“Today’s theme is SPORTS.”
It must be a mark of the novice teacher that I feel a need to justify my lesson plans to my students. That whole power-structure bit, the One-Classroom-Under-Me illusion: I continue having a hard time buying into it a priori, perhaps owing in part to memories of shaking my righteous-high-schooler fists at feeling unfairly powerless. I’d much rather the students listen to me because they are interested, because I am saying things that are worth their time and attention. This is, obviously, pie-in-the-sky optimistic (but who doesn’t like pie?).
The other reason not to do this is because, by and large, they don’t understand my garrulous explanations anyway – to their ears, it’s gobbledegook.
So: I’ve attempted to snip it entirely, and have found success in plunging headlong into a lesson. For this one, I like having the group sit around one big table rather than desks. After announcing the athletic theme – which results in an fascinating mixture of groans and accolades – I offer cards with paragraphs describing various oddball practices from around the world.
CHESS BOXING alternates between games of boxing and chess after each round – waiting for a checkmate or knockout to decide the match. A Chess Boxing match between two individuals lasts up to eleven rounds, starting with a four minute chess round and followed by two minutes of boxing.
SWAMP FOOTBALL is said to come from the north east of England where it initially was used as an exercise activity for athletes and soldiers, since playing in a swamp is physically demanding. There are currently an estimated 260 swamp football teams around the world. Boots cannot be changed during the game.
JOGGLING is a competitive sport that combines juggling and jogging. The most common objects used in joggling are balls, or sometimes clubs, but any set of three or more objects can be used. Jogglers say that the arm motions of juggling with three objects feels natural with the action and pace of jogging.
[you can download the cards for yourself here. you're welcome!]
Each student takes their turn reading a card aloud, and depending on the level of the group they’ll get more or less information from it. We then take a closer look at any unfamiliar vocabulary, I do some trademark miming (or, in the case of “juggling,” humming a few notes from the unmistakable circus ditty), and we suss out the gist of each. I repeatedly inquire, Would you ever play this sport? Chess boxing is (shockingly?) popular.
I then write that key sentence on the board, and I ask whether it’s a question about the past or the future. What tense is it in? Great, it’s conditional. I then write a new question: Have you ever played a sport? and ask the same. Okay, so we’ve got that it’s present perfect – and there’s the past participle, yup – and then I pose it directly to the lowest level student in the group, since it’s an easy one to answer and gain some confidence. Everyone inevitably says yes here, and with some prompting they generate the full response Yes, I have played [sport]. I throw it on the board.
But check it out – now we know YES or NO, but do we know WHEN? This key question is actually rather challenging for the lower level groups; I’m aiming for a lightbulb moment. No, we don’t know WHEN. How do we ask WHEN? Through some trial and error, the class generates When did you play [sport]?, which then gets directed back at the original student, eventually resulting in I played [sport] yesterday/when I was 8 years old/two years ago.
Then the grammatical wrap-up: see, when you ask in present perfect, you get a response in present perfect, and you learn YES or NO. But if you want to know details, you have to ask a WH-Question, like WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, or WHY (these get scribbled on the board as well), and you ask this question in the past simple.
[clearly these rules aren't hard and fast, duh. the structure consistently works for eliciting the variety of forms, though, as well as for illustrating the difference in their usage]
That’s about as grammatician as I like to get in class – all of this basic stuff is review to the students, although they can recall it only to varying degrees, and they use it extremely sparsely. Hence, the following game to practice.
I pass out a small cue card with three phrases on it to each student along with the spoken instructions “These are secret. Do not share. If you do not know a word, ask me.”
- break a bone
- be a guest at a surprise party
- be on TV
- fall in love at first sight
- forget your mother’s birthday
- go mountain climbing
- receive a present that you really hated
- ride on a camel
- milk a cow
- sing in public
- call a teacher “mom” by mistake
- go to a wedding
- meet someone who has six fingers
- walk into a really clean window
- eat frog legs
- speak to someone from Russia
- get seasick
- go to the circus
- send back food at a restaurant
- stay up all night
- eat goat cheese
- travel by airplane
I keep a card for myself and begin, posing a question to one of the stronger students: Have you ever broken a bone? They tend to respond simply yes or no, and I make the “big” hand motion to indicate that they should say the whole phrase for practice, Yes, I have broken a bone./No, I haven’t broken a bone.
If the answer is affirmative, I follow up: When did you break a bone? What bone did you break? What were you doing? and monitor their story for correct tenses. If the answer is negative, I pose the question to the whole group – Has anyone ever broken a bone? – and hope for a bite. The phrases are purposefully skewed such that several will certainly have takers (stay up all night, go to a wedding) and several only occasionally hit on a jackpot (hitchhike, forget your mother’s birthday).
After going through the process for one phrase, it’s the turn of the person who was asked. They choose whoever they like and grill them: Have you ever…? As soon as they hit on a yes, they’ve gotta inquire with those WH-Questions for more juicy details.
I’ve found this an extremely effective way to get students using the present perfect/past simple forms in conjunction. They also seem to love the phrases, and I’ve never laughed so much in class as with some of the stories that they inspire. Almost everyone admits to having called a teacher “mom” at least once; one student claimed to have accidentally let slip an “abuela.” Boys in particular take great pride in having walked into squeaky clean windows. Perhaps one student per class claims to have fallen in love at first sight.
I swear I didn’t expect anyone to have met someone with six fingers. And yet, one of the terceros claims to have twin cousins “in her village” with six on each hand and each foot. No student at Valdecás can boast an extra digit, but a kid from 1º Bachillerato confided in me that there is a boy in 4º ESO with double uvulas. I want to ask, so badly. Perhaps next week’s theme can be The Weird and Wonderful Human Body!