Eric Christen is a multi-faceted Award-winning British and American Designer, Artist, Inventor and Author who has lived in the UK, the USA, Japan, the Greek Islands and SE Asia. He has had his own Design Business for 6 years in San Francisco and has lectured to MA Design students on topics from as practical as Materials and Technical Drawing to academic such as Critical and Creative Thinking. Click Here for Profile Information
There are several aspects of teaching that make a teacher memorable:
1) Competence or incompetence in teaching English. ‘She could not really answer our questions! He always came up with these wonderful relevant quotes. If you wanted to improve your writing she was the person to talk to. He never finished the lessons. All his students passed the exams. I could never understand what she was talking about! She was always forgetting things.’
2) Personality. ‘She used to wave her arms about like she was guiding a plane to land on the runway and make weird noises at the end of sentences. He would make such funny faces I could barely hold back my laughter. He was deadly serious – he treated the students like army recruits. She was like a witch and really scared us. Suddenly, in the middle of the lesson, he would start talking about the moon! He was so strange. ’
3) Style. ‘That was the one with the earring and crocodile shoes, wasn’t it? Oh, yes! And do you remember – he would come in wearing those crazy Spiderman ties? She always wore these long colourful flowing silks and robes. He was so elegant and mild – like an English gentleman.’
4) Appearance. ‘She was absolutely gorgeous – non of the boys could concentrate on learning English! He looked like Hitler but was always really friendly. He must have been a monk – I always expected him to start chanting at any moment in the class. She was a tank and nobody wanted to mess with her – she would just step on you! He had a dangerous and ratty look – everyone was convinced that he was an ex-con!’
5) Creativity. ‘She used to give us these amazing stories, which she had written herself. You never knew for sure what would happen in his classroom – he had several ways of teaching – but it was always fun and educational. She just knew so many jokes! She would bring these wonderful pictures and set us up to play all kinds of challenging verbal games. She would start every class with a hard-rock classic track!
6) Humour is often an aspect of creativity but can be a separate quality. ‘He took almost every opportunity to do something silly. There were times when some students fell on the floor in fits of laughter. She had a great memory for jokes. He was a natural clown – with his facial expressions and bodily movements he didn’t have to say a thing! She would bring in these hilarious cartoon strips – I don’t know where she found them.’
In the mood
Of course, one is not always feeling creative or amusing. With some lessons, say ‘the passive form’, there just aren’t that many opportunities to be creative or funny. However, one quote does come to mind; ‘Romeo and Juliet wrote Shakespeare’. This was submitted by one of Dianne’s students and can be exploited for amusement and to demonstrate a grammar point.
Sometimes, keeping awake may be the biggest challenge and during certain times of the month or if undergoing a stressful time, you may just want to shoot the first student who is disrespectful, talks behind your back or tries to be clever!
Creativity, though best when improvised on the spot because it is fresh, inspired, often relevant and the lunatic urge is upon you, can, with varying success, be planned in advance.
Creativitea on the Grass Moon
Let’s face it – teaching or learning English is not always as much fun as a rollercoaster or dancing at the Zouk Club in KL – and many students just want to get it over with so that they can start their degrees.
Therefore, one should take every opportunity to be playful, amusing and entertaining. This involves loosening up a bit, letting go of stiff academic postures and presentations, and recognising a chance to have fun with the students, though this is not always possible and can be distracting. So timing is important. Obviously, don’t tell a joke in the middle of explaining the future continuous tense. Secondly, level-1 students, in fact most beginners, usually don’t get Private Eye political jokes, ha-ha, so entertain accordingly. Needless to say, one should tailor one’s creativity to the classes’ level of comprehension.
An example of taking opportunities to be creative or amusing was last week’s lesson, in which the UI textbook presented Bella in socially awkward situations. She had to politely deal with awkward situations such as an acquaintance spilling wine on her new blouse. To introduce this subject or for a warm-up I asked students what their most awkward or embarrassing moment was. Inevitably, a student will ask the teacher to provide an example, and so in unflinching detail I explained how I was caught ‘taking a leak’ or ‘doing the business’ behind a tree by a couple of policemen on patrol back in the UK. This, of course, produced fits of laughter and created a stronger rapport between students and teacher.
Creativity, whether humour or interesting ways of presenting a topic, should, in an ideal world, re-enforce the target language and secondly, bring colour, liveliness and interest to the subject matter. This makes the target language, lesson and teacher memorable.
However, originality and humour have their own independent value because, for one thing, teachers must have fun too. Secondly, they have their own educational aspects since entertainment is very much a part of western culture. So humour and/or creativity do not always have to be relevant to the grammar point – even ‘killer grammar’, which, incidentally is measured in killer – grams (Kg)!
I have made a list of some of the things I have done or used in the classroom:
1) Have fun with the lesson plan. Write an amusing summary on the board;
Pages 204, 29.3 and 4X
Warm-up: Going to the moon
The Mid-valley Shopping Test (instead of the mid-term test)
The Present Pimple – a big problem for teenagers
English vocabulary for robbing banks
How to measure clouds!
HW – Paint the house Gold
2) Fool the students. For example, tell students they are going to listen to a piece of music and to note down any lyrics, paying particular attention to superlative adjectives. Then play a wordless piece of Trance or Heavy Metal music. The smart ones will catch on quickly. In the above brief lesson plan one is certain to provoke the question, “Teacher – what mean measuring the clouds teacher?” I went on to explain that in the UK, which is an extremely cloudy country, there was such a job as a Cloud Measurer. The job involved climbing up very very long extendable ladders… see drawing 1.
3) Fun with drawings. As we all know, there are more than a few big mouths, motor-mouths and so on, especially among the Iranian fraternity (some are my friends!) and so, in honour of this particular tribe of chatterboxes, I drew a cartoon now famous amongst them – see drawing 2.
4) Playing with words. Words like being and becoming present comprehension problems to most students so some amusing and provocative drawings can be employed to graphically explain them. I chose being pregnant and becoming pregnant (see drawing 3) though one can choose other examples such as being sick (lying in bed) and becoming sick (sitting under an air-conditioner).
5) Capitalizing on student mistakes. Naturally, students are going to make mistakes and quite often they are inadvertently amusing. Never be afraid to ‘go to town’ on the back of student’s mistakes (we all do this)! As mentioned above these may be writing mistakes such as ‘Romeo and Juliette wrote Shakespeare’ or ‘my father is the youngest member of my family’. Write this sentence on the board and amidst varying degrees of laughter elicit what’s wrong with the sentence – you can even enlarge upon the grammar error (passives and family relations)!
6) Ridiculous punishments. Why not have fun with threats? Students who wish to visit the bathroom during class may be threatened as follows:
a) If you don’t come back in 3 minutes I will call the police
b) If you are late again you will have to paint the Eiffel Tower
c) If you are caught texting again I will use your phone as a door stop
d) If you ask me another pointless question you will have to do a dance in front of the class
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