Sunday, 15 November 2015

Teachable Moments

Sometimes I'll look at a game or a movie, and I'll say "Damn."

I'm sure many of you have done so before, but probably not for the same reason.

It started back when I was teaching English as a foreign language. I worked in a number of countires before coming back to the UK, and as any good English teacher will tell you, finding samples of good spoken (or written) English is actually pretty hard.

I know what you're thinking. This man just told us in his last post that English Literature was a waste of time, and now he tells us he used to teach it? Well you'd be wrong. English as a language is a fun mess of systems and structures just ripe for the dissection. Forget simple grammar rules, discourse functions and the basics of simply getting your mouth to make the right sounds is full of good science, and analysis opportunities.

And that complexity is the problem. People don't speak good English that much. Or write it. Or even think it.

Just cast your mind over today. How many times have your responded to a question with "Uh."

There's no sentence there, there's not even a word! And you'll have grunted your way through whole conversations more times than you're likely to admit. I know I do.

Which brings us back to teaching language. Quite often you'll com across a nice stretch of dialogue in a movie, which will have interesting content for the students, relevant to the topic and context of your lesson... only to have it peppered with grunts, slang, and fragments of sentences strung together with various shades of "Er...".

Good for high level students, but for beginners it's a nightmare. You end up using the text book samples, full of voice actors speaking slowly with fake accents. Often talking about the interesting Space Conflict movie with Laser Swords. Truly motivating.

But sometimes, oh sometimes! You come across that wonderful gem. A song where the lyrics aren't just a kid going "Baby" and "Ooh", like they were singing to a toddler that had just spilt their milk on their new smart phone. The movie clip where the words are clear, easy to follow, and have lasting meaning and impact. The game segment which perfectly describes Newton's 3 laws.

And without fail, you'll find it a day or two after you've taught the lesson.


Make a note, put in lesson next time you teach the topic.

To avoid legions more teachers swearing their way through otherwise enjoyable media, I will put up sections of Teachable Moments here. Since I'm a Physics teacher, there going to be Science based at first, but if my reader base ever gets beyond myself and the daphnia on my desk, then maybe people can supply me with more.

By the way, if you're a stamp collecting teacher, get yourself some daphnia. They live off basic bread making yeast, and are pretty hardy. The cool thing you can do with them is examine them under a microscope with your class (visualizer is better if you have one) and add some Red Bull to their water. They start whizzing around like crazy! Perfect to show the effects of caffeine, without feeding the kids coffee (which you shouldn't be doing any more anyway).

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