Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

Music and Mayhem

As I’ve said before, I have four hours of sophomore-level courses every week.  But because of the way the timetables work in French high schools, I don’t see the same kids every week.  On Mondays and Tuesdays I have two groups that I see every other week (one half of the class on week A, the other half on week B), and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have two groups that I see regularly (same kids, every week). So it gets a bit complicated in lesson planning, to remember which kids did which lesson. Luckily for me, they talk to each other about my class.  So when I did a rather successful session on American popular music for Week A, the students in Week B insisted we go over the same material. What did I do that was worth of extra-curricular discussion? Well, let me tell you. (If Malcolm Gladwell can use leading questions, so can I, n’est-ce pas?)

The French have this love of competition, specifically, intellectual competition.  They have several TV shows, some similar to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune, and some that go way beyond what we expect Americans to know, including games where you solve word and number puzzles in seconds to advance to the next round. So I thought I’d play a music game – no, not musical chairs.  This one’s called “Guess the Decade!” and the students have to do just what the title suggests.

I began the class with an overview – we listened to samples of music from the 50s to the 2000s and studied their lyrics.  Then, I divided the class into two teams, usually boys versus girls.  That gets the competitive spirit going. I played 30 second samples of random music, and they had 30 seconds to decide, as a team, what decade they thought the song belonged to, and write their answer on a piece of paper; the winning team (there could be two, of both guessed correctly) received 10 points.  For an extra 5 points-a-piece, they could guess the song’s title and artist.  I had a mix of songs and artists I thought they’d know (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Y.M.C.A”) and was sometimes pleasantly surprised when they recognized the artists I thought they’d struggle with (Frank Sinatra – only one kid knew who that was, but good for him!). Class got a bit rowdy, of course, and I even had a teacher come tell us to settle down – but, for once, they were rowdy in English!

For the last week of school, I stuck to the Christmas theme and did an exercise to get them working on multiple tenses. They had a few minutes to write before they presented their answers to these two questions: 1) What was the best present you’ve ever received? and 2) If you could get anything for Christmas, what would you like to get? For the first, some kids couldn’t remember any present they particularly liked (I had a hard time believing that, and heckled them with questions until they said something like “Money” or “My PSP”.)  For the second, I had a range of responses, but most kids seemed to want either a new computer or a phone.  Some kids wanted money to travel, one girl wanted a house in every country and another wanted to have some actor’s babies. Good luck with that one, Santa.

As usual, Chuck Norris won the (unstated) Make-Amrita-Laugh game. His ideal present? “I want Chuck Norris to be my bodyguard.” Then, when a student teased him, saying “You looooove Chuck Norris!”, he responded with “No. Chuck Norris loves me.”  We have a winner!

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Like two piece in an iPod.

Before I left for England a few weeks ago, I decided to ambitiously quasi-plan the remaining 19 weeks of teaching to which I would have to return in early November.  Those of you counting, that means I only teach for a total of 21 weeks in 7 months. One of the pros of working for the French is, in fact, not working. Anyway, my planning had me scheduled to play a few ‘getting to know you’ games with my secondes (sophomores), since they knew a bit of my past and interests, and I knew nothing of theirs.  In my usual super-planner way, I wrote everything out, divided the class into minutes and then discovered that I can, in fact, think on my feet in class.

One of the teachers at our orientation mentioned she went over an idiomatic expression every week with her students. One of my teachers at school mentioned playing pictionary with idiomatic expressions in class.  I decided to combine the two: every week, I’ll go over a new expression, and in April I will hand them out a list which we’ll use to play a Idiomatic Expression Pictionary game.  Last week’s expression was “like two peas in a pod.”  In an effort to get them to speak English, I had the class devine (guess) what the expression could possibly mean. And, boy, was that entertaining:

  • “Madame, ees eet becos oo are alone becos zere are only two?”
  • “Madame, whot ees a pod? Ees like iPod?”
  • “Madame, ees peas half?”
  • “Madame, ees becos oo are a lot of peepol in a smol place?”
  • And finally, “Madame, ees becos oo are same?”

For your reference, the French equivalent, which my kids were quick to offer up, is “Ils se ressemblent comme deux gouttes d’eau.” They’re like two drops of water.  Oh, and a pod is une cosse.

That was supposed to be a five minute exercise, but 15 minutes later we arrived at the translation, and had to move on to the next jeu: I know someone who…

This is the game where everyone stands in a circle, one person gets in the middle and says something like, “I know someone who is wearing red shoes,” and then everyone wearing red shoes has to change places. Well, it took forever to explain the game, but once it got going, I think they enjoyed the opportunity to horse around a bit.  Getting them to sit back down became the hard part. Having a sentence structure already given to them didn’t seem to help them construct a sentence correctly, though.  After several “I know someone who is shoes/brown hair/sister” statements, I made them repeat and get help until they got the sentence structure right, by which point everyone was itching to switch places and chaos ensued.

But the last game was definitely a favorite with the classes: Who am I? I asked the students to write down one or two names of celebrities on a piece of paper and collected them all. Then a volunteer came up, picked a name at random and covered his or her eyes. I wrote the name on the board so the other students could see, and then erased it.  The volunteer had to ask questions to discover their “identity.”  Once they did, they picked the next victim, er, volunteer.

I was quite impressed with the range of celebrity names I got from the students…everything from Beyoncé to JFK.  Here are  a few names for your entertainment:

  • Characters: Hulk, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Iron man, James Bond
  • Actors: Brad Pitte (sic), Tom Cruise, Eva Longoria, Georges (sic) Clooney, Orlando Bloom, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Vin Diesel
  • Musicians: Janis Joplin, Beyoncé,  Billie Joe Armstrong
  • Politicians: George W. Bush, JFK
  • Authors: J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer
  • Other: E.T.

One of the more entertaining question-answer sessions came with Billie Joe Armstrong, which resulted in the class not really knowing who it was and offering suggestions like, “The jazz guy,” then, “No, the man on the moon,” followed by, “You’re wrong, it’s the Tour de France winner.”  Turns out, he’s the lead singer from Green Day. Even I didn’t know that, and I like Green Day.

One thing I learned after my first week of teaching in October was to plan more than you think you’ll need, because sometimes an exercise goes faster than planned.  That didn’t really happen this past week, but having extra things to do meant I could skip over bits if I felt the kids were being too rowdy or if it looked like it was boring them.  Three 15 minute activities, or four-five 10 minute activities seem to get the best response.  American doctors might take a look at some of my classes and shout ADD.  I think that kids today are so used to getting immediate response and cycling through multiple sources of entertainment thanks to the internet (for example, going through 40 YouTube videos in an hour, each with a different topic), that as a teacher you have to be on your toes.  Youreally are competing against internet-based instant-information in an entertaining presentation.  If you want to win, you’ve got to be more fun.

This week’s theme is Facebook, and today’s 3PM class is my first set of guinea pigs.  Let’s see how Darth Vader fares.  That last sentence will make more sense later this week, so I guess you’ll just have to come back for the punch line!

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