Yoda: A Jedi craves not these things.

Craving Yoda’s funny and wise pontifications, I went and found some quotes, with their charming and haunting backward sentence structure:

No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.

Much to learn, you still have.

Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.

Ready, are you? What know you of ready?
For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi.
My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained!
A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.
(to the invisible Ben, indicating Luke)
This one a long time have I watched.
All his life has he looked away…
to the future, to the horizon.
Never his mind on where he was.
Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph.
Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh!
A Jedi craves not these things.
(turning to Luke)
You are reckless.

Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force.
But beware of the dark side.
Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they.
Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight.
If once you start down the dark path,
forever will it dominate your destiny,
consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.

Fear is the path to the dark side.
Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hate.
Hate leads to suffering.

You will know when you are calm, at peace. Passive.
A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.

When you look at the dark side, careful you must be.
For the dark side looks back.

You will find only what you bring in.

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm?
Hmm. And well you should not.
For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.
Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us.
Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.
You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.
Even between the land and the ship.

When 900 years old you reach, look as good, you will not.

Finish your partner’s sentences

I was just on Facebook to Stew when I stumbled across a video… and bingo, here’s a nice task for you learners: Tell a story about something two of you did together. OK, you don’t really have to have done this, ok? You can make it up – invent it. So: It should be a long event with lots of interesting details. Put the details on cards. Sort them into the sequence they “happened in”. Then tell your story. But the rule is: You’re not allowed to complete any sentence, your partner has to pick up and finish it for you. Then he or she continues the story, and you finish the sentence, back and forth.

Watch the first minute of Kermit and Fozzie doing just that here:

Discussion: How do you feel about completing your partner’s sentences, and about your partner completing yours? Does it feel like you are interrupting each other? Do you mind it when others complete your sentences for you in real life? What does it depend on?

Handling pairwork: How do you sort things out when you are not happy with your partner’s part of the story? Language tip: “Well, what actually happened was that we…” “But then…”

You can do this exercise in writing, too, of course: You start writing a story about the two of you, and your partner has to continue.

Have fun!

Communicative aim

A communicative aim in a Trinity assessed class is not the same thing as a communicative aim in real life. In real life, we might communicate with each other to get something off our chest, or to check each other out, to find areas we share interests in or perhaps just to shoot the breeze before we get down to business, without actually “communicating towards an outcome”. Yet that latter, very narrow definition of communication is what we have learned forms the heart of the lesson.

The rationale is that language learners need a concrete reason to use English, so we have to design a task for them to do that. I’m feeling the pressure, as the class I teach can communicate most easily using Spanish (though they’re multilingual in that some have Catalan as their mother tongue). And they use it too much in class. As we design our lessons, we have to include one main communicative activity that aims for a believable and concrete outcome in some way related to what the learners need to apply outside class. In that activity they have to be using language that we have defined as our lesson aims, and have taught and had them practice in that particular lesson. There has to be evidence for their intake. But it feels audiolingual and behavioristic, actually.

We can’t simulate real life transactions in class, so there’s always an element of something being forced, which is why I tend to avoid communicative didactics in this narrow sense. I do lots of information gap activities, sure, as well as authentic communication and simulations, but I’m just not too keen on roleplay. Yet now I have to play the communicative EFL game, or I’ll fail the teaching part of this exam.

For Friday the students have requested talking about the weather. I can have them describe all sorts of weather moving up towards the heart of the lesson (I might use paintings, and have them describe the weather there and then. I’ll also have them describe the weather on a beautiful day on their last vacation, and on a bad-weather day they remember very clearly.) But it’s not enough. So I’ve been kicking around a few lesson ideas:

I’d thought of having them “call a friend” in advance of a weekend trip, and ask them about the weather there, and then pack their suitcase accordingly. In the classroom setup, that would amount to pairwork, with one person being “it” and drawing a card containing information about a place, and having to formulate a brief weather report on the current weather, and then the other person recounting what they’ll put in their suitcase. But that feels like a lesson out of a 1970s or ’80s coursebook, and reminds me of the teaching I had to do at Wall Street Institute. I burned out after six months.

A second slightly feverish idea I had was having them solve a murder mystery based on forensic evidence influenced by the weather, which would certainly be working toward an outcome, but would not exactly be very applicable. Plus, I just can’t fit in my MD in forensics before Friday. Did I mention “feverish”?

Another way to solve this might be to set the scene where they’re going on a last minute holiday, and they have to make up their mind at the airport based on the current weather report (which they research and report separately). This scenario would have the added advantage of putting them under time pressure (which is important in any fluency activity). Perhaps I could actually stand them in line and give them the “weather report” info as they stand there in line, and then call them “to the ticket counter” when they’re “up”.

I can think of so many nice activities that are not communicative:
Labelling pictures
doing a personal weather report (the weather mirrors my state of mind)
a gapped dictation describing the weather to set the scene
a sorting task differentiating between excerpts from a travel guide and a personal description of the weather right now
I’d like to film them doing a weather report, but there are 22 of them, and 60 minutes is incredibly short. And when do we have time to watch the film?

Anyway, I can’t just have them talk about the weather the way we normally do, with the aim of using the language later to break the ice and tune in to each other in a real encounter. Weather is a wonderful metaphor for feelings, and right now mine are stormy.

PS: Mike from our course has summarized the formula: “The ppp with a communicative approach worked. Remember ‘activities that are truly communicative, according to Morrow (in Johnson and Morrow 1981) have three features: information gaps, choice, and feedback.’
Three activities with correction error slots is all we have time for.”

Kathryn Bigelow

The Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker won best picture on Sunday at the Oscars, and Kathryn Bigelow won best director. Kathryn Bigelow on filming her character studies: “Hurt Locker’s about humanity. It’s about friendship and comeraderie in an absolutely hellish environment, and I think that’s universal, that’s not necessarily gender specific. I’m making a movie about a conflict that is still ongoing. And I think it’s important to be as accurate and authentic and factual and reality-based as you possibly can.” She sounds very nice and clear-headed. Have any of you seen this film?

Pigeon: Impossible

Pigeon Impossible, the silent animated film by Lucas Martell released on 9 November that took 4 years to make, passed the 1 million views mark on YouTube after less than 2 weeks online. The film is set in the neighborhood of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., where two of my nieces and I spent an enjoyable afternoon in October. I grew up in Cold War D.C. – I hope other teachers haven’t had exactly the same idea yet: Here’s my contribution of a lesson plan to the upcoming EFL blog carnival.

Target group: Adult education, Business English (group and one-to-one)

Level: multilevel, ca. B2

Language goals: 1. Speaking 2. report writing 3. spy/ thriller vocabulary (a one-to-one student is reading Le Carré) 4. predictions; 5. could/ coudn’t/ was able to (describing general ability vs. single achievements)

Material/ preparation: Go online to www.pigeonimpossible.com. Watch film online. If not possible, download video “Pigeon: Impossible” (use www.savevid.com). Download Press Kit pdf to show film stills on screen. No handouts. Save those trees!


Pre 1: Present title of video “Pigeon: Impossible.” Predict genre. Revisit Mission: Impossible series 1966-1973; 1988-1990; film series with Tom Cruise. Use soundtrack or poster if necessary to help recall.

Pre 2: Hypothesize content of film. Brainstorm spy and Cold War vocabulary (e.g. for reference: to gather intelligence, secret agent, espionage, operation, operative, screen someone, be in disguise, conceal your identity, code/decode, crack codes, cypher/decypher, wiretap, detect surveillance, brief/debrief; Cold War, Berlin Wall, Iron Curtain, Star Wars, rocket, target, cruise missile, explosives)
Wordle: Spy and Cold War vocabulary

During: Watch film, and stop at likely places to ask “What will happen next?”

Watch film to about 1:50. Look at still of pigeon inside the briefcase. Collect and write up predictions (note grammar: I think, will probably, is likely to). (If teaching a group, let separate groups develop and present their scenarios.)

Watch to about 2:32 (pigeon has discovered that the suitcase can fly and is armed; man finds bagel again). Again, predict.

Watch to 4:04 (bagel has hit red button, Washington Monument turns into launching pad, rocket is underway to Russia). Again, predict.

Post 1: Reconstruct and summarize what happened: Contrast outcomes with predictions “I/we thought he would… and/but he…”

Post 2: Write “Incident on F Street” on the board. Make three columns. Headers: pigeon couldman couldn’t, man was able to

Tell students they are the man and will have to write a report to their line manager about the unforseen incident with the pigeon. (If you’re teaching a group, do this in pairs.) Tell them to concentrate on describing what the pigeon

  • could do with the additional powers at its disposal,
  • what they (as the man) couldn’t do to interfere and
  • what they (as the man) were ultimately able to do to stop pigeon and end the incident

Note grammar: contrast “could” for general ability with “was able to” for ability in a specific situation; couldn’t is more natural for negatives.

Have them use the film stills as guides. If they ask for it, watch the whole film again as they finalize their notes. Then they write reports. They pair up with another group to read each other their reports.

At least that’s what I’m planning to do. This is an action enquiry. I’ll let you know how it went later on this week in the comments. If you’re using this film in a different way, or have other ideas about how you would, I’d be delighted to read about it.

Blog Carnival archive - esl, efl, ell carnival

Stephen Fry ogles college football

Last night, Helmut and I enjoyed a great evening of Oscar Wilde with Alan Stanford. One of the highlights for me was a look back at Wilde’s grand tour of America. Well, his sublimely gifted modern reincarnation, Stephen Fry, filmed his own tour of America for the BBC, and his perspective strikes quite a few chords in me, as well. Especially the way he ogles American college football.

See the great BBC series on YouTube here.