Last night, when I was planning one my classes for today, I stumbled upon an interesting text which I thought I could use with a group of 15-year-olds. The material I was originally looking for was ‘Typical problems of teenagers’. In the text I found, ten most common problems were listed, such as bullying, depression, education, etc., along with the solutions parents or teachers usually come up with when dealing with the problems. It was a bit challenging language-wise but since these are very talented students, I wasn’t worried about that at all.
What worried me a bit though was the fact that one of the topics included in the article was ‘menstruation’. I should add that I’m definitely not the type of person who finds it difficult or embarrassing to talk about these issues with teenagers. Also, there is a majority of girls in this group and even the boys are quite open-minded but still … For some reason, I wasn’t sure if it was totally appropriate. Long story short, I cut this particular topic out when preparing the reading activity and we finally ended up with just 9 topics.
Before I handed out the texts, we did a brainstorming activity. I asked the group about some typical problems teenagers face these days. To my utter amazement, the very first idea which I elicited was ‘We girls have periods’. I couldn’t believe my ears. The only topic I hadn’t been sure about and the one I had finally got rid of came up first. What also surprised me was that many of the serious topics listed in the text, such as substance abuse or bullying, didn’t occur to the students at all during the eliciting stage. In the end, I felt it was a shame that the topic of menstruation was not included.
Anyway, this anecdote reminded me of PARSNIPS – the seven taboo topics in English language teaching. You can’t always rely on your intuition or the fact that you’ve known your students for ages. You simply never know what’s palatable for them until you ask. But even asking may sometimes be a risky business and it can cause some unnecessary embarrassment. On the other hand, if your students feel absolutely safe in your class, you can afford to take the risk. I remember once asking the same group of students if there was a moment in their lives when they felt absolutely happy. One student put up his hand and said: Yes, I can clearly remember that. I obviously asked a follow-up question: Can you tell us about it? I was taken aback by his resolute but very mature response: Sorry, it’s too personal. Well, believe it or not, even 15-year-olds can sometimes behave like grown-ups. 🙂