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Humanistic Teaching - Quick Activities Archive

An approach to learning English

March 29, 2009

Envelopes

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Here is a simple idea for stimulating curiosity. Get two big envelopes.. In the past I have used folder envelopes that are fastened by string wound around a button. It's not necessary to use anything as fancy but the envelopes should be clearly different so that they are easy to vote on. Put an Activity card into each envelope. By this I mean a flashcard demonstrating a game to be played. Alternatively, put a different worksheet into each envelope or even a worksheet into one and an Activity card into the other.

Show the envelopes to the class and get them to vote upon which envelope they want to open. Open the envelope, show the contents and use them. That's it! Never use both envelopes in the same lesson. If the class want to know what is in the other envelope tell them, "Another time!"

In case you are wondering, a vote is a kind of competition. Students don't know what they are voting for, unless you give hints, but still, in a straight vote the majority wins and the minority looses. I don't think this is optimum, so voting will be the subject for a future column


April 05, 2009

Flexible Games (Up And Down)

What makes a good game? There are various answers. But as David Paul points out in Teaching English to Children in Asia, one important consideration is how flexible the game is regarding language content. He suggests that rather than using a variety of games a more effective approach is to use a balanced number of games and gradually increase the language challenge within them. By doing this, he argues, children will be more likely to focus on the language and get their enjoyment from using the language, rather than the game itself. In other words, teachers should not use games for their own sake but always remember the ultimate objective of teaching language.

I have mixed feelings about this. I guess because I feel that the choice of which games to use should not lie completely in the hands of the teacher. I do agree that as language teachers we should focus on language but not at the expense of student choice. Combining the two I think is where skill, experience and imagination come in. I once did an experiment where I turned over the control of the class completely to the student. He was 3 years old and we were having classes three to five times a week. I well remember the six weeks or so where all he wanted to do was shopping. This meant throwing a blanket over a chair to create a shop and invariably buying and selling plastic fish. I can't remember all the things I did to inject new language into the situation. I do remember it as a test of my experiment! One of the things I did start that he latched onto was telling knock knock jokes. Not so much the language but the format. Another thing was being closed, being busy, not having change and so forth. I guess I was fortunate in that we were playing rather than playing a particular game and so nothing was really fixed.

As a former games inventor I appreciate the importance of game rules but sometimes they can get in the way. One of the reasons I favour non-competitive and co-operative games to competitive ones is that the more competitive players become the more likely they are to focus on the game rules rather than the game content or purpose. It's much easier to change the rules of non-competitive games since no-one stands to lose out by doing so. In this sense competitive games are generally less flexible. But what I want to focus on in this entry is how it is possible to play the same game in different ways. Basically, the simpler the structure of the game the more flexibility there is in how to use it. By way of example I will focus on Snakes And Ladders and its derivative Up And Down. upanddown.gif

In traditional Snakes And Ladders each player or team takes a counter. Players take turns rolling the dice and race to get to the finish square climbing up the ladders and sliding down the snakes. Up And Down game boards vary only in that players slide up if they land at the bottom of a pair of objects and down if they land at the top. So ladders and snakes are fused into one. You can download an example Up And Down board with an Easter theme by clicking the link at the bottom of the column.

Here are some different ways I have used both Snakes And Ladders and Up And Down. In all cases we use a single marker and the players work together against a set time limit, usually five minutes.

Which Flashcard

For prereaders. Show two flash cards one in each hand and name them. The player whose turn it is chooses one and counts the number of letters in the word chosen (our flashcards have picture on the front and words on the back). The marker is moved a matching number of spaces.

Say a Word

Choose a theme. Players name words in the theme and the teacher writes them down on the board. Players count the letters and move the marker a matching number of spaces. At the end of the game readers can play Clear The Board. Set a time limit and point at the words quickly in turn. As the players read them erase the words. If players misread a word write that word onto the board. Can the players clear the board before their time is up?

Words From Sounds

Choose a sound. Players make words beginning with that sound. For each word made a player may role a dice and move the marker the matching number of spaces. When players run out of ideas chose another sound. Variations include having the sound at the end or in the middle of the word, or anywhere.

Name The Flashcard

Use a stack of flashcards. Players take turns trying to name the top card. If a player can't name the card the teacher does so and then cuts the pack near the top and slides the card back into it. When a player names a card it is discarded and the player may roll the dice to move the marker.

Guess the Number of Letters

The teacher says a word (perhaps showing a matching flashcard) and each player writes down how many letters they think are in the word. The teacher then writes the word down and whoever gets the answer right gets to roll the dice. A variation I've used with Junior High school students is to get taking turns stating teh numer of letters verbally.. The player who goes first varies from round to round. For each incorrect guess the player concerned rolls the dice and move the marker backwards.

Write the Word

The teacher dictates a word(and/or shows a flashcard) and the players write it down. The teacher writes the word down and then says stop. Whoever has the same spelling as the teacher gets to roll the dice.

Guess The Hint

The teacher gives hints for well know cards. Whoever guesses the card correctly gets to roll the dice. If no-one can get the card after a couple of hints name it and cut it back into the pack as described above. For more able students, once familiar with the game, the player who guesses correctly can get to give the hint.

Make A Sentence

Use flashcards. Players take turns making a sentence including a flashcard. For each word in the sentence move the marker one space forwards. For increased challenge also roll a dice and move the marker backwards the number rolled. Verbs work well with this variation and allow for the possibility of further challenge by restricting the tense.

I hope these examples are useful and will give you even more ideas. Please let me know if you come up with any more or if you have any questions you think I can answer. Click below to download an example Up and Down Board in PDF format. The original size is approximately B2 (728mm by 514mm), but you should be able to print it out at any size smaller.

Easter Up And Down


June 07, 2009

Number Challenge

Recently I've been posting about motivation and the importance of having balanced challenges. This week I thought I'd include a simple challenge that has been successful with teenagers: Number Challenge. It's very simple. Students are challenged to count upwards within a time limit dictated by a piece of background music:

  • Round 1: Count up to ten
  • Round 2: Count up to twenty in twos
  • Round 3: Count up to thirty in threes
  • Round 4: Count up to forty in fours
  • Round 5: Count up to fifty in fives
  • Round 6: Count up to one hundred in tens 

I've provided three mp3 files so that you can try this out for yourself. numberchallenge.mp3 is a demonstration. numberchallenge_novoice.mp3 is the complete file with no voice for the complete challenge. numberchallenge_loop.mp3 is a cut down loop for practise.

When I do the challenge I play the demonstration track first so students can see what they are aiming at. Then I usually get them to practise in pairs with students taking turns listening and prompting each other. Usually I get students to master each round individually before doing the whole thing with no break.

I can't remember a time when mastering this simple sequence hasn't proved popular. I think this is because it is a very clear, and clearly doable challenge, though the pace is fast. It starts off very easily but then gets difficult before the two final rounds which are straightforward. I think this helps. I think there is a lot to be said for challenges that are tough but get easier at the end. Psychologically they give students a bigger boost.


June 14, 2009

Talking Stick

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I'm a great believer in using anchors. At a very basic level this means using particular props in specific ways. For example when I want students to repeat I'll use a parrot flag. When we are doing questions and answers we use a toy microphone. When we are making statements we use a talking stick.

By rooting the activity to a particular prop it helps the students focus on the activity. The prop can serve as a reminder for how the activity works and more than this even get the students into the right mood for doing the activity. This will only happen, however if the students are in a corresponding frame of mind when the activity is first introduced. The talking stick activity, for example, requires respectful listening. So introducing the activity to a group that were feeling boisterous or were in a silly mood would not be be a recipe for success.Far better to wait for a more appropriate time when the group is feeling more reflective.  This means that when we introduce new activities we should think about how and when to do so. It's very easy to get excited by the prospect of introducing a new idea to a group, especially if the idea is something we have created ourselves or brought about with the group in mind. But I have learnt the hard way that rushing a group into an activity before they are ready or when they are not emotionally connected to the idea at that moment can result in squandered potential and even wasted effort and on occasions, if we are not careful, resentment.

Anyway, the talking stick is based on the practise of certain Native American tribal meetings. The premise is that speaking is restricted to the holder of the stick. In lessons this translates into taking the stick making a short statement about oneself and then passing it on. No-one is required to speak and may pass the stick on without saying anything. What is important is that the ritual is observed and no-one (including the teacher) speaks out of turn. With large classes it is best to divide students into smaller groups of less than eight and use one stick per group so that the sticks circulate quickly.

When introducing this activity to children it is important to stress the idea of being silent when not holding the stick. I usually do this by first showing the stick and then looking at each child in turn and putting my finger to my lips as a gesture of silence. I start with just my name "I'm Chris" and then pass it to the child on my left and motion for them to say the same thing.

With some groups I might make the activity more of a game by timing how long it takes the group to make a set statement and then trying to beat the time. If someone speaks out of turn we start again or give up for the day.

I hope it is obvious that the more important the talking stick looks the better. An unsharpened pencil will not cut it. We actually use a red cloth stick about 25cm long covered in stars. The fact that it is cloth actually makes it more difficult to use as some children need to resist the temptation to smack each other with it. But since they have been pretty successful so far we've kept it.

If you do try this idea out I'd very much like to hear how you get on. Cheers, or perhaps that should that be felicitations!

 

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June 28, 2009

Whisper Shout Sing Say

Some day soon I'm going to write an entry devoted to ways to get children to think, but this isn't it. Summer heat does rather addle my brain and sends me away from writing.

Of course, being sentient, children are thinking all the time. What I specifically mean is working out something about English. Solving a kind of English puzzle can be highly motivating for both children and adults. By way of example this week I'd like to introduce the quick activity Whisper Shout Sing Say.

This is an activity I've done with kindergarten aged children and up, though I usually do it with young elems (Wise Hat shorthand) . I've done it both with and without flash cards. I'm trying to think of any particular circumstances that trigger it's use but I can't. I think a good way is to present it as a "challenge", though it can also be tagged onto to follow any speaking activity, especially vocabulary identification. It works best with children who will respond easily. I wouldn't use it with a group suffering from reticence.

The procedure it very simple. In turn ask children to whisper, shout, sing or say words.  For example, you could start by saying, "Whisper cat".You do this without explaining the meaning of the words. If a child repeats the command back to you can the group some help by acquiescing to the command or you can make things more challenging by making your "rejection" noise. If you don't have a rejection noise then get one! They are very useful. They are much more friendly and encouraging then saying, "No" or "That's wrong?". They are much more ambiguous and as such can encourage children to try again.

If no-one can whisper cat then you do it and proceed with a new word. If no-one cottons on then you can use hand gestures as well. Basically give more and more hints until the penny drops. When it does change the command and move onto shout. Then follow on with sing and say. Once the puzzle has been worked out the activity can be repeated as a "pass the mike" activity. Usually I use a toy microphone as an anchor for asking questions but it can be used for giving these commands that require a verbal response. The microphone gets passed in a circle with players giving commands to the person sitting on their immediate left. After a while reverse the order so commands go both ways.

A couple of paragraphs ago I indicated that I wouldn't use this this activity with very quiet groups. Actually I have. I remember using it with a group of softly-spoken girls and getting them to shout our some animal names. Their shouts weren't above regular spoken volume but for them at that time that was a big improvement. There is no hard and fast rule other than noticing whether the children find the basic premise of the activity stimulating. I guess that goes for everything. Being able to be flexible is very useful.

September 20, 2009

Across The Table

Do you use flashcards? Do you know any language teacher that doesn't? I'd be interested to hear about the alternatives, especially if that teacher doesn't use a text book. Recently, I've been sorting through my cards. I have several thousand in assorted sizes. The ones I use most often are A5 size with picture on one size and word or phrase on the other. Lately, my elementary aged groups  have  been playing Across The Table which actually only uses a few cards at a time. It's a curious activity in that it seems to both equally engage and frustrate children.

To play take a dozen flash cards or so, enough so that if they are placed end to end they can stretch from one end of the table to the other. Shuffle the cards, set a timer for two minutes and start it. Show the first card. If the students can name it place it face up at the edge of the table. This will reveal the next card. If that is identified place  it down in front of the first making a kind of bridge down the length of the table.  If there is any hesitation (I usually give  a silent count of no more than 3), name the card yourself,  place a marker where the last card got to and then quickly gather the cards and shuffle them until someone tells you to stop at which point the process starts again from the beginning. The aim is for the group to get the marker clear across the table before the timer goes - well not quite. I usually let the group "play out" the last set after the timer has gone.

I've done this activity both as review and to learn completely new vocabulary items. With new sets it might take a few weeks before the table is traversed. As for the marker anything solid can be used.  This week since we've been doing "ing" activities I've used a "go" symbol card and got the players to include it in their answers.

One thing to think about is whether to get the players take turns individually or chant the answers together. Getting the players to take turns increases individual accountability but depending upon group dynamics can create negative pressure on weaker students. They might get blamed for misses. Playing games which cause rapport to diminish is to be avoided. One method to avoid this is to insist on unison. If one player is faster get the whole group to repeat the word. Insist that  the whole group act together by using the magic word, "Pardon!". Alternatively, get the group to say the word together and then one player to solo it.

I'll conclude by pointing out that this activity is designed for small groups. With large groups it might be possible to duplicate if there is a white/black board available with a ledge to prop up the cards. The players could race from one end of the board to the other and the marker could be stuck to the board or even drawn.

What are your favourite flashcard activities?

September 27, 2009

All Or None

This is another quick flashcard activity for small groups. It's more useful for review than for learning new vocabulary. Apart from a set of flashcards it requires a timer and a dice. A basket to collect won flashcards is also handy. In this game the group see how many cards they can name within two minutes. The game element comes from the use of the dice. Players take turns rolling the dice and the number rolled indicates how many cards they must get - so a roll of 3 means they must identify 3 cards,  a roll of 5, 5 cards and so on. Since I'm usually sitting I keep the cards in my lap and count off the number required and hold them up. If the group can name all the cards they go into the won pile. If there is a miss I name the remaining cards and shuffle all the cards for that round back into the deck. When time is up we count the number of won cards and make a record as a target for next time.

This game could be played competitively with students naming and keeping the cards individually. I've never done this, nor would want to. Why make something competitive? I sometimes ask players to name cards individually while keeping a group score. This is usually combined with the whispering rule. Other players may whisper an answer to the player whose turn it it. But it must be a whisper that the teacher cannot clearly hear or the cards are lost. This can sometime mean a group must pass a whisper around the table depending upon who knows the answer.

When looking at game rules it is important to consider whether the rules promote information exchange or inhibit it. Playing All Or None individually with the whispering rule encourages the sharing of information. The same game played competitively wouldn't. It would be possible to put players into teams and have team members whisper to each other but this wouldn't have quite the same level of information exchange and also would do less for building class rapport as a whole.

I'll close with a game variation. As Carla mentioned in her blog entry: English for engaging with English speakers children need to learn more than just words. An alternative to naming flashcards is to come up with a number of words/mini phrases to describe one flashcard. So for example if the card in play showed a picture of an elephant and 6 was rolled a word list might be: grey, big ears, long nose, four legs, thin tail, Africa. For more able students these could be turned into complete sentences, though in this case a longer time limit works better.

January 31, 2010

The Keyword Game

Today I learnt a new game, well almost. I guess it would be more accurate to say that I learnt a new name. I attended the ETJ Hiroshima January presentation on Elementary School English, jointly presented by Cedric Noto, Carl Zeman and Carla Wilson . Teachers living within easy reach of Hiroshima missed a treat. I hope the presentation gets a proper write up.  Carl took on team teaching, Carla focused on activities to get the children communicating and Cedric tackled how to make the best of Eigo Note.  It was the first time I had seen it and from a cursory glance appears that the Keyword game is a staple. Interestingly, Cedric and Carl had differing opinions about it. Cedric found it engaging. Carl  found it violent. I guess the answer depends upon the level of competition experienced.

The version Cedric taught was simple. Players split into pairs and place a small object such as an eraser within easy reach. The teacher announces a target word, perhaps also showing a flashcard and then begins to list words within the same vocabulary category. When the teacher announces the target word that is the signal to snatch the object. The player snatching the object is the winner and the slower player is the loser. Not that Cedric was suggesting focusing on this. But that, I'm sure is how children, especially competitive ones, perceive it.

Though the name was unfamilar, the basic game was not. I used a different version of it when I first started teaching children. In the version I knew there were several objects but less than the number of players who formed groups. The player who missed out on getting an object lost a life and the game would continue until one player was out. I think we used to spell some word which might have been "slow" or "butterfingers" (though that strikes me as too long) or "stupid" (I hope I wasn't crass enough to use that, but I can't swear to it). I just can't remember, but I do remember noticing that children liked the game but that with class one child was just physically too slow and always lost. That made me uncomfortable and was one of the rurning points that got me to seriously question using competitive games at all.

Anyway, rather than write more about that or the game I'd like instead to focus on some alternatives. The basic excitement of the game springs from not knowing when the key will be triggered and the physical movement involved in snatching the target object. Accordingly any replacement should probably be just as physical, though I can't help but mention one mad idea that isn't. In fact I'll start out with it:

NOISE DETECTOR: Ideally the teacher would have a big cardboard cut-out with a dial and pointer that could be turned from the back. When the keyword is spoken the whole class tries to shout out in unison, repeating the word. The Noise dectector gives feed back on their performance. Class points could even be scored for getting the needle into the red. For teacher's wanting more physicality the students could be encouraged to clap, stomp or jump.

RING THE BELL: Basically the same idea except that instead of using a fake noise dectector the teacher could use a picture of a fairground test your strength game, or even just draw one on the board. The teacher could strike a real bell when the students are vocal enough or with no bell available just say "dong!". This could be combined with quickly raising and lowering some kind of marker (perhaps a round magnet) on top of the picture, again with the idea of giving feedback. 

In case you are wondering why have the same game in two forms, I want to emphasise that presention and storyline are important elements for success. Sometimes a game can fail with one presention and succeed with another. It's all about capturing attention and stimulating the imagination. Oh, a memory has returned. I think the game I used to play was called "Grab it". 

TIGER CLAW: A blatent attempt to tie in the current Chinese zodiac sign. Every player has an object and balances it on the back of one hand. When the teacher says the keyword that is a signal to toss the object up and catch it claw style (palm facing the floor) with the same hand.

CUP TOSS: Players work in pairs with a paper cup each and one object. One player starts with the object in their cup. The keyword is the signal to toss it to their partner by jerking the cup so the object flies out.

CO-OPERATIVE DROP: Players work in pairs, each pair has one paper cup and one object. The keyword is the signal to lift the object into the cup. Each player may only use one finger so the players need to work together to lift the object. This method could even be used to teach the names for different fingers. "Ok, for this round use ring fingers" etc

This last idea is based upon something I have done with kindergarten aged students. Rather than doing slam/karuta we sometimes do "finger touch". We all use one finger and make a kind of wheel with each finger being a spoke. The idea is then to move to the flashcard named without breaking contact. With even younger children where mothers are present mother and child can work in pairs.

I want to stress that I haven't tried any of the keyword game varients listed above. If you do try any of them out, please let me know how it goes. The problem I have with the keyword game is that at its core it is based upon scarcity. Do we really want to model the notion that snatching up goods is a legitimate action? Yes, it is only a game, and it is supposed to be in fun, but the root behaviour is based on is ugly, naked aggression. We can do better.

February 21, 2010

Question Time?

One topic that cropped up in the ETJ Owners list this past week was the subject of answering questions, or rather the kinds of answers we require as teachers. The big decision is whether we should insist on full answers using complete sentences or whether we allow students to use truncated replies. The benefit of full answers is that it gives students more exposure to grammatical structures and increase the chance for them to learn them. The disadvantage is that full sentences can often sound stilted and unnatural. Native speakers  will happily take shortcuts and drop words during conversation so shouldn't learners know how to do likewise?

My typical approach is to divide a lesson into distinct parts. During "practise time" I get students to make complete grammatical sentences but outside this framework I focus more on flow, speed and communication. Having said this, I hit upon a simple activity for older children this week that combines both forms. It's still in the experimental stage but I'd like to share it, and hopefully get some feedback. I've yet to settle upon a name for the activity but for now will go with Reply Relay. The activity is suitable for small groups and requires question cards and some six sided dice.

Prior to starting I write the following on the board for reference:

  • 1, 6 Short Answer
  • 2-5  Full Answer

Each player recieves a dice. One player becomes the interviewer and takes a question card. While the interviewer is looking at the card the others each roll their dice. The rolls dictate both who will get asked the question and how to answer. The interviewer asks the question to the player rolling the highest number. If there is a tie then the interview asks all the players concerned. The players must give full answers if they have rolled 2,3,4, or 5 and one word answers if they have rolled a 1 or a 6 (1 will only count on the rare occasions where all players roll a 1). The interviewer should avoid reading the question but instead aim to get eye contact with the players being questioned.

After the interviewer has asked a predetermined number of questions one of the other players takes over the role. Ideally all players should have a go at asking questions.

Variations

Use a timer for each interviewer. Keep a record of the total number of questions answered by the group.

Rather than the highest score alone determining who answers the questions instead use tied dice rolls first and highest score second. For example, five players roll 2, 2, 3, 3 and 6. The two players rolling 3 answer the question.

For groups that can't read the teacher could ask the questions. Alternatively, the interviewer could just make up questions onn the spot or ask a particular kind of question. 

Further Thoughts

I've tried out the main method described with a few groups and it seems worth pursuing.  One problem with larger groups is that the dice rolls can easily get mixed up and it can be hard to know who has rolled what. Another is that some children like to spin dice rather than roll them and this wastes time. As I type this I think a solution to both problems is to use a paper cup. Players could drop their dice into a paper cup and call out the results. Alternatively, and I think this is better, they could start with the dice in a paper cup and tip the cup upside down onto the table so that the dice is trapped under the cup. Then all players could lift their cups up at the same time. This would add a little bit of tension. Anyway, I welcome some feed back on this idea. Thanks!

April 24, 2011

I had a dream...

I wonder if there is any significance anywhere in having a dream on Easter Sunday? I skipped out on having a new year dream this year. This morning's dream was so vivid I'm still not quite sure I'm awake. It had nothing to do with Easter or eggs despite the fact that they have been saturating our classes all this week. The main features were a shopping mall, Sir Ken Robinson and a language conference.

It's been a while since I last attended a conference. For some reason I'm still on the Jalt Abstract Reading committee though I haven't been a Jalt member for several years. I quit in feeble protest over events in the Teaching Children SIG. Not something I want to rehash, though in fact I'm doing so. I'll just say it was to do with lack of democracy (what else!).My jaundiced view about EFL conferences is that they are more for pushing merchandise than exchanging ideas. That's probably why in my dream the publishers were occupying shops in the mall for the duration of the conference. Most of the shops were boutiques and the language materials were intermingled and obscured by clothes. Everywhere you look there is new this and new that but is the content really ever new? I'm tempted to say that I can't remember the time when I picked up a text book and was impressed with the content - but actually I can. It was when I first picked up a copy of Finding Out by David Paul. I remember I was intrigued by the idea of focusing on phonics, and the clear layout with lack of clutter, and the large illustrations intended to encourage children to come up with their own interpretations of the activities.

I hadn't thought of it before, but in a way, quite a similar way, my use of activity cards serves a similar function. These cards give children an indication of what an activity is. They allow children to think about what an activity might be and what it involves before doing it. The cards encourage interpretation and discussion and provoke interest and curiosity. Up to this point there is no substantial difference from the Finding Out illustrations. But there is a difference and it is essential. Finding Out offers only one illustration at a time. So the children have no choice.  The lesson proceeds in a linear fashion. In contrast, I currently present between 9 and 12 cards per class and where the class goes is much more in the control of the children.  I have some notes in pdf format about using the cards that can be downloaded here

For some years now, in the musty dusty crevices of the back of my mind the idea of having a non-linear text book has been lurking. It would be a book with blank squares where the page numbers would normally be. As the students worked through the book they could fill in the page numbers to show the order they traversed through the book. if it were absolutely necessary to sequence some material the book could also adopt some kind of colour coding. For example, no "red level" page could be done until the "white level" pages had been completed, no orange level pages done until the red level were done, and so on. Or of course, those advanced pages could just be put into an entirely separate book. The idea would be that the students could look at the book and negotiate their way through it with the teacher. Pages could even have symbols relating to skill type so that a record could be kept and the students shown if they had a bias for or against a particular skill type. 

Why go to such lengths? But then, why not? It's not as if the lengths are really all that long. The form has altered only minimally. It's not as if the learner is even being given any control over the content. They would just gain influence over how and when they encounter the content. Surely that should be a bare minimum?

In my dream I got on an escalator. I intended to return to the main conference area but I got on the wrong one. The building was a gigantic dome and the escalator was one of several that became vertical to whisk the user to the higher levels. I have a great fear of heights (having got stuck on a cliff as a teenager) and the dream was more than no exception. I ran screaming back down the way I had come unable and unwilling to wait to see how the people riding did not fall.

Should knowledge be at the command of the teacher alone? Is it something to be poured into empty vassals? I believe that the teacher should get out of the way of the learner. Surely, learners should have as much say over what they choose to learn as possible? If we can create a way for them to do so, why wouldn't we use it? Much as I would like to see a non-linear text book it is still a textbook. At EFLFrog.com John Bardos questions the effectiveness of textbooks in EFl classes and points out that real communication doesn't start by looking at pages in a book. A text book bends the interests of the learners to the book, rather than using the interests of  the learners as the starting off point. I think that if we don't start from and stay with the passion of the learners we are in danger of curtailing creativity. Enter Sir Ken Robinson.  Here's a link to a recent video of a talk he gave that I haven't watched. I found it unwatchable. It is an RSA Animate and it makes me want to vomit, almost literally. I just can't cope with visuals in that way. Having previously argued that schools destroy creativity he says that it is necessary to change education paradigms. Since I've never made it to the end I don't know what his suggestions are. I hope there is space for democracy in his conclusions.

In my dream Ken Robinson stayed in bed while I was giving my presentation. I told him to. For some reason he was sleeping at the conference centre, an absurdity I never noticed. His own presentation, a workshop, began brilliantly and he had complete strangers making connections like long lost friends. But then it went slightly awry when got everyone in a line. The idea was to for people to relate experiences in turn into a kind of collective narrative, but one man talked too long and missed an opportunity. I guess I'm doing the same.

Before I started this I intended to relate some of the happenings in my classes since my last piece. I had been going to start a kind of  lesson diary but my monitor scotched that by continually switching itself off. So here I am now trying to get the dream out of my head.

In themselves, the activity cards still leave most of the control in the hands of me the teacher. I get to choose which cards to present to the children. But I think the idea of giving such choice is not to be blinked away. From a teachery perspective they definitely perk up interest. But from a human perspective they are the first step in a transition to giving the children the chance to be creative without abandoning the idea of staying in English. I don't want to lose English as the central means of communication. My mind's eye plan is to go from using the cards I provide to using a mix of cards and ideas generated by the children. There are two steps with the cards. Currently I am letting the children take turns in choosing the cards. I'll move from this to getting them to choose the cards democratically.  In my experience it is generally better to introduce new ideas a step at a time. To determine who chooses first I've been using a dice, and because I happened to come across some Morecombe and Wise on YouTube I rediscovered the importance of being theatrical. This sounds contradictory to the idea of getting out of the way of the learner, so I guess what I mean is when we want or need to be present we at least should be engaging and entertaining. In other words give the children a reason to allow us to be the teacher.  So, rather than just rolling the dice I showed it to them in a deliberate fashion and slowly assigned a number to each child so it was clear what the result would mean. I did this more than once trying to build up the tension before rolling the dice and then when it finally came time to roll the dice it wouldn't leave my hand. I got the idea after watching Eric's paper bag trick. I was able to go as far as writing the letters d r  o p on the board and getting the children to read and say drop, such was their determination to get me to roll the dice. Then of course when they did actually say the word I dropped the pen rather than the dice. I rediscovered my sense of fun which is why I guess I wanted to do the diary. But perhaps keeping that diary would kill it. I know that Easter has put a dent in it. Now where did that theme come from?

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