: how does the almost in ‘almost persuaded’ differ from the almost in “almost sorry’? Change the adjectives for similar ones and see if the song changes meaning.

Make questionnaires on the theme of a song. Take Ivor Cutler’s “our car can go fast on a hill” and get students to write another mock Children’s reader:

Our car can go fast on a hill
With no brakes
And oil on the hub

It cannot stop
So it has a spill

Mum and Dad get a cut
See Bill bleed
Bleed, Bill bleed

Kate, do not cry.
If you do
Ann will be sad to see it
And Ted will fret.

Phil; run to the phone
For a nurse to make us well

I see nurse
Nurse, make us well
We are ill
From a spill
On the road

As we took a spill
Dad has a cut on his lip
It hit the wheel
As he drove fast

Mum cut her cheek
See how it shines

Bill is dead
He lost his blood in the crash

Kate, Ann and Ted are sad for Bill
He was their chum

Phil will walk us home
Along the pavement to our house
29 Redpond Avenue

…And then you could just sing along.

>By Katy Miller

In our oral English class we did “TV English news”. Each group had twenty minutes to prepare a news item, with interviews and people acting out scenes in the background. They were really very open-ended – I just said “make a TV news item”, and they were fantastic. One group did something on the environment, another did an item about the spring outing we were taking that weekend (belated), another group did one of the news items they’d read in the reading session, etc. I was the anchor woman.

It was great fun and I was impressed with the job they did. One group even made a microphone with the name of the TV station on it, out of a paper cup and a pencil. Another group had booms made from rolled-up paper. One group interviewed “people on the street” – went up to people from other groups and got their impressions. One of the most fun classes we’ve had so far. It’s fun because the time limit is real: I told them the news would air at 9.30 because it’s the 9.30 news, and then started announcing the news even though a couple of groups weren’t quite ready. They improvised the rest.