Whatever we do at our lessons is absorbed, digested and regurgitated, with varying degrees of success. Since our subject is English and our primary aim is teaching communication in a foreign language, we should never lose sight of that most valuable skill, the Gift of the Gab. Why speaking is still so important in the age of the internet, with the dot.com generation? If we can grab our audience’s attention by the very first phrase we utter, we may have it made for as long as we need. Another consideration comes to mind. Several times in my life, I was faced with the situation when there was a sudden blackout, a power failure. True, today everything is just a click away. It is also true that when there is no electricity, nothing works. What remains is the teacher who can conduct a lesson, deliver a lecture, coordinate a workshop, and make the whole experience worthwhile by using the professional skills at their disposal.
Prior to embarking on any new topic we do research, choose the materials, interpret them, maybe adapt to our class’s age and level, think about the information package critically, and then present our findings to the students.
• RESEARCH. It is said that a literate, educated person today is one who knows how and where to find the information needed. Let us imagine that we want our students to remember the expression which I used in the title, the Gift of the Gab. I first encountered it in a book by Mary Higgins Clark. If we Google it, we get several links. One is a dictionary definition: an ability to speak easily and confidently and to persuade people to do what you want. We may find it in any paper or web dictionary. It is also listed as an idiom. In American English, the expression is “gift of gab” or “the gift of gab”, with zero article in front of the noun “gab”. We may also note that there are some stories and films with this title. Another link will send us to a Wikipedia page, which tells us of the phrase’s origins. Once the students hear the story of Blarney Stone in Ireland and giggle over the ancient tradition of kissing the stone, we may be sure that they will remember the idiom and confidently use it. The informal noun “blarney” also deserves to be researched.
• INTERPRETATION. After a research and choice pattern is established, it is important to consolidate the new skills. Idioms are one of the most fascinating but not the only field of research and interpretation. Choosing the relevant information, learning how to leave the necessary data in and the superfluous one out needs practice. When we Google anything, be it a word, a phrase or an event, we usually get a zillion hits. How can we find the ones we need? Which links are worthy of a click and which aren’t? Most students would know the name Dumbledore as a proper name, which means that if they come across it in an unfamiliar context, and notice that it is written without capitalization, they may be completely thrown. On such an occasion, I used a wonderful article from World Wide Words, an amazing site created by Michael Quinion. My students learned the meaning of Dumbledore, “bumblebee”, or a large bee. It would never have occurred to them to look it up while reading the Harry Potter books or watching the eponymous films.
• CRITICAL THINKING. “We didn’t think”, say Harry Potter and Ron Weasley to Professor McGonagall after an adventure. “Obviously!” she retorts. Ah, how often any teacher exclaims, albeit mentally, “Why don’t they ever think!” Well, because thinking per se, and critical thinking in particular, are skills to be taught, acquired and developed, even honed. Every summer, our town university hangs out a huge placard out front which declares, “We are going to teach you how to think!” All the aspiring new students read it daily when coming in to take their entrance exams. Ambitious? Yes. True? That depends on the teachers, the instructors, the lecturers, and naturally on the students. Some young people will absorb all we can offer, and more; others will memorize a lot but not really develop. Again, if we teachers can think critically, and encourage all the students to do the same, we may achieve good results. If all we are interested in is the students’ ability to repeat what we said, we may be in for a disappointment.
• QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS. Does this word mean the same here as it means there? That is a very useful question to promote the idea of critical thinking, research and interpretation. A very useful activity with any age and level is working with a few common words to show their meanings and usage. HAND is one of the first words all the pupils learn. If we never point out that the noun has many meanings, is used in various idiomatic expressions, and that there is a verb HAND, our students may go on into life blithely using and translating this word as having just one meaning! They may become hopelessly stuck when they encounter any simple phrase, like, “You have to hand it to him/her”, or “Give me a hand”. The younger our pupils are, the more answers we need to provide. As they progress in age and level, it is very important to let them try and find some answers by themselves.
Nina MK, Ph.D.