Saturday, November 19, 2005

Being a Real Teacher

I will say right now that most of the time, I don’t take my job at Kassai seriously. I’m trying to change that (one of my “November goals,” if you remember). This past week, I can say with some pride, was a success. And this, despite the fact that in several other ways, it was a disaster. It started on Wednesday, when my 8a wasn’t in their classroom. Having played “let’s make Emily look for us” with them once before, I searched the school for them until eventually, someone told me that they really weren’t anywhere, but had gone to an open house at one of the high schools. I savored a free hour. I should have known it would haunt me - the following day they decided to meet during my normally-free second hour. Which no one told me about until the school’s handyman showed up at my door and announced that I had a class. Yes, right now.

The remainder of my misadventures were due to the fact that the three regular English teachers all absconded on Thursday and Friday to attend teacher training in Nyíregyháza. So what happened to their classes? Like some terrible game of musical chairs, the students were just funneled into whichever class had empty desks. Regardless of subject or level. I ended up with classes of 33 8th graders, 35 5th graders, 20-some 7th graders, and 28 6th graders. Next time, I’m going to insist that I need English training as well.

In any case, in the spirit of being a real teacher, here are some of the activities that I successfully pulled off this week. Some are more time-fillers than they are educational, but they served their purpose well.

Activity: Following Orders

This comes from Penguin English Photocopiables: Pair Work, although I altered it a bit. When I did it, I did all the steps on the board to show the kids what I meant.

1) Have your students draw two grids (A and B), each 5 squares by 5 squares. Try to stress that they shouldn’t draw little tiny squares.

2) Have them write the number 1 in the center square of both grids. After that, they shouldn’t do anything else with grid B; set it aside for later. They should fill in grid A by drawing or writing something in each square. Things to draw could be: a heart, a circle, a tree, a house, your face, a dog, a cat, a bike, a car, etc. Things to write could be: your name, my name, your favorite color, your age, how many people are in this room, a word starting with “m,” your favorite subject, etc.

3) Have the students work in pairs. The goal is to have their partner fill in their grid B with what the other has in their grid A. You can put the following sentences on the board to help them: Start at the square with the one. Start at the square with the face. Go one square up / down. Go two squares left / right. Draw a cow. Write my name.

Variations and other things to consider: you can vary the things to draw/things to write. In some classes, you might want to control this part more (in my 6th grade, I heard one student say, “Go right two squares and draw an Arab terrorist.” When I asked to see his paper, sure enough, this was one of his drawings).

My fifth graders were terribly confused by “go right one square and write ...” So I tried using north, south, east and west instead. This went over better.

With the younger classes (and the ones I didn’t trust to work by themselves), I had them draw one empty grid, and I had one student give the “orders” to the entire class.

I did this activity with several classes, including 5th, 6th, and 7th graders, and they all seemed to enjoy it. I even did it with a combined group of 28 of my worst-behaved 6th graders, and since it managed to hold their attention for 40 minutes, this game has earned a special place in my heart.

Activity: Making Similes

Copied from Penguin English Photocopiables: Top Class Activities. But even without the book, all you have to do as prep is make up two lists of words that the students know. The words should be mostly nouns, but some can be verb phrases.

Write on the board “A is like B because....” and some examples. The one from the book was, “Love is like learning English because both are easy at first.” I don’t think I have to explain too much more; have the students make up, orally or in writing, similes using the words you provide. Some of my favorites, for either their insight, humor, lack of understanding, or all of the above:

A war is like a thief because it is stealing lives.
A fashion like sex because it always change each other.
A friend is like a toilet because you need it.
A woman is like a dog because it always loves you.
The kiss is like the strawberry cause they are both red and sweet. (This one is funny to me and probably me alone, because my normal description of strawberries is not “red and sweet,” but usually “red and toxic.”)
A man is like a zoo, because he is crazy like an elephant.
Just wrong:
Teenagers like pizza because it is delicious.

Activity: Conversation on a train

Again stolen from Top Class Activities. Depending on the level and creativity of the students, you might want to give them a handout. Or you might just go to it. The idea is this: working in groups of 2-4 students, pretend you are traveling on a days-long train ride. You have been on the train several hours and no one has spoken yet. Decide who you are, your background, and why you are traveling. Then make up a conversation with the other people in your train compartment.

The book offers the following characters as possibilities: a woman with a child, a travelling [sic] student, an English teacher, an electrician, a film director, a spy (my students latched on this one), a photographer, a Chinese, Russian, or French person, a prisoner on the run, a soldier going home, someone who is slightly deaf, etc.

I did this with a double class of 7th graders. Since it was mostly boys, the majority of the stories involved a compartment of three spies, with lots of yelling, shooting, and poisoning each other. One kid managed to bust out some Russian-accent English (courtesy of Bond movies, he told me later). Anther story featured a souvenir Kalashnykov. On the lighter side, one group of girls put together a four-act show (the signal for the act change was for them to chant in unison, “Two years later”) with a rather complex story line involving a spy who pickpockets two innocent students on a train, only to be recognized by them two years later on the street, and then dragged through a years-long court battle, ending up in jail while the two students did a celebratory dance.

My own celebratory dance came later Friday night, when I was done with Kassai, done with Oxford, and safely back in my own hallway.

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