Golden Classics: A Blast From the Past
Magda Zamorska is a senior lecturer at the University of Wroclaw and a teacher trainer for Pilgrims in Canterbury. She is an experienced language teacher (from primary to EAP courses) as well as a seasoned teacher trainer. Magda’s professional interests include the use of arts and drama in teaching, teacher’s wellbeing and educational psychology. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Many years ago, in a desolate seaside resort on the Baltic coast… No, not a fairy tale or a horror story, just a quick trip down my very own EFL memory lane. So there we were: my first training course and one of the first exercises I have ever done in teacher training. As a trainee teacher I had the privilege of taking part in a British Council/Pilgrims training course, run by none other than Mario Rinvolucri and John Morgan. Last year I chanced upon an old, rather yellowed jotter with the notes I had taken during that course. The tasks, projects and exercises which actually helped (and still help) shape attitudes and approaches of so many a teacher, teacher trainer, student and educator alike. An amazing collection of activities, now to be found in the back issues of HLT and numerous books published by the Pilgrims authors. Timeless, imaginative, highly adaptable, learner-centred (and they work almost every time).
Here’s one, a real challenge especially for the more advanced learners…
Objects of power and weakness
Think and write down what the objects are and how they represent power or weakness.
One of us chose a mirror. Here’s what she wrote:
Move that bloody face! I’m sick and tired of reflecting your zits, blackheads, puffy eyes! How can you come back to me every couple of minutes? There’s nothing to look at! Yet I am forced to reflect every single pore of your sallow skin. You come to me, spellbound, enchanted, examining your nose, eyes, and complexion. I am a symbol of your weakness: you often resent me but you have to come back.
A variation of the exercise is not divulging what your object is. And I truly cannot recall what this one was:
I rule everything. I am your dependence, powerlessness and fear. Turn you to dust? Yes, this is my power. I support every moment of your life….or destroy it. I fray and wear you out, accelerate and relax… I earn your furtive looks and loving glances….soothing but scary... .(written by Anna)
To finish, make each student reverse the symbolic meanings of his/her object or swap it with another student, talk about it and elicit a discussion about how an object can become a symbol of power for one person and of weakness for another.
To make it more obscure, give no indication what the objects might be.
And here the faded notes describing this exercise ended…
I have used and re-used this activity time after time, observing how the objects are changing, from a simple mirror to smartphones… Some kept popping up throughout the 30 + years of my teaching: beds, coffee cups, objets d’art…Adapting it for different levels and purposes was also very creative: originally it was a writing exercise, but it can become speaking practice or a multimedia presentation…It can range from a description to a dramatic monologue or, if you’re prepared and qualified to handle this, a therapy session.
What is so interesting about this activity (and in fact, all the other ones in that notebook of mine) is that the outcome is very personal, therefore relevant and motivating to the student, non-judgemental in the sense that there is no right or wrong choice of objects; it changes the perspective of looking at the world around us, grabs imagination and bridges the gap between language learning and the realisation of why we are learning a foreign language: to express ourselves. Simple and imaginative and, at least for me, very Pilgrimesque.
Another gem from this old notebook is also one of the simplest activities I have ever done…
When, who, what, where
The task was to answer these as briefly as possible for your partner to make a story out of this very scant input. In the notes I found:
When: my uni days, who: friends, teachers, where: local theatre, what: having a whale of a time
The story, based on my short answers was hilarious, but it is in somebody else’s yellowed notebook…
I remember thinking, a rookie teacher that I was then: if it’s OK to do this, to be so creative, if reaching out to people and making the language theirs is part of EFL then I really want to teach. Thank you, John and Mario, for setting me on this path.
I’ve had the unique chance to be influenced by Pilgrims from almost the beginning of my teaching, a bond and a learning experience for which I’m really grateful as it has made me not only a more passionate teacher but, I hope, a better person. Excuse the personal note but, after all, isn’t it what teaching is all about?
Please check the Creative Methodology for Using ICT in the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
Golden Classics: A Blast From the Past
Magda Zamorska, Poland
Using Questions the Way We Did back in the Last Millennium
Mario Rinvolucri, UK