July 24, 2011 by Willy Cardoso
In 1 minute, write down anything that comes to your mind. GO!
(1 minute later)
In 2 minutes, talk to the person next to you about the things you wrote. GO!
(2 minutes later)
In 1 minute, write down topics you’d like to discuss in this lesson. GO!
(1 minute later)
(they did! yey!)
Then I took notes of the topics each one suggested, for every topic that came up I asked if anyone else would like that, some topics needed to be narrowed down a bit in scope and students actively contributed to this process. For example someone said films, then they decided it would be better if everyone made their own Top 3 and found some trivia about them. It was also decided that my job was to bring some vocabulary related to films.
Other topics were: books (which unfortunately we didn’t have time to do); music (we had a great discussion about what genre best represented each decade, from the 60s to the upcoming 20s); British history (we didn’t do it either mainly because I told them that I would not be lecturing in a speaking focused lesson, so if they could come up with something they could do about history that was aligned with the objective of the lessons, fine, eventually they didn’t); and the best of all relationship (that was one of the most interesting lessons, here my job was to provide some idioms used to describe relationships).
And that was it. We had the a syllabus for the week with everyone’s ideas. Oh, happy day!
The ‘relationship’ lesson:
Students were interested in finding out how youngsters behave when trying to hook up with someone in their respective countries (France, Italy, Russia, Ukraine and Brazil).
Since no-one was married I later brought up the topic of marriage and asked how they saw themselves in this ‘situation’ 😉
Everything was going alright except for one student who was stereotyping his countrymen as perverts and his countryladies as whores, this would be okay if there wasn’t another person of the opposite sex (read: woman) from the same country who evidently disagreed pissed-off-ly. However, since this dude’s comments were so hard to believe students were mainly taking them/him as a joke when then …
the topic of homosexuality came up. One student told the story of his classmate who has two dads and how terribly bullied he is at school. Some other students made short comments and were all seemingly okay with the topic, I mean, we were talking about homosexuality not as if it was a taboo topic, i.e. very openly and naturally, and extremely respectfully until the same dude said:
bla bla bla… if the gay people and the normal people … bla bla (and I interrupted)
I said, sorry but you can’t say that.
He tried to rephrase, though he thought I’d said it because there was a mistake in his sentence.
I interrupted again, and said No, you can’t say gay and normal; think about it!
Now he understood it was not a grammatical mistake. But he insisted on having the argument and said something really atrocious.
A couple of students started to look really pissed off.
I said, Ok this is too much crap, end of story, change the topic, I don’t wanna know.
there was Silence… (control)
I looked at the clock, 10 minutes left. I don’t even remember what happened in those last 10 minutes, probably there was me mumbling some homework and then letting them go 5 minutes earlier.
Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this episode. I struggle to give students a voice and to allow them to express themselves in meaningful ways even if it’s the most bullshitical thing I will ever hear, it doesn’t matter, it’s their voice. But this… I couldn’t take it.
The films lesson:
To cut a long story short: A disaster. (for me, not for them. I explain)
So each student had their Top 3 movies. They took turns talking about them, they invested in their speech I could see that, they thought about it carefully, they self-monitored, they asked for words and all that. But there was no conversation. For me, there were 6 monologues. When one mentioned a film others hadn’t seen, no one asked questions; when it was a film more than one of them had seen, still no comments. I did most of the follow-up questions myself and tried to engage them fruitlessly.
What’s the point? I thought to myself. They chose the topic, but all they wanted was to tell ME about it and know if they made any mistakes?
Tomorrow there’s a new group, some students went home on Friday, some will stay another week and new ones arrive on Monday. The only thing I can hope for is that they are a wee bit more interested in the lives of others.
that’s all for now.
>>I worry I might be giving the impression that I don’t enjoy these conversation lessons. In fact, they’ve been quite a learning experience for me, and that counts so much. I could only stop enjoying teaching when I cease to learn from doing it, if ever.