Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, March 20, 2006


by AJ

"One of the best ways to be truly creative--breakthrough creative--is to be forced to go fast. Really, really, really fast. From the brain's perspective, it makes sense that extreme speed can unlock creativity. When forced to come up with something under extreme time constraints, we're forced to rely on the more intuitive, subconscious parts of our brain. The time pressure can help suppress the logical/rational/critical parts of your brain. It helps you EQ up subconscious creativity (so-called "right brain") and EQ down conscious thought ("left brain").

--Kathy Sierra (who else:)

The above quote explains why my "speed dating" activity seems to work so well. I put students on a timer, and tell them to talk as quickly as possible about a given topic... for 30 seconds, a minute, whatever. Once that clock starts, I jump around the room yelling "faster, faster, faster... DO NOT STOP TALKING!!!!!!"

And, usually, they dont. In fact, they talk like crazy. The shy ones. The outgoing ones. The ones who NEVER speak. They all start babbling away. The speed and chaos of the exercise shuts down their logical worrying analytical brain. No time to monitor. No time to worry about grammar rules.

This exercise taught me that almost every student (above the beginner level) is capable of communication. Its not lack of knowledge that keeps them from doing so. Its not a lack of grammar or vocabulary. Its what Krashen calls "the monitor".. that analytical part of the brain that pre-thinks everything. Bypass that, and each students fluency makes an ungodly jump-- truly surprising in many cases.

The same principle applies to teaching. Perhaps the worst effect of overplanning is that it destroys creativity. There are advantages to improvisation. Forced to think quickly, you sometimes come up with surprisingly interesting solutions... which you'd never have thought of if youd planned every detail.

Maybe we should make more use of speed... for our students and ourselves. Maybe we should put more time pressures on students... especially when they're writing or speaking. Dont give them time to panic or worry. "Write a one page essay about your family, you have three minutes to finish,... GO!" [Like any good writer, you can edit this first draft later].

And maybe we could try the same when creating lessons. Set your alarm for five minutes... thats all the time you get to create a new lesson. Hit the button and GO! Better yet, give yourself 10 minutes to create as many interesting lessons as you can in that short time. Have contests during staff meetings... see who can generate the most ideas in that short time.. and who can generate the most interesting ones. Then everyone picks their two best and teaches them that same day (or the next day). Everyone comes back the next day to discuss the results. This could be a regular event.

San Francisco, CA