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Humanistic Teaching

An approach to learning English

December 20, 2009

Partied Out

I'm definitely not a party animal. I was quite happy to avoid them when I was young. No big 18th and 21st party bashes for me. Quiet get togethers with families and friends were much more my thing. But it seems that for an English school parties are a must. If any readers out there run small English schools and don't have parties and big events I'd be very interested to hear how you do it, or perhaps I should write, how you don't.

Since stating a school something over four years ago my wife I have experimented with different party formats. We tried the everybody and his dog get it over in one go approach using a local culture centre and the individual class party approach. I'd take the former over the latter (which is a good way to make one week seem like one month) but prefer neither. The style we've settled on is to hold five to six mini parties over one weekend. This allows us to keep the party at home which makes for much easier planning without becoming mind numbingly repetitive.

Though I generally believe in making lesson plans after the lesson is over I like to have parties planned down to the smallest detail possible. In the past I've even done a party by creating a soundtrack and timing events to the position of the BGM. I'd like to be able to write that this is because I consider running a party to be similar to conducting a symphony, but really I suspect it has much more to do with my peace of mind and how best to get through the experience. It's not that I can't enjoy parties but more the fear that the whole thing will either go flat or go mad or both.

I still remember one of the first children's parties in Japan that I helped with. The main teacher organising the party warned us of the "sugar rush" children would have once the fizzy drinks they'd consumed kicked in. It was noticeable though it didn't really uplift the party. One of the main events was pass the parcel and it seemed the main objective to the game was to absorb as much time as possible. The parcel had so much sticky tape on it an army of wolverines couldn't have got it open. The children kept at it but I remember thinking at the time that there must be something more fun. I also made a mental note never to offer children drinks with sugary bubbles.

Having said this it can sometimes be difficult to predict what will work and what won't. One of the difficulties with holding parties in a trailer home is that there isn't much room to move around. Most of the games we do are therefore stationary. This year we tried using The Twelve Days of Christmas. The idea was to have the children jump up and wave a card for each day. We tried it once or twice during lessons and it worked well. During the classes the children were enthusiastic. At most of the parties the results weren't very inspiring. I can think of two reasons. One is because some parents were present. But the more likely reason, in my mind, is that the cards were two big. During the class we had A5 sized cards but at the parties we had B4 sized ones. The idea was to get a couple of children raising the cards together but in practise this didn't work. Practise would have been required. If I use the idea again I think I will go for miniature cut-outs on chopsticks. It would be more work to prepare but would look a lot better and if each child had more than one kind of cut-out be a genuine challenge. As it was, some children got into raising the big cards high but for too many it was too much like going through the motions.


Anyway, for the record here is a quick run-down of what we did. We always start by raising our glasses (cups usually) to the camera and going cheers. This is followed by a quick photo session with me moving round the room going cheers with individual groups. Parents like to have photos. After that we did either did a group spelling game or a vocabulary naming came depending upon upon the size and English proficiency of the individual party. After that savoury snacks followed by The Twelve Days Of Christmas activity and then a "How many" video activity. You can try it for yourself if you click here. The original idea was for them to have cake while watching the video but in practise assembling the cakes took longer than expected (this year was doughnut Christmas trees). In most parties the cake came after the video so we did DIY Santa while they ate the cake. This involves me showing items from a large bag and the children clapping for those that they want. Some groups were conservative and went for a traditional look. Others were more adventurous. Either way all the children know that it's me. At least I used to think they did. But this year a 3-4 year old sister of one student decided I was Santa before I even got into the costume. And she still thought I was Santa after I had changed back at the end of the party.

chimney.jpg The Santa Chris section of the party involves children going into a small grotto in the upstairs loft of the trailer. As I mentioned last week this year we had a door and they gained entry by fetching items of food up a chimney in miniature basket on the end of a rope. At Christmas we always have it so that the children are on camera and I am hidden so the costume change retains some surprise. The video feeds to the big TV downstairs so that parents have something to watch. The chimney and basket provide something for those waiting their turn to do.

After all the children have met Santa upstairs and received a goody bag I come downstairs and we do the present exchange. Since the children have bought presents for each other we get them to present them to each other if giver and receiver are in the same party, otherwise I do the giving. Then it's the goodbye song, final photo opportunity and out the door. Our parties are supposed to last no more than 80 minutes.

rainbowwig.jpgParties for Junior and High school students and for adults are a bit different. For the opening game we used Around The World. This is a simple track of circles around the Earth, A Father Christmas figure starts at the top of the World and moves around it. One compete circuit indicates success. To move the figure students take turns making sentences using a Christmas word drawn at random. For each word in the sentence Father Christmas can go forward one space but after each turn he is sent backwards by the score of one dice (two dice for strong players). The dice represents a bad headwind. After that we ran with a Mrs Witch video quiz. To try the quiz for yourself, follow this link.

Anyway, the parties are almost done for third year and so am I. I'll be taking a break until the new year. Have a happy one...

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