Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pioneering Teaching Techniques

Pioneering Teaching Techniques

I've been a teacher for a while now, and being somewhat creative, have come up with some teaching techniques you won't find in manuals. (Unless you have a manual from the future, where everything I do is revered and copied).

1. Balloon slapping

In Shanghai, one problem in lessons was getting students to stick to English. Of course, it's quicker if they just explain things to each other in Chinese, but if they use English, they both learn on a deeper level. He who teaches, learns, and all that. So I insist on English (unless I can't be bothered or don't like the students).

My solution in China was to draw my face on a balloon. It had a speech bubble saying 'Speak English!'
Then I raced across the room and slapped them on the head every time they spoke Chinese. 
Effectiveness: low.

2. Handrew

I'm not allowed to slap my Swiss students with a balloon. It's in my contract. So when they speak German or make mistakes on grammar points I've explained to them ten times already, what can I do?

Student: "I am living in Zurich since five years."
Me: (internally): "Jesus H. Christ!"
Me: (externally):  "Sigh. Didn't we do that grammar in the first lesson? What's that?" I've lifted my hand to my ear and I'm making it talk like a naked sock puppet. "What's that? I DID teach them that? In the first lesson?" To the student: "This is Handrew. He says to try again."
Student: (nervously looking at my hand): "I am living in Zurich... for five years?"
Me: "Sigh. It's better, I guess. Oh, wait!" The hand was whispering to me again. "What's that? It's better, but still unacceptable? I can't say that to them! I'm sure they'll learn it eventually!"

Effectiveness: High.

3. Musical Feedback

Fact is, students make mistakes and there's nothing you can do about it. After correcting the same mistakes the thousandth time some cog in your brain snaps. It's the cog that limits how often you sing in classes.

a)"Today, students, every time you make a mistake, I will make this noise: Du-du-du-DU-duuuuh, I'm lovin' it. You might recognise that as the McDonald's jingle. I can't stop you making mistakes, but I can make you associate mistakes with going to McDonald's, and maybe you'll end up healthier."

Geniusness: Very high.
Drawbacks: I went to get a Big Mac after the lesson. The urge was overpowering.

b) "Today, students, every time you do something good, I will sing a classic song. Every time you make a mistake, I will sing something horrible."
Students: "Okay. Giggle."

One second later.
Student: "I am not good in grammar."
Me: "No, no, no no no no, no no no no, no no there's no limit!"
Student: "Sorry! I mean good at. Good at grammar."

Shortly after:
Student: "I'm not used to working on Saturday."
Me (happy): "Gold! Always believe in your soul!"
Student: "Ah! I think I finally understand that whole used to thing."

Student: "It depends of the price."
Me: "Alli-alli-andro alli-alli-andro!"
Student (relieved): "Oh, good."
Me: "No!"
Student (confused): "What?"
Me (confused): "What?"
Student: "Why are you stopping me?"
Me: "You made a mistake!"
Student: "But you said if I got it wrong you'd sing a bad song!"
Me: "I did! Listen! Alli-alli-andro!"
Student: "I like that song! It's fun!"
Me: "Gaaaaaaah!"

Effectiveness: high at first, quickly falling to low slash counter-productive.

4. Mocksasperation

I'm always pleased when students thank me for my patience. I mean, I guess one is forced to be patient when they never, ever, ever learn anything I ever tell them.
But I also have fun being mock exasperated.

There's a sketch I remember from a movie (Naked Gun?) or a British comedy series (The Fast Show?) where a tough cop is arguing with his hard-nosed police chief. The boss takes his sunglasses off in exasperation - the joke being that he takes them off again and again despite having had no time to put them back on.

I do a similar thing, but with a pen.

Student: "I didn't have made my housework."
Me: Throws pen on table in disgust.
Student: "I mean... I didn't had DID my housework."
Me: Picks up pen, then throws it to the table in disgust again.
(Repeat endlessly until payday.)

Also useful are noises such as 'tut', 'God!', 'sigh', and letting your head roll back till it faces the ceiling. Sometimes I pick up the attendance sheet (it has almost zero information about the class content) and say 'Didn't we do this like 8 times already? Ah yes, lesson 1, present perfect. Lesson 2, present perfect. Lesson 3...'

5. Mumbling the answer

Student: 'I live here since nineteen seven eight.' 
I shake my head (or roll my eyes or tut or some such) and say, 'uh uh-HUH-hu hu huEE-hu-huh.' (That's what 'I have lived here since 1978' sounds like when you don't open your mouth.) They normally laugh and say 'what?!' So I repeat it. Given the stress pattern of the sentence, they are almost always able to say it right.

6. Extreme Sloth

Extreme Sloth takes various forms.
* To save the energy it takes to turn around and write on the whiteboard, I stay in my chair and write backwards over my head. The results are normally just about legible. I'm convinced the students learn the word better this way because they spend more mental energy trying to work out what I've written. Or something.

* I don't even correct common mistakes any more. I write them on the board at the start of the lesson and just point to them.

Italian student: "I 'ad a good time."
Me: Points to a ten-inch high H.
Italian student: "I hhhad a good time."

* Making them give themselves homework.
Me: "So what homework are you going to do?"
Student: "How about unit 5 in the Fun Book?"
Me: "Deal."

* Making them correct other student's homework.
Student: "Isn't this your job?"
Me: "You've got 5 minutes. Go."

7. Making it Fun

The simplest way to make lessons fun is to rename the grammar book 'The Fun Book'. 
Me: "Open your Fun Book to page ten!"
Students: (Smile happily.)

Feel free to use these techniques in your own class!

1 comment:

  1. Kaiser Suzy2:54 PM

    Useful! I'm going to try them all!