Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stuff That Works 1

Okay, so I have a bunch of ideas about how things "ought" to go, but none of that really matters unless you can see it working.

So here is one of those lessons that I have pulled out in Korea from time to time that just goes really well every time.

Lesson title:  When You're Slidin'

Age of students: elementary school - preferably 2nd-5th grades

Size of class:  2 or more students.  For larger classes, separate the class into groups of 3 or 4.

Student level: high beginner and above

Equipment/supplies needed: tape recorder, CD player, or computer with internet access and speakers

Objectives:  Introduce age appropriate vocabulary (baseball and potty talk), reinforcement of the rhythm of English through the rhythm of the song, (in the Korean context) differentiation between when/if, guided application of rhythm and grammar.

Length of lesson: Approximately 45 minutes.

Warnings: This lesson is an appropriate lesson for a free day or a relaxing moment after a test.  The topic of the lesson is something parents hate but kids love, making it risky to do by itself but very effective in terms of student motivation, long term recall, and real life application.

Activity 1:  Fill in the blank listening.
Time:  Approximately 7-8 minutes

Take the lyrics from "The Diarrhea Song" from "Parenthood" and type them out, leaving some blanks.  Make enough copies for every student and distribute them to the class.

 Be careful which words you choose to eliminate.  What have you been working on in class?  If it's rhymes, then eliminate the words at the ends of the lines--but provide a word bank because the words are obscure.  If it's potty talk (unlikely, but...), then eliminate the words of the bodily functions.  If sports, eliminate baseball words.  If noun markers, eliminate possessive pronouns, etc.

Play the song, which can be found on Youtube here.

Have students fill in the blanks.  Repeat listening as necessary--I usually give two to three opportunities, but it will depend on the number of eliminated words and the level of your students.

Activity 2:  Singing/Role Playing
Time:  Approximately 10-15 minutes

Discuss the meaning of the text.  Allow students to translate if needed.  Trust me, at this age, once the words have been translated, they will use the English and never resort to the home language again.

Allow the kids to sing and/or act out the song.  The actual singing is important because it reinforces the rhythm, which is one of the problems with the acquisition of English by speakers of several other languages.

Allowing role playing as well adds an entirely new dimension to the work.  Now, we have not only engaged linguistic and musical intelligences, we are also adding bodiy kinesthetic and the personal intelligences.  It puts the kids in touch with their feelings and their bodies and relates them to the words.

This is HUGE.

First, this group is in the concrete-operational stage of thinking.  The doing is just incredibly important for the recall, and it is actually equating this meaning with this grammar--which is generally acquired either through memorization (needing far more practice than is usually allotted) or through logic (which is a formal-operational function--something our 2nd to 5th graders are not entirely ready to do).

Secondly, the vocabulary is age appropriate.  Since 2nd to 5th graders care VERY MUCH about potty language and the more grotesque functions of the body, the MEANING carried with the grammar will make learning the grammar attractive to them.

Thirdly, this is a moment of connection and belonging.  We are talking the second tier of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and this is especially problematic in ESL/EFL classes because there is a lot of alienation between students and teacher.  Two things allow bonding here.  First, the teacher has shown true interest in a something dear to the students and has given them free reign (or at least limited reign) to pursue this interest, and, secondly, the students are tapping into their own emotions.  This is very rare in early EFL/ESL classrooms because the cognitive energy required to translate/formulate what they want to say often buries their affect.  You can't bond with someone when you're always wearing a mask.  The goofiness of this role play allows that mask to come off.

Finally, back to the grammar, in a Korean context, it is very difficult to break the when/if translation.  Koreans will usually translate "if" for future or imaginary hypothetical situations in which Westerners primarily use "when."  Through the use of something as memorable and entertaining as "The Diarrhea Song," you can break the translation by providing a pattern.  Koreans, in particular, will use these patterns in formulating their thoughts in English.

Activity 3:  Rewriting
Time: 20-30 minutes

In their groups, students rewrite the song using their own games/problems.  For example, they can still use diarrhea, but maybe they set it up in their hagwon ("When you're on the hagwon bus and you feel a big warm rush, diarrhea...diarrhea") or they could use a different problem like being out of their allowance ("When you're picking up the phone but you hear no dial tone, out of money...out of money.  When your stomach starts to growl but you can't buy kimbap now, out of money...out of money.").

Have the groups perform for each other.

This provides both practice and relevance, both of which are necessary for the acquisition of the grammar and the vocabulary.  It also makes the song and its content the students' own.  It doesn't just belong to English class any more.  This is about them and their problems (and jokes).

In addition, it straddles Eastern and Western cultural differences.  Presenting your work for the others is often considered arrogant showmanship in Asian cultures, BUT working together is perfectly normal and making your classmates laugh is improving everyone's mood--something many Asians, and Koreans at least, are taught to do from birth. Therefore, this simple activity helps Korean students in particular begin to overcome cultural barriers which often stand in the way of success in Western situations, and it does so in such a way that the students do not have to compromise their own cultural beliefs.

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