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Automatic English For The People

Saturday, December 10, 2005

My (less than) Genius Plan

by AJ

Since imagination and creativity are failing me, Ive decided to keep doing what Ive been doing in class: Gather information and try lots of stuff. I suppose this has always been my approach-- when in doubt, try something.

1. Gather Information

Every day Im doing ice breaker activities... .and activities stolen from my social work days. Im trying to learn everything possible about my students. At first, this means their English language goals. It means their learning style.

But thats only the tip of the iceberg. Im also trying to learn about their personalities.... about their strengths... about their doubts. Im trying to learn about their problems... in and out of class. Im trying to learn their interests and hobbies. Their personalities and temperaments. Their social needs.

And also about their backgrounds: where are they from, who are their friends, what is their family like, what is their home town/country like?

This coming week I will do a social work activity with them called a "sociogram". This is a little like a family tree.. but more comprehensive. Students will draw their entire social network.... including family, friends, rivals, enemies, etc... There are different ways to do these, but I prefer the following method:

A. The student puts a circle (woman) or square (man) in the center of a blank piece of paper... and writes their own name in it.
B. The student then draws circles/squares for the significant people in their life. They arrange these according to how close their relationship with the person is. So their best friend would be drawn very close to their own name.... while a distant acquaintance might be put near the edge of the paper.
C. Next, the student draws lines between themselves and each person on the paper. They draw a solid line for a (generally) positive relationship and a dashed line for a (generally) negative or strained relationship.
D. Finally, the student draws lines between the other people (not themselves)... also using solid or dashed lines. So, if Mom and Dad are divorced and hate each other, they'd draw a dashed line between Mom's circle and Dad's square.

Once all this is done, the student presents their sociogram to the group and explains it. If done well, this gives a nice snapshot of their social support system.

Another thing Ill be doing next week is presenting articles on culture shock and discussing them. Id like to learn about my students experience. Where are they on the culture shock curve (euphoric? frustrated? depressed? lonely? adjusted? happy?)? What are their emotional needs/wants? What kind of social supports do they have here? What are they struggling with? What are they enjoying?

And finally, Ill be doing activities to discover their interests. Knowing their interests helps me to plan activities, choose articles, and organize projects. I need to know what fascinates them. I need to know what excites them... what they are passionately interested in. This goes well beyond the "what are your hobbies" question... Id like to get deeper than that.

Job One: Get to know these students (at a real, human level).

2. Try Lots of Stuff

Someone more talented than I might know what to do immediately. But thats not me.

So instead, I plan to experiment like crazy until the winter break. For now, I will continue to shotgun a wide variety of activities at my students.

I plan to try Dale Carnegie speeches, micro projects, free reading, the movie technique, interactive reading, TPRS, role plays, field trips, guest speakers, the textbook & textbook exercises, a book/literature circle, focused rewrites, etc......

Its not the brightest approach, but basically I will try everything I can think of and see what clicks. What sorts of activities do these students respond to? Which dont they seem to like? How do they interact with each other.... and me? Do they prefer more formality? Or a very casual approach? Do they prefer loose structure... or a very regimented routine? Do they respond to wild energy and enthusiasm (my default), or to a quieter approach? What sort of seating arrangement do they respond best to? How much homework do they want... and what kind?

Of course, I also have my own ideas and agenda.... and questions such as: How can I deliver interesting comprehensible input? How can I (slowly) teach them about the research in language acquisition? How can I inspire passion and deep engagement? How can I move them towards total independence as language learners? How can I help them build their proficiency as fast as possible (including raising their TOEFL scores)? How can I create buzz and excitement-- to draw students to class?

So many questions, so few answers.

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