Monday, January 08, 2007

Cleverer than me

The descriptions activity that I used with my Tuesday classes was so successful that I used it at another university as well. In fact I didn't even use the original worksheet, which wasn't all that good. I used the homework the students from the first university had given me, which I'd typed up and made into a sort of game. It worked just as well at the second university as it did at the first, and with one particularly good class (of law students, who are wonderfully keen), I assigned homework as well. I asked them to write seven new descriptions like the ones they'd used in the game. If they did a good job, I said, I'd type them up and they could use them to play the game again in the last class of semester in January.

They responded with their usual enthusiasm, and in the last class of December I collected the homework. The majority of the students had done a great job, so yesterday I typed them up, ready to use in the last class. I can fit about 14 - 15 on a page, and since I want each page to have the same number I decided on 14, which left me three descriptions short of nine pages.

I decided to add three of my own devising.

I don't know whether having a cold has made me stupid, but I had to think REALLY HARD to come up with just one that my students hadn't already thought of, and it wasn't a very good one. I decided to ask The Man for help. I read him some examples, so he would know what I was after. They have to be simple descriptions of nouns or verbs, but not too simple. We knew what sort of level we were aiming for. I had 123 examples.

We sat for a while in silence, thinking and frowning deeply.

Eventually I started laughing.

"I can't believe I asked my students to do seven of these!" I said. "Did I think it was easy?"

The next time I start moaning and grousing about my students, remind me of this. It is entirely possible that they are, in fact, cleverer than me, particularly the girl who wrote her seven then scribbled a note in parentheses that said, Sorry, I can't stop! - and then wrote five more. (Why did she think she needed to apologize?)

She is definitely cleverer than me.

Here are the three we eventually came up with:

1. This is what you do when you think of something that happened in the past.
2. This is a day when you do not have to go to work or school.
3. This is the word for air that is moving fast.

The answers are all one word.

I know they seem simple, but try doing them in another language, as a listening rather than a reading exercise, in a game where the first person to get the right answer gets the point. It is a really fun way to practice listening for meaning, and to discourage translating, plus it teaches the students how to describe something they do not have the word for. I recommend it for anybody teaching lower level students.

But I also recommend that you get the students to write the descriptions themselves. Doing it yourself is far too difficult.


Cheryl said...


Anonymous said...

Actually, from personal experience I think these things may be harder in your own language because you haven't had to construct descriptions like this since you were a kid. In a foreign language you end up doing it all the time.

When I lived in Germany I got talking to a friend (also from NZ, also living in Germany) about this. She told me an anecdote about when she was working in a branch office of her German employers in Australia for a few weeks. One day she needed a new bottle of twink (white-out for non-NZers) from the storeroom. The person in charge of the storeroom asked her what she was looking for, and like all Aussies :) didn't know what "twink" was. And my friend found she literally could not describe it to her. Every time she opened her mouth to do so, she found herself formulating a description in German. Because she was so used to describing things she didn't know the name of in German that this had become her default language for this task.

I'm not sure that this story has a moral. But it made me smile all the same.

Wiccachicky said...

That is a very clever game! I think I agree with StyleyGeek - it's hard for you because you do that internal translating on this level without thinking, so you probably thought of words that were too difficult for basic, every day conversation. At least, that's probably what I would do if I had this assignment! lol.