Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tell Me Something Good

Wow! One month of the new school year has already flown by! It's hard to believe.

In the Big Scary World(TM), lots of crazy stuff has been going on, from the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami to democracy movements in several Middle East countries, from an unparalleled attack on collective bargaining rights in Minnesota to Charlie Sheen's meltdown all across our TV screens (not mine, though, since it's hardly been on all month).

But I'm not here to gab and whine about all that guff, I want to talk about rose-colored glasses, seeing the world through. That's the gist of the 11th grade lesson plan this week, titled "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" in which Monty Python's Life of Brian plays a key role.

Class begins with an image of a half-filled glass of wine and the question, "Is the glass half-empty or half-full?" Opinion is split on the matter, allowing me to introduce that meme as a "litmus test" of optimism vs. pessimism.

Oh, and a poem by Oscar Wilde:
Between the optimist and the pessimist,
the difference is droll.
The optimist sees the doughnut;
the pessimist the hole!
Etc. After a slew of optimistic quotes, cartoons and images, students have to write sanguinary, optimistic statements about some very dreary, downbeat topics, like global warming, poverty, taxes, sweatshops and 수능 suneung (college entrance testing). They choose two from the list of eight, and I randomly select numerous students to tell us "something good!"

After two years of trying to figure the best way to "get" participation in this kind of public sharing, I have more or less given up. I never felt it was fair to always "pick on" the best students, and I feel it's mostly counterproductive to embarrass the non-speakers. Even meandering among the rows of tables and clapping a hand on someone's shoulder didn't sit right.

But I've hit on a solution that works for me, and seems also to please the students, who like its verifiable randomness. I have an English coffee mug containing little plastic balls, and on each ball, I've written a number from 1 to 41, encompassing the last two digits of their student ID numbers. I pull a ball from the mug and it's kind of like bingo--except in reverse. You know.

Now, it's not like I lucked into some little plastic balls with numbers on them--though I looked and looked. What I found, in the office supplies section, was map pins with reasonably large heads on them, in a mix of colors. I borrowed some wire snips and a pair of pliers, cut off the metal pin part, and went at it with a Sharpie. Voila!

Oh, and you can tell it's an "English" coffee mug because it's decorated with little images of Beefeaters and red phone booths and London Bridge and the Millennium Eye. 3000 W at E-Mart.

Do 10 or 12 numbers in rapid succession every class, and before long you'll hear from everybody. Another option is to have them read sequentially, but don't start with student #1--pick a ball from the mug and go up from there for a while.

I started dl'ing and supering target language text on top of my videos some time ago, and "Bright Side of Life" was among the earliest. I recently created a new YouTube account where I will be uploading just these classroom videos Of about 100 videos that I use or have used, 30 or so have been subbed. It will take a while.

After watching the video, we use a handout I modified from EFL Classroom 2.0, one of the best resources on the net--I think the "Complain" box goes first, that's about the only change I made. In the last 12-15 minutes of class, students use the handout to generate conversation. Yes, it's artificial; yes, it's kind of silly; but it's also kind of fun!

Challenge your students to think how to respond when their friend/partner says "Nobody loves me!" or "The president is so stupid!" I have listened in on some quite inventive reasons for optimism. Generating off-the-cuff English is hard, so give praise, but don't let them slip into Korean or stop trying.
Whether you think you can or you can't--you're right.
- Henry Ford, US industrialist

1 comment:

Chris said...

You'll have to explain the titling process next time. I'm interested in that from a technical vantage point. I played around putting titles on a demonstration movie I shot for work. While it wasn't difficult, it was a little tedious. I couldn't imagine doing a whole feature length movie like that. I'm guessing your classroom films must be like short mini-films.