The Tall Traveller

I am a (tall) British expat currently working in Mexico as an English teacher. Read on for amusing stories from the classroom and my travels

Friday, 24 October 2014

Adventures from the classroom 17

My 'favourite picture' that I showed to the class
First week:

The first week of a semester is always confusing and chaotic. The students don’t know where to go, we don’t have lists and you often get randoms in your class. My boss popped her head into my class three days running as she was busily searching for entire missing classes and different groups. The educational services department, is supposed to assign groups and schedules for the students, but our poor secretary ends up collating class lists for all 15 profs. Just to give you a little taste this was my attendance on Day 1:

8am: 10/13 arrived
9am: 0/12
1pm: 21/16 (7 were not on list)
4pm: 2/13 (both not on list)
5pm: 15/11 - (13 not on list)

One week later and the numbers had changed

8am: 27
9am: up to 25, then down to 14
1pm: 24
4pm: 10
5pm: 14

By the end of the week I attempted to call every student in order, by name, without looking at my list.
I managed 86 correct which garnered several rounds of applause with only three particularly sour faces directed at the teacher. Who were they? They shall remain nameless.

Pictures of you:

I try to mix up listening exercises; speeches, dictation, audio plays etc. However, I do like using songs. It is a way I can open the students eyes a little by playing a tune from a bygone era, or a different country.

I plumped for 'Pictures of you' a track from one of my favourite albums - Disintegration by The Cure. I've never used one of my favourites before, and I won't again after I had to listen to the bugger ten times in one day! Five classes, two times each.

Some of the students liked it, although I'd prefer it if they had the balls to say they only like songs about guns drugs or romance constructed only with accordions and brass instruments. Ahh Banda.

I followed up by describing, then showing them my favourite 'picture'.
"I took it in my house, my cat is in the picture, and it was taken on Independence Day”. 

When I asked them to detail their own favourite photos, their answers almost without exception were as follows:
"I took it in the beach, my family is in the picture, it was taken at vacations".
It was yet another reminder of one dimensional thinking from them. Photos are used purely to document an event or to show that a good time was had. They can’t be used for fun, comedy, natural beauty, to show personality, a theme or occasion. I guess I could have shown them a few examples to jog their memory, but I don’t have time to live their lives for them. (if only I did, I might pass some English exams for them).

Horrible Homework:

I set short writing homeworks as I don’t really have time during the week and try to vary it between classes (to give me something fun to read). Here are some of the choice selections from recent weeks.

When were you sick?

  • I was and continue sick with gripe (flu). It is horrible because I don't listen what teachers say well.
  • Last week I was sick, but I drank my medicine and went to the disc
When did you go to a nice restaurant?

  • I went to a nice restaurant last year . . . but I didn't do well. I invited a gentleman. He was bad. I never went to that restaurant. I have sad memories. I needed my friend to listen to me. I cried. I thought he was my friend. I never talked.
When did you go to the cinema?

  • I wented recientli. When I watched movie i could not answer call from my mother. Major problems!
  • And in finallity we went to the cinema and we saw the movie called "la dama de negro". It's incredible, then we wen to slept.
When did you have an argument?
(Most students completely ignored the question and just wrote a paragraph in the past).

  • I founded $50 in the road. With that money I talked with my cousin in Spain, travelled to San Jose and bought me a dress, was wonderful!!!
Pretty good for 2 pounds fifty!

When did you last cry?
(I thought that I was being clever by asking this. I thought they would answer with anecdotes about powerful movies or invented stories. However, the students have little imagination and are in fact very honest. I mostly
got responses about family illnesses and pet deaths. Parakeets left out in the rain and dogs being hit by cars.)

  • I was playing with my dogs when one of them beat my so hard on my leg I started crying.
  • When my grandfather died. However, nobody dies when he is remembered
  • Last weekend in my house because my dog died. I loved the dog, he was very funny with me.
Who is your favourite celebrity?
(Most students answered without actually naming the celebrity! Some only described what they do, not how they look either. Those who did describe how they look seemingly forgot all of the grammar I’d taught.) 

  • He have meddle aged and isn't eyes brown.
  • Robert Pattinson is in Harry Potter movie, 
  • Enrique Iglesias is Mexican.

Just another Tuesday at UNSIS:

To practice the past tense, I wrote a little story for the students to complete. I tried to stress that there were no wrong answers, to help them use verbs other that ‘eat’, ‘sleep’ or 'study'. Here is the full story, with examples of good / bad gap fills by the students.

"It was Tuesday afternoon in the Sierra Sur. The class were studying English when Donald Duck farted / comed into the classroom. Donald splashed / say and  insulted / played to the students. Then something very strange happened, Donald pulled out a gun  / leave!

Donald said goodbye to the students and as he walked out, Spiderman jumped on him.

“ I’ll kill you ugly duckling / Hello” said Spiderman.

Donald was not very happy. Next, Spiderman killed / no like Donald, then he chugged / taken some beer. Spiderman was drunk! He went out of the classroom and then vomited / esleeping in the bathroom. “I’m going to the cafeteria” he shouted, so he went to the cafeteria and ordered / ated some cocktails / tacos.

After this, the students heard singing: ♪♫♪ “Whenever, wherever, We're meant to be together, I'll be there and you'll be near . . . ” ♫♪♫♪

They looked out of the class and saw the Rector with Shakira! He made out / competed with Shakira and she loved it / danced.  What an unbelievable day!"

This exercise really points out how if your set up isn't perfect, the results you get will be mediocre. With plenty of coaxing, being creative, unlocking their imaginations and so forth, you might even get mediocre+ results.

Who am I?

As a speaking task I prepared a game of ‘who am I’. You get a celebrity name stuck to your back and must ask questions to ascertain who you are. I had put my head together with a colleague about celebrities they would DEFINITELY know, although the culturally inept little beasts still managed to remain unaware of some of my selections.

First of all, they absolutely loved it! As I was sticking names onto their backs, their classmates were creasing up. They got that crazed look in their eyes of holding power over their classmates as they didn’t know who they were. It really showed their level of imagination and maturity that they had no concept that the names could be fictional characters, baddies, or dead people. I think the students allocated Jesus Christ, Osama Bin Laden and Snow White got the biggest laughs. It’s moments like that, that it makes me sad they’ve never done anything like that before!

They didn’t really get understand the process of deduction needed for the game:
Am I a man? – yes (half the world’s population is excluded from possibility)
Do I speak Spanish? (narrowing down the nationality options)
Am I alive? (guessing the time-frame)

They tended to start off with questions like:
Am I teacher?
Have I blue eyes?
I is Mexican?

It was interesting that some good students were awful at the game. They felt stupid they couldn't work it out and just trudged around saying
I am president the Mexico? – No
I am president of Cuba? -
I am president of Brazil? -
Am I president of Mexico?

I tried to get them to ask about appearance and age but they remained focused on exhausting their knowledge of Latin American presidents.

As the exercise came to a close, the victorious students smiled, clutching their celebrities’ names. The few who had slightly harder names to guess looked fair non-plussed when their alter-ego was revealed. “Why the FUCK should I know who Bill Gates, Javier Bardem or Sub-Commandante Marcos are” their eyes read.

Box of shame:

I have tried to be a little more strict on cellphones and students dicking about with them in class. So I made this little prop.

I leave it facing the students to remind them not to mess about, or their mobile will be deposited into Jean-Luc Picard’s locker. It’s worked a little too well so far, I haven’t had many offenders. I know this is the intended effect, but showing the whole class when I drop the phone in is the fun bit!

Well it works perfectly well as a holder for my board eraser, so that’s something. Time for class, I wonder if the box will get any customers today.

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