Poetry is not necessarily just for experts of lovers of literature. It can be a wonderful way to open up dialogue and explore ideas. I did an activity today with my immersion college students that I coined ‘penny exegesis’. Why the penny? The idea is that we aren’t experts, but we’ll still offer our comments and analysis for a cheap price, or even for free. Maybe next time I’ll actually give them a penny.
I initially chose these three poems because we’re covering the topic of ‘The Self and the Other’:
Them and Us by Rudyard Kipling
Now I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou
Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson
All of the topics concern a divided society and how we regard ourselves and others.
The rules were simple. Each poems was given to groups of up to 3 students.Take a look at the poem, ask for explanations of words you don’t know, and discuss the topic of what the poem is about, any interesting metaphors or imagery and other quirks such as rhyme scheme etc. I gave them a demonstration by us going over Langston Hughes ‘As I Grew Older’.
I like this type of activity. You never know what interpretations the students will come up with and what they will notice or fail to notice! It’s an opportunity for a lot of talking, especially about topics connected to the poems and best of all, I”m not guiding them towards specific answers.
If there’s time afterwards, you can explain the cultural and historical background of the poem and what it’s believed to be about. But that’s not a must.
I’m trying to get my twelfth graders ready for their bagrut but they’ve already had enough of ‘boring material’ so it’s time for me to design my own. I did a quick look up of ‘songs for ESL’ on google and firstly came across ‘You’re so vain‘ by Carly Simon, but despite the song being one I loved, I found the cultural references a little old-fashioned for my 17-year-olds.
Then I saw Sting’s ‘Englishman in New York’ and thought that this could be something they could relate to, having had me, an Englishwoman, teach them English for the past three years.
The song can be a springboard for the discussion of many topics, including differences between Brits and Americans, and applying that to how an Englishman might feel living in America. It could also be transferred to how they would feel in a ‘foreign country’ even if they knew the language well.
I think the goal of my lesson is basically to use the song as a springboard for social interaction, communication and exploring ideas. The song has some useful vocabulary, but it’s not rich enough for a vocabulary lesson alone.
In short, there are many things you can do with this song, but I chose the following.
- Access prior knowledge: have the students brainstorm stereotypical attributes of Americans verus Brits and fill in the chart.
- Vocab practice – there are few words in the song that they might not know such as ‘notoriety’ and ‘sobriety’. Pre-teach and do exercises.
- Guessing what the song might be about (don’t tell them the name of the song)
- Have them listen to the song, filling in the gaps (give the words to weaker students)
- Discussion. What is the song about? What are the feelings of the singer? Can you explain the expressions ‘manners maketh man’ and ‘a candle in the dark burns brighter than the sun’?
- I chose to add a bit of fun here. I googled ‘manners maketh man’ and found a reference to a scene in ‘Kinsmen’ which reveals a very stereotypical perception of the true Englishman. Play the scene and have them draw parallels in the song. They can discuss how true they think this stereotype really is.
- A follow-on activity might be to write a day in the life of a foreigner living in a strange city. They could write about what he misses about home, and how the people around him are different. Alternatively, students could conduct an opinion survey about people’s perceptions of Brits and Americans. Do all people from their country have the same assumptions?
Here is the worksheet I designed. Enjoy!
So I taught an immersion course for the first time this year. The students were college undergraduates who were smart, highly motivated, knowledgeable and badly needed to improve their spoken skills. In general Israeli students who know English can chat quite happily about mundane topics, but when things get deeper or more academic they get tongue tied.
The goal: 2 academic hours a day, 5 days a week to get them more fluent in an academic setting.
So here are my reflections:
- Immersion means it should be in English ALL the time. Don’t allow L2 to creep in , except for the quick scaffold: translating words or hearing their translation to avoid misunderstanding. Having students chat to each other in L1 is just as much immersion as them speaking to you or you speaking to them. Creating an English speaking climate and culture in the classroom is an absolute key.
- Be very selective about your materials. One of the more challenging aspects of teaching this course was finding appropriate materials that were challenging but not overwhelming, containing useful vocabulary and presenting controversial topics that could be subjects for class discussion and debate. It took time to dig around and find materials which were culturally digestible and, above all interesting.
- Constantly check for understanding. You would be surprised at how many words are chronically misunderstood and therefore misused. The more vocabulary they acquire, the more confident they feel in assuming they understand a word. Especially phrasal verbs when they know the verb base like, for example ‘wasting’ and ‘wasting away’.
- Give them a range of activities. Sticking to the same format does not an interesting course make. A text can be pulled in numerous directions and it should be. Examples; synonym matches, open ended questions for summarizing arguments, checking knowledge, gap fills after the text had been read to check understanding, quizlet quizzes etc etc
- Flip the classroom. I would give them TED talks to watch or texts to read and have them ready to discuss them in class. This allowed a lot more active communication to take place rather than it being teacher centered. Don’t be afraid to go over the texts again, even when they’ve read them. Chances are there are many juicy chunks of vocabulary they have either misunderstood or overlooked.
- When explaining words, translation is never enough. Demonstrating uses of new words is a key and encouraging them to try and use them is the next step. This is where guided writing or spoken activities come in handy. You give them thee collocation/phrase/word and ask them to use it in a natural way.
- Just because they are adults it doesn’t mean they don’t like to have fun. Quizlet really helped me in adding a bit of friendly competition (they played team scatter against each other). I also got them to do some fun role-playing situations which they really enjoyed.
- Listen to their feedback. We may have the expertise and the knowledge, but adult students have quite a bit of insight into how they learn best. Listen to them. That doesn’t mean you can’t try something new with them (and have them protest at first) but their should be an equilibrium between teacher input and student feedback.
- Literature has been and always will be a great tool. I wasn’t ‘teaching’ literature but found that literary texts such as short stories, excerpts and poetry were a rich resource for thought provoking ideas and vocabulary acquisition.
- When it comes to written tasks, encourage them to express themselves freely. I found that topics that everyone has an opinion or say in gave them an opportunity to speak from the heart which is always a great basis for written work.
I just learned about corpora (maybe I’m behind the times) and the very idea of a data base of a billion plus words which one can instantly see in context takes learning to a new level.
I never liked dictionary definitions too much. Firstly, language is subject to nuances and subtleties not reflected in dictionaries, and secondly and more importantly dictionaries don’t show us HOW to use language.
Let’s take a practical example. The word ‘farewell’. It’s goodbye, right? Well no, not exactly. Let’s go to the dictionary:
Used to express good wishes on parting:
An act of parting or of marking someone’s departure:
the dinner had been arranged as a farewell
MORE EXAMPLE SENTENCES
1.1 [MASS NOUN] Parting good wishes:
he had come on the pretext of bidding her farewell
Australian /NZ Back to top
Mark the departure or retirement of (someone) with a ceremony or party.
OK so now we know it’s an exclamation, noun and adjective. We use it to express good wishes on parting. Would an EFL learner still know how to use it correctly without making it sound wooden? ‘Hi, I came to wish you farewell.’ This is correct but we simply don’t say it.
Now let’s go to corpora and see what we can find. 9663 sentences with the word ‘farewell’. Here are a few:
Does this help our learner more? It certainly does. We’ve got some fantastic collocations to learn like ‘farewell dinner, farewell address, farewell song’. We can see from the context how it is used and therefore how it isn’t.
We see living language as it is used, today, on the net and not how it is subjectively defined (no matter what the level of expertise)
There are also some great activities our students can do with corpora which end up being much more fun and much more REAL than searching for definitions. Plus they are learning living language all the time. Feedback? Comments?