Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Why were we born?

Today I was reminded that my students are not a bunch of dummies. They might be bewildered and not interested in learning English because it has never been interesting for them, but that doesn't mean they are themselves uninteresting. It's easy to forget that, when you're the one whose job it is to try to convince them that it isn't all that bad.

Today I was doing something simple I'd done before (because I couldn't be arsed preparing properly last night) which was to give them a list of wh- questions with the question words left off, and they had to choose from the list and write them in. They're not very good at asking questions. I gave them a paper with questions like,

________ is the best student in this class?

They had to write in Who, and then their answer. (That one always gets them - they don't know how to answer it until I tell them they should write, Me, of course!)

After that I gave them a list of question words and told them to make up some questions to ask their partner.

Many of the students went with the easy stuff, things that turn up in the textbooks all the time and are mind-bogglingly boring. What's your hobby? (No, I still haven't managed to banish that question from my classrooms, although I keep trying and will NEVER GIVE UP.) What kind of music do you like? and so on. But a number of them came up with some really good questions. I don't know why there were so many good ones today. This activity isn't usually so great (although the students generally find it mildly interesting) but today we hit gold.

Several of the best questions came from one very quiet and somewhat depressed-looking guy, who apparently had a burst of existential angst while dreaming them up. When I went around to collect the questions for correction, so I could use them again (I'd noticed how good many of them were and could see ways of expanding the activity, and a teacher is always looking for this kind of thing) he tried to hide his question sheet from me. Possibly he thought I'd think he wasn't taking the activity seriously enough, or that I'd berate him for not using 'textbook questions.' When I took his paper he looked down and refused to meet my eye. But then he looked up again in surprise when I looked over his paper, flung my arms out and proclaimed his questions to the ceiling.

"WHEN WILL I BECOME HAPPY? WHY WERE WE BORN?" I wailed dramatically, then grinned at him. "Hey, these are good questions!"

He grinned back somewhat uncertainly.


Evidently he ran out of inspired angst by that last one. Still, the others are wonderful. I am looking forward to hearing the other students try to answer them next week. I'm also looking forward to hearing them try to answer,

"Where have you been all this time?" and a few others I collected.

I'm going to teach them to answer questions with questions. I'll teach them to say, "What do you MEAN? What are you TALKING about? Are you feeling all right?"

The level of English is no more difficult, but it will be much more fun than, "I like pop music," and, "My hobby is shopping."

Teaching should be fun for the teacher, too.


Wendy said...

I've picked up some great ideas from your posts for my classes...this is a good spin on the question activity...and yeah - I also find it dry and dull. Will try it this way, as a 'time filler' soon. Loved the 'diarrhoea' story the other students also crack me up sometimes.

Cheryl said...

I can just imagine poor young Mr 'nobody understands me' looking confused and not knowing whether he should smile back, when you delighted in his questions!
Wonderful post. I hope the next lesson is as much fun as you hope, and more.

Anonymous said...

I was born, but...
I graduated, but...
I flunked, but...
I lived, but...
references to Yasujiro Ozu

The Village Idiot said...

Why are we here?
Why do we struggle?
What is the meaning of life?
Where can I get good pizza?
Do you know the way to San Jose?

You rock,
The idiot

Gordon said...

You know what they say... always look out for the quiet ones...