Monday, July 03, 2006

A book

This morning I was about ten minutes late leaving for work, because the crows got at our rubbish bag. After putting the rubbish back into a new bag and hoping the collectors came soon, I cycled off. When I got to the railway crossing, however, I was not able to cross. There had been an accident. (Tonight I found out that a 43 year old man had been lying across the tracks when the train came along. The news report did not call it suicide, but it probably was.)

I stopped cursing the crows and decided to thank them instead. They had done me a huge favour. The 'accident' had happened a very short time before, and if I had left at my usual time I would likely have witnessed it. As it was, all I had to witness was a large crowd of people, a lot of police, an ambulance, a blue plastic tarpaulin being spread over a worryingly large area, and one lone shoe lying beside the tracks. I am very glad I am not a train driver. This sort of thing happens far too often.

The train had stopped further up the line near the next crossing, so I couldn't cross there, either. I cycled back past the station to where I could go under the tracks, and carried on to work.

We are near the end of semester, and my first two classes today haven't been going all that well. They both went well today, however, although they kept me very busy. By the time the third class came along I was feeling rather tired, and I wondered whether I dared to implement a plan I dreamed up a few days ago. I had an alternative plan as well, so I decided to let the students decide. There are only four students in this class, which is elective, and although the level is very low it is fun to teach because they are keen.

I went into the classroom.

"I have an idea," I told the students. "How would you like to write a book?"

"A book?" they asked.

"Yes," I said, waving my camera at them. "I thought we could go for a walk along the river, take pictures, and then write a little book about our walk. Then I will print it out and and make copies for you."

They thought this was a wonderful idea. (It will be a booklet, really, but 'book' sounded more exciting.) Naturally, as soon as they'd understood and become enthusiastic it started to rain, very heavily. We stared out of the window, dismayed. Then we decided to give it five minutes and see what happened.

After five minutes it stopped raining, and off we went.

We went out a back door none of them had ever been out before, through the gardens. I don't think they even knew there were gardens back there. I took pictures of them amongst some of the flowers and vegetables, and they named them for me. When they didn't know the English names we wrote them down to look up later. For some we didn't know the names in any language, so I said I'd ask the other teachers.

Here are some of the photographs. (I will not post pictures of the students.)

This is a lily in the university gardens.

Here is a Confederate rose. None of us knew what these were called but a teacher told me later.

And here is a lantana flower, I think. Perhaps I should check about that one, too.

After the garden we went out the back gate and went down some steps to walk along the riverbank.

The sudden downpour of rain had made the water muddy and fast-moving, but we spotted some interesting things anyway. I took quite a few pictures of the students (because it will be a book about them), but we also saw some dragonflies. Also, we got pictures of turtles, then one of the herons posed for us, and there was a cormorant. They will all go in the book. I am interested to see what the students write about them.

I think this is the first time I have ever photographed a dragonfly.

On our way back we met a cat who had something terribly important to tell us. It told us and told us and TOLD us, but we just didn't understand.

Eventually we went back to the classroom, and as soon as we sat down there was another downpour. Our timing was perfect. This is the rainy season, after all, but although it was overcast and very humid out there, it did not rain a drop while we were walking.

The students started writing their book(let) with enormous enthusiasm, referring to the pictures on the camera, and will finish it next week in class. During the summer vacation I will type it up and put it together with the pictures. Then I'll make copies to present to them when I see them again in September.

If our book(let) turns out well, maybe we'll do another one next semester. It was a lovely activity. The students used a lot of English, enjoyed getting out of the classroom, and we all had fun.

My day did not have a good start, but it ended well.


pkchukiss said...

It is traumatic to witness an accident, not to mention being in the vehicle responsible for killing someone.

I cannot imagine how soldiers fighting their maiden wars react when they strike their first kill... Or see a dead comrade for that matter.

Lia said...

That is such a great language activity - it lets them get creative and involved without putting a lot of pressure on them. And it sounds really fun!

And I'm glad that things looked up by the end of the day.

Robert said...

That's a great lesson. I have to figure out a way to do something similar with my writing students next year. There's not much around our school that we could tour, but I'll think of something. Please post again when it's finished and let us know how it turned out.

faerunner said...

Do you think your advanced students would like to take on NaNoWriMo?

It's a bit longer than your book idea, though...

Mike said...

It is a lantana.

doris said...

I wish you were my teacher! What a wonderful and productive activity.

You might have a good point about the crows keeping you at home for that bit longer. I think it is the way in life and thank goodness for those little inconveniences that save us from other traumas.

PS. With you coming from New Zealand I'm sure you will appreciate the word verification I have for this post:


I see it as nzmice!

Badaunt said...

Pkchukiss: I would HATE to be a train driver here. On our line, especially, this sort of thing happens a lot. I heard it's because it is 'cheaper' - the family of the deceased gets hit by the train company after an incident like this, to cover costs, and some charge more than others...

Lia: They don't seem to see it as pressure at all. They got really involved. They weren't really using MUCH English when we were out, but when we came back they wanted to know how to say this and that, and looking at the pictures reminded them of what they wanted to say, so it felt like 'real' English instead of some sort of contrived textbook activity. That was nice. (For them, I mean, but for me as well.)

Robert: I don't think you'd need much 'scenery' for this, really. Maybe take them people-watching...? Or maybe assign each student a different thing to look out for, so that they all write about different things. Give them each a different colour, for example. "Take notes about everything you see that is blue/green/purple." That might work to get them thinking about how selective we are about what we notice. (On the other hand, it might not work at all. I am throwing out ideas off the top of my head.)

I will let you know how it works out.

Faerunner: I don't have ANY students who are anywhere NEAR good enough for that! (I wish I did, though.) Most of my students have trouble writing sentences, let alone novels. :-(

Mike: Thank you! I was pretty sure, but they come in such different colours that sometimes I wonder if they're the same plant. I have a pale purple one in the garden, and while the flowers are the same shape I don't remember seeing the berry-like stage of the flowers. Maybe I just haven't looked closely enough.

Kenju: Maybe this was the crows' way of thanking me for making them the stars of my blog, on the new header. (Incidentally, there were no mice harmed in this entry.)

kenju said...

The crows did you an enormous favor. How nice of you to recognize that!

I wish you were my teacher too, and I wish you taught my grandchildren. You make it all so interesting and fun and unpredictable!

Kay said...

Badaunt, truly, your blog keeps me going these days.....I laughed (which I seem only to do when I read/see the delights in your blog)'s 'the blog in the slog' for me.......I love it so much and I want to look at life like that!!!! I try, every day I I need to take my camera with me when I try!!!!