THE WEIRD WEEKEND.
Nina MK, Ph.D,
This neat little sign presents several avenues of exploration, and thus at least three different approaches to the lesson.
• Pronunciation Practice. Why? Because there is a mystery which I have not managed to fathom in all my years of EL teaching! When confronted with the simplest phrases like “very well”, many Russian learners would produce either “wery well” or “very vell”. Considering that neither consonant is to be found in the native language, it is impossible to explain why this happens. Many people would say “wisit” instead of “visit”, and “velcome” instead of “welcome”, et cetera. I collect word combinations for these two sounds and offer them to my audiences for practice, or warm-ups, or even make a short pause in the middle of a lesson or lecture to illustrate it again and again. The younger your pupils are, the easier it is to teach them how to pronounce anything correctly. It is very hard to make EL teachers change their way of speaking! Time and again at a professional development course, I would draw attention to these consonants whenever I hear someone mispronounce them. The best way to achieve success is probably recording people, and then having them listen to themselves speak, but this method should be exercised with caution. Quite a number of teachers are very sure of themselves, and they do not like having their mistakes noticed. Those who are not so sure may be devastated when told that they make mistakes. Children of any age are curious by nature. Teenagers enjoy anything new; they love having their speech recorded, listen to the results, and laugh uproariously at each other’s blunders. We can give them a lot of word combinations to practice with, like wyvern wing, world wide web, verbal words, and very weird weekend!
• VOCABULARY PRACTICE. Amazing but true: weird is a word which is not included into most school textbooks; thus it is not a part of the active vocabulary of a teacher or student. Quite often, my colleagues would ask me at a lecture or seminar if it is “an Americanism”. Actually it is listed as “Informal” in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, meaning “very strange or unusual, difficult to explain”. Roget’s Thesaurus explains it as “spectral”, “mystic”, “spell”. This interpretation is famously used by Shakespeare in “Macbeth”, where the Three Witches are known as the Weird Sisters. In fact, they are called “witches” once, but “weird” six times. The old meaning of the word is connected to Fate; weird then meant fateful, or mystical. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Synonyms lists “eerie, uncanny, fantastic” among the meanings. This short synopsis shows that one adjective may be a nice subject for a student conference report or for a brief analysis at a lesson. It may be approached and investigated from the point of view of its historical changes, mystic to strange, or as a representative of various registers and styles. If you discover that the only word your senior pupils produce to describe something odd is “strange”, you may wish to enrich their vocabulary. To ensure that they memorize this adjective and use it correctly, tell them that it is popular among modern young people. You may show them a clip from the TV show called “Weird Science”. For a round-up, show the picture again and ask your students what kind of a weekend they would expect with such a sign, fantastic, unusual or strange.
• UNDERSTANDING DIRECTIONS.
It is possible to have a traditional speaking practice/discussion lesson with this funny little picture. When we first show it to the class, we may ask them to brainstorm for ideas. Let us prepare a list of questions:
• Which country is it? Why do you think so?
• Where is one supposed to go?
• What can one expect in such a place?
• Would you follow the sign if you saw it? Why/ why not?
Suggest that students produce more questions. Any answers should be accepted.
To consolidate their skills, ask them to draw their own signs, not necessarily weird ones. Let them exchange the signs and prepare to comment on them in pairs or groups.
Another good exercise with any age/level is asking the audience to give directions to your school, or to any other place in your town. Even teachers find it a bit difficult to continue my first sentence, “When you emerge from the bus, follow the road…” There are no expressions like up or down the street, uptown/downtown, around the corner, first left/second right in my native language. When I am asked whether we say, “We go down to the city/ we go up to the city”, I reply that we say simply, “We go to the city”. Directions which are supposed to include the expressions right-hand and left-hand side are notoriously difficult for a non-native speaker of English.
Depending on the age and level of our students, we may combine all these approaches into one lesson based on a slightly weird visual aid.
Photo taken by @ukelt | courtesy of ELTPics (https://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/9957038893/in/set-72157626599491389)
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