07 March 2007

The disease is fatal. It's called "boredom"!

Troubleshooting a teacher's problem.

A teacher is having some problems with his classes. Despite his efforts he said his classes were too boring. Here is what he said he was doing to get his students interested in English:

1. Play English Videos with Chinese subtitles
2. Role -play
3. Use scores to stress them
4. Ask the students to recite passages
5. Organize some English contests such as speech contest, etc.

1) Beginners and lower intermediate students will always focus on the L1 subtitles. Sometimes they are unable to watch the action as they have to watch the subtitles so closely. They are long and take up a whole class or more. Watching them is a passive event. The students sit and receive information but don't have to interact with it. Finally, watching a movie is something they commonly do outside of class.

For beginners and intermediates, movies are not an easy language learning tool except for listening (and reading). There are a few simple movies that you can watch with your intermediate students in English with English subtitles that they will follow the language enough to laugh when something clever is said and shed a tear or two at the end. Try "Big" with Tom Hanks, "Trading Places" with Eddie Murphy, "Don Juan Demarco" with Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando.

But even with these, they are passive events which only challenge the students' listening and reading ability. They are not as good as something that makes the students interact with the language.

2) Role plays are good if they are interesting for the students. Students seem to especially love anything with negotiation in them. Negotiation is like a game for them.

3) Scores (like death and taxes) always seem to be with us. But (like death and taxes) they should be a motivator of last resort.

4) Reciting passages is an effort of rote memory. It also doesn't require interaction between the student and the language unless the student is studying drama.

5) Speech contests are rote memory efforts with a bit of drama and a score coming up at the end. Debates would be better. Debates are a verbal game or challenge requiring student interaction with the language. For beginners and intermediates it may be best to keep the debates on fun or light-hearted topics to avoid focus on win-lose issues. For example, what is better: KFC or McDonald's? Pizza or ice cream? One million dollars or one million flowers?

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