Piece of Cake
When only two of my six students showed up for class the other day, they were excited for their “semi-private lesson” that we tailored to exactly what they wanted to talk about – cake.
Before the beginner class started, Marta sat showing Sara and me photos of the elaborately decorated marshmallow fondant cakes that she’s been making for her kids’ birthdays and other special occasions. Our lesson began when Sara asked Marta how she makes them. For the next hour and a half Marta gave the recipe and instructions in as much English as she could. While the two of them took notes, I wrote out the descriptions in English and Googled images to make sure they understood some of the vocabulary, like powdered sugar and a Mix Master. Afterwards, we compared Marta’s recipe to other ones we found online and they wondered why one was so specific to call for white eggs – their interpretation of what “egg whites” must have been – an easy mistake since outside of the U.S. eggs are not only white, but come in their natural brownish hues as well.
I have such a good time trying to make English relevant, interesting and fun for my students and the relationships I build with each of them keep me motivated and looking forward to seeing and working with them again.
Back at Thanksgiving and Christmas my advanced students were able to enjoy video clips of Saturday Night Live’s Debbie Downer. The other day I used an episode of The Office (U.S. version, of course) to highlight Enemy #1 for English Language Learners – phrasal verbs (examples of ones I’ve used in this blog entry: “showed up” “wrote out” “get over” “hang out” – a verb with a preposition that makes the resulting phrase mean something different from what each of the words means separately). To make the episode as understandable as possible, thus maximizing students’ feelings of success, first we went over some discussion questions like:
• It was recently reported that a 90-year old American war veteran has been copying thousands and thousands of pirated DVDs and sending them to soldiers in Afghanistan. Do you think his operation should be shut DOWN or should he be allowed to continue?
• Do you remember what you were doing the last time someone said to you, “Come on! Grow up!”?
Then, we looked at the transcript of the corresponding scene and students predicted the preposition that filled in the blank space. Finally, we watched the scene and students checked their answers and filled in the words that they hadn’t known – and most importantly, appreciated the awesome and ridiculous American comedy that The Office is.
Besides TV and movies, all of the students, from children to adults, definitely like using music to hone their listening skills and tone up their grammar and vocabulary knowledge base. In my beginner class the other day, four women battled it out to be the first to grab the past-tense verbs written on papers that were spread out over the table as they heard each of the words in the song, “Then He Kissed Me.” Later that evening I used the same activity with three kids who sat on their living room floor with the youngest two taking on their older sister, who proved to be too much of a match for them.
The other night the middle child, who turned twelve last week, was first up and we watched the Abba music video of “Dancing Queen.” On the cool website, www.lyricstraining.com, while the video plays the lyrics are displayed on the screen with some of the words missing. You have to complete the spaces as you listen to the song and if you don’t do it quickly enough the video pauses until you type in the missing word. Sometimes we have to press “delete” to replay the line – and I do mean “we” since I regularly miss some of the words and it’s a good thing there’s the “tab” key to skip the word when neither of us can detect it at all.
Next up was the older sister who turned fourteen last month. We spent her turn watching a video and doing the corresponding activities that are on a BBC website for learning English. The video featured two British kids exploring Notting Hill and preparing for the Carnival festivities that take place there.
Last up was the 10-year old and we played the game Guess Who?. This travel-sized game is one of the best investments I have ever made when I bought it at Gatwick Airport on my last visit to London. Well, I headed into the night down just 6 to 9 in our ongoing tournament of Guess Who?. I don’t know how he did it but the kid asked just the right questions over and over again (Does your person have glasses? Is your person a man?, etc.) to win 7 games in a row before our time was up. And as his mom and I settled up for the rest of the month I heard him singing, “We Are the Champions!” (in English!) throughout the apartment.
I know I’ve said it before, but I just can’t stop thinking how lucky I am to be getting paid to just hang out and have fun with such great people.