Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: part 5

by AJ

If "content is king"... if "fascinating topics" are crucial... why are we still reading boring articles in class? I imagine that thought is going through every one of my students' minds who reads this blog.

Ive thought about that question alot and I cant think of a reasonable answer other than, "I was afraid to go all the way with this idea". But that fear is evaporating and I realize Ive got to do more than write or yammer about these ideas.

Another problem is that its not necessarily easy for me to know what fascinates most Thai University girls aged 18-22 (the bulk of my students). It has taken me some time to figure this out.

My conclusion is that the number one topic of fascination is relationships & dating. Romance, heartbreak, the differences between girls and boys, dating challenges, love, etc. seem to fascinate most of my students. Whenever I ask a class what TV show they'd like to watch in class, "Sex and The City" is always the big vote winner. Romance movies are equally popular.

This is true even of my difficult Russian Studies class. The first video I showed them was "Supersize Me". Its a video that certainly fascinates and amuses me. It engaged some of them, but many were not terribly interested. However, the last few weeks we've been watching Dr. Zhivago- and almost everyone pays attention. Perhaps its because it is set in Russia... but I doubt it. Rather, its an engaging love story and that fascinates them.

A second big topic of interest... somewhat related... is the issue of women's equality and leadership. Thai society is changing. Women are on the rise. Women are now dominating the universities. Most of my students seem eager to exploit opportunities... and also to discuss the remaining discrimination they face. Discussions about these issues have always been energetic and interesting.

Thirdly, the book club presentations were a huge hit. The secret here, of course, is that THE STUDENTS chose their books, not me.

And finally, the "project game" has worked very well. By adding an international element to this assignment (collaborating with students in Japan)- it should become even more powerful.

So there you go.... a recipe for a class: Dating and gender issues, a book club, and compelling international projects. Thats what I should be focusing on. Thats probably what most of our English classes should focus on.

But what are we doing instead. In the freshman classes, their first required reading was "The Godfather". Not exactly a romantic movie popular with young women!! Who chose this book? My students universally hated it. Now, I happen to love the movie.... but Im a 37 year old American man. My guess is that another 37+ year old Western guy chose this book. Clueless.

And what sorts of required articles are we reading in the freshman classes? Lets see, two weeks ago we read an article about the ice cream manufacturing process in factories. It included such useful vocab as "globules" and "polysaccarides". I LOVE ice cream,... but this was the most boring article Ive read in a long long time. It was torture for ME... much less my students.

Last week we read an article about the dietary habits of pre-Mezolithic people in the British Isles. Wow... exciting stuff for an 18 year old girl! And not only was the topic amazingly boring.... it was badly written... incredibly obtuse and repetitive. I AM fascinated by natural history and yet this article bored the hell out of me too.

This is madness. Plenty of useful vocabulary... and all the needed grammar structures... can be found in articles about romance, dating, relationships, marriage, gender issues, women's leadership, free reading books, etc. So why arent we reading those?

Well, next semester thats exactly what my classes will be doing.

They will read articles and recommended books by:

Leo Buscaglia, Beverly Deangeles, Steven Covey, Candace Bushnell, Tom Peters, Sark, Bill Furgusson, John Gray, Toni Morrison, Bonnie Jacobson, Ken Blanchard, Seth Godin, bell hooks, Anthony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Tata Young,.....

They'll watch TV shows and movies such as:

Sex and The City
Notting Hill
Love Actually
Shakespeare In Love
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
French Kiss

They'll participate in a book & film club- reading and watching content that THEY choose.

And they will complete projects (on topics of their own choosing) by working with students of other countries.