A peaceful oasis in the midst of the traffic, noise, and rapidly-rising skyscrapers of the center city: a small park that I found by accident, and a much-needed place for some contemplation.
Eating and talking at the same time
The great thing about teaching is that you are continually learning new things. For example, as a Chinese learner I’m continually reminded of the difficulties that my own students face in their process of learning English. I was eating lunch today – stir-fried rice with shredded pork and green pepper – after a much-needed massage to relieve some of the pain in my upper back and neck. A lady joined me at my table, as the place was full, and proceeded to chat with me. I realized later that I probably knew about 20 – 30% of the Chinese words she used – enough to catch the general meaning – but that I was used to seeing them in a textbook, or hearing them come out of my teacher’s mouth, and not a stranger’s. I “knew” the words, but hadn’t transferred them into the frontal whatchamacallit of my brain, the place where easily-accessible and ready-to-use words and expressions are stored. Yes, there’s “deep” storage and “right now” storage for language. Plus, my affect was in the way: that’s your resistance or discomfort or just plain panic at being talked to by a stranger. My initial reaction is “I’m not ready for this; it’s too real!” I survived.
Get over yourself! Just do it! I couldn’t take my own advice that I dish out to my students.
Moments of clarity
Like many of the best-laid plans, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Like I said, though, I’m always learning in this job.
I love partner conversation activities, especially information-gap exercises like Partner Dictation. Briefly, each partner gets a sheet of paper with part of a conversation, which is exactly what the other partner needs to fill his “gaps.” Plus, the activity forces the student to use all four skills: reading, speaking, listening, and writing. I’ll try to post a couple of examples here soon. You can use such exercises to practice asking for and giving directions, doing shopping role plays, or practically anything.
Then it was time to plan activities for Telephone English. I thought, what better way to practice phone English than on the phone? Like, duh! I mean, who doesn’t have a cell phone in China? I put together some really bitchin’ info-gap activities for phone role plays, then passed out the papers in class. I pointed out the line where each student was to write his/her own cell phone number, so that their mystery partner could actually call them. On the phone. In class. It had worked in one previous class, then I decided to use it in my class full of university teachers who plan to study abroad. I passed out the papers, with phone numbers, and said, “OK, everyone, now call for information!” I got puzzled looks. “On the phone?” someone said. “What about the cost?” Then it hit me: these students were mostly from other Chinese cities, which meant that any call incurred long-distance charges. Their classroom activity would be expensive. “You didn’t think of that, did you?” the other (smarter) part of my brain asked. All was not lost: The partners simply sat together and had pantomime “phone” conversations. When all else fails, wing it. Click here to view/download the activities I used.
The path often takes many turns, but they usually lead you someplace interesting: a metaphor for teaching
Get to the [power] point, already!
I’ve used PowerPoint since I started teaching in China in 2006. Back when I was teaching the same lesson to 7 classes of 50 students a week, it was worth my while to spend an entire Sunday afternoon putting together that week’s PPT, which could conveniently be plugged into the classroom computers. The technology only let me down once, when I installed the new Powerpoint 2007 on my home computer, not realizing that the classroom computers all had antiquated versions of the software. The result: the PPT wouldn’t even open, leaving me to write – from memory – a long and complicated lesson by hand on the chalkboard. Boy, was my hand tired.
Those limitations are history now, and I’m using the new PowerPoint 2010, Chinese version. It’s fairly user-friendly; virtually every command is a picture or a symbol, so I can continue to put off learning to read Chinese.
My new burst of creativity started when I had to put together materials for a couple of young students (10 and 13), and visuals were an obvious choice, since I have to keep them awake on a Friday evening after they’ve finished a whole school week. I found out that I could use PPTs for reading practice, not just for pretty pictures [more on this later].
Since I also “collect” graphics related to theater and opera, I thought: why not put together a presentation using animations, using all those cool graphics of set designs and theater curtains? I scoped out some online tutorials, but in my technologically-challenged state, each solution posed yet more problems. I began at Tom Kuhlman’s site The Rapid E-Learning Blog for help with animations in Powerpoint. From there I cruised over to Presentation Magazine to download some free animated slides.
My “A Night at the Opera” PPT completed, I now had to figure out a way to share it via my blog. From iSpring Free I was able to download a PowerPoint to Flash converter. I could now convert a PPT into a Shockwave Flash video, playable in my WordPress-powered blog. Of course, this wasn’t the end. After much frustration (and swearing), I realized that I couldn’t just stick my newly-created masterpiece into a blog post. Thanks to Walker News, I learned How to Embed SWF in HTML Code or WordPress Post. Whew!
You can see my results here. This has opened up new worlds of possibilities for me: PPTs on A Visit to the Zoo, or A Shopping Spree. Don’t be surprised if you see a new SWF video from me in the next couple of weeks on my travels last summer through Tibet, Nepal, and India.
Coming soon! (Maybe)
I hope to add a new page to my blog [see trial version here] that features teaching materials: PowerPoints, class handouts, and illustrations. I’ve been thinking of developing my own teaching materials for a long time, but my busy schedule at the moment won’t permit it. Stay tuned for more news.