Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Who? Who? Who?

One of my students in my first class today surprised me. When he sat down and took his class materials out of his bag, he also took out a roll of toilet paper. He used this to blow his nose, once, but after that it just sat on his desk. It was a little distracting, like having The Man in the room with me when I was trying to teach.

The Man also uses toilet paper to blow his nose. Is this guy related to The Man? I thought. Or maybe it's a Japanese thing. Maybe Japanese snot has less penetrative properties than western snot.

If I have a cold and try to use toilet paper to blow my nose, I blow straight through it. Toilet paper is too feeble for my powerful snot. Or maybe I just blow too hard.

Today I taught all my classes how to answer unanswerable questions. I have done this before. It is always fun to see their faces when they see it is perfectly all right to answer a question with a question.

"What did he tell you?" was one of the unanswerable questions I gave them, to which they were supposed to answer,


They figured this out, but got the intonation wrong. They inflected up rather than down. I explained that wh- questions almost always have to be inflected down, and demonstrated. I got them to repeat after me.

"Who?" I said, and they all said,


Then I went around the classroom asking them some more unanswerable questions to elicit a Who?

"Where did he go?" I asked urgently, and they replied,


"Why is he angry?"


"When is he leaving?"


After a while I started to feel as though I was in a classroom full of owls, and got the giggles.

"Who? Who? Who?" I said to them, and they laughed. They thought it sounded funny, too, and hooted back at me.

I must remember to do it again next week, right after greeting them, to make sure they remember. Also, to get them in the mood to be funny, because I don't have a wonderful lesson plan for next week, and I will need all the cooperation I can get.

One of the unanswerable questions I had written for them to write responses to was this:

When is Shakespeare's birthday?

About half of the students chose an appropriate response to this (Don't ask me! I don't know!) but many of the responses made me laugh, even though they were, actually, the kind of thing I was looking for. A typical one was,

Who is Shakespeare?

It turned out that the students who had written this genuinely had no idea. They'd never heard the name before. Neither had the student who had written,

That's private!

I did not understand that response until he told me that he had imagined that he was Shakespeare (a fictional character) and was sensitive about his age.

Another student had looked it up in his very good dictionary, and written,

Shakespeare's birthday is April 23rd, 1564.

He is a very earnest student. It was nice that he had taken the trouble to look it up, but I am afraid he completely missed the point of the 'unanswerable questions' exercise. In any case, I need to rewrite the questions I'm using as examples, because that one is not working as well as it used to.

My students used to at least have heard of Shakespeare, but apparently they are not teaching that sort of thing at school any more.


Lia said...

Now I'm curious how Shakespeare's works would translate into Japanese. Or do you mean that they used to study medieval English in Japanese high schools?