My selfish method of teaching

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How do you choose material for your lessons? I’m not talking about coursebooks but extra reading material, for example. My guess is that you probably make choices on the basis of your students’ interests, needs, and/or their level of proficiency. Well, to be completely frank, I’m a little selfish in this respect – I mainly bring what I like (and what I think my students might like too).

The other day a friend of mine sent me an interesting story via Whatsapp. I loved it and immediately thought it would be a great idea to share it with my students. But although I’m a little egotistical, I am also professional. So, I asked myself a couple of burning questions: What shall I do with the story? (methodology?) How shall I present it? (form/technique?) What do I want my students to learn? (input/output/experience?)

Before I spoil it and explain what I did in class, I’d like to provide a little bit of thinking space for the reader. Here’s the story:

A man is driving down the road and his car breaks down near a monastery. He goes to the monastery, knocks on the door, and says, “My car broke down. Do you think I could stay the night?”

The monks graciously accept him, feed him dinner, and even fix his car. As the man tries to fall asleep, he hears a strange sound. A sound unlike anything he’s ever heard before. The Sirens that nearly seduced Odysseus into crashing his ship comes to his mind. He doesn’t sleep that night. He tosses and turns trying to figure out what could possibly be making such a seductive sound.

The next morning, he asks the monks what the sound was, but they say, “We can’t tell you. You’re not a monk.” Distraught, the man is forced to leave.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Years later, after never being able to forget that sound, the man goes back to the monastery and pleads for the answer again.

The monks reply, “We can’t tell you. You’re not a monk.”
The man says, “If the only way I can find out what is making that beautiful sound is to become a monk, then please, make me a monk.”

The monks reply, “You must travel the earth and tell us how many blades of grass there are and the exact number of grains of sand. When you find these answers, you will have become a monk.”

The man sets about his task. 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

After years of searching, he returns as a gray-haired old man and knocks on the door of the monastery. A monk answers. He is taken before a gathering of all the monks.

In my quest to find what makes that beautiful sound, I traveled the earth and have found what you asked for: By design, the world is in a state of perpetual change. Only God knows what you ask. All a man can know is himself, and only then if he is honest and reflective and willing to strip away self-deception.”

The monks reply, “Congratulations. You have become a monk. We shall now show you the way to the mystery of the sacred sound.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The monks lead the man to a wooden door, where the head monk says, “The sound is beyond that door.”

The monks give him the key, and he opens the door. Behind the wooden door is another door made of stone. The man is given the key to the stone door and he opens it, only to find a door made of ruby. And so it went that he needed keys to doors of emerald, pearl, and diamond.

Finally, they come to a door made of solid gold. The sound has become very clear and definite. The monks say, “This is the last key to the last door.”

The man is apprehensive to no end. His life’s wish is behind that door!
With trembling hands, he unlocks the door, turns the knob, and slowly pushes the door open. Falling to his knees, he is utterly amazed to discover the source of that haunting and seductive sound……………………….

But, of course, I can’t tell you what it is because you’re not a monk. 

*

*

At first, I wanted to turn the reading into a jigsaw activity. I would have put students into groups of 4 and I would have given each student a different part of the story (hence the broken lines above). Then I would have asked them to share the information and put the pieces of text in the correct order in their groups. Also, I was planning to withhold the last line and reveal it triumphantly after they all finished.

But then I considered how I felt when reading the story and I decided to change my approach completely. I thought it would be too distracting for me if the story was mixed up. As the plot evolves in a linear manner, any unnecessary interruptions and distractions would steal away the pleasure of reading. Also, one needs to get to the point rather quickly. During the jigsaw activity, the reader would gain enough time to spoil the story for themselves (by having an opportunity to discuss the plot with others an thus possibly guessing the ending too early). Although I believe prediction is a process occurring naturally when one reads any type of text, here it would be a hindrance. By the way, I’m very good at predicting endings but this time, the twist really surprised me.

Anyway, this is what I finally did:

I did cut the story into 4 parts but I handed out the first part only. Each student read silently at their own pace. After everybody had finished, I quickly checked if they understood the highlighted expressions. This was a way of providing a bit of thinking space for everybody to absorb what they had just read. I ‘served’ the second part of the story and waited for everybody to finish. Again, we briefly checked the meaning of the words in bold. Finally, after the fourth part, I triumphantly handed out the closing line. Some students frowned with disappointment, others smiled. This, based on my experience, is how the ending actually affects people in real life too. Then we discussed the story a bit more but that was it.

Would you do it differently? What did you think when you read the story? 🙂

 

 

 

 

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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4 Responses to My selfish method of teaching

  1. katkeplova says:

    Thanks for the beautiful story, Hana. As I was reading it, I kept thinking: ‘give students one part and ask what they think happens next’, although as I came to your approach, I thought you were right – too much chatter would spoil the magic of the story. Possibly ask before handing out the last line but I like the tranquil presentation 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. M. Makino says:

    I don’t really know what it’s like to choose materials that my students might like but I don’t. I have a more PD-friendly justification for this but basically I can’t be bored in class. I think they can tell.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sandy Millin says:

    I think I’d do the same thing, with the addition of discussing what might happen next after each one. They could also talk about his feelings at each point, and whether they think the monks are doing the right thing.
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lina says:

    Hi Hana! And thank you for the great post (as always) 🙂

    I’d definitely add some guessing game here 🙂 Like what do you think the sound was???? This thought entered my head from the very beginning and didn’t leave until the very end. I guess students would have been dying of curiosity as well so it’d be nice to let them speculate 🙂 For example, I thought it might’ve been something rather ordinary (so I kind of expected some disappointment) but couldn’t imagine exactly what it was. I’d also ask them how they felt after the ending was revealed. Angry? Disappointed? Tricked? Or did they laugh and think ‘gotcha!’, like I did? 🙂 Why? Could they remember any other situations when their expectations weren’t met? In what way? etc. (gosh, I love talking about feelings and emotions)

    Liked by 1 person

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