Thursday, October 25, 2012

English Corner for Dummies: An Ongoing Post

Week by week here in China I plan an English Corner for my freshman students. After my first English Corner (see my post "English Corner, Achtung"), I've made some refinements.

Only two classes participate each week, limiting the number to 90 students. This number is still unwieldy, but better than 270. I've been lucky that for the past two weeks other activities have been taking place at the same time--lectures and such--so that I've had only about 20 students for each English Corner.

As the weeks go by, I will update this post with the activities we do in English Corner. It is my hope that it can help other English teachers in China, and I also welcome comments and new ideas!

Week 1: English Wisdom

Students in groups of five are given a slip of paper on which is written an English saying, such as "It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."  The students first discern the meaning and then discuss how the saying applies to life. Do they agree? Disagree?  What are the pros and cons of heeding this saying? ...and so forth. This is an advanced activity, which turned out to be too difficult for my freshmen, but for advanced students it can be a great way to learn the nuances of the language.

Week 2: Homonyms and Homographs

Students learning English often confuse words that sound the same (or almost the same) but have different meanings, and sometimes different spellings. You can find many examples here:

Students in pairs are given cards with two or more such words on them. They discuss and come up with the definitions and then come back to the teacher and use each of them in a sentence. If you have more time or more advanced students, you can have them write a story or poem using the words.

Week 3: Halloween Culture

Chinese students, when they know about Halloween at all, find it fascinating. They're often not big fans of candy, at least here in Guizhou, where they usually prefer spicy to sweet, but the idea of dressing up in a costume sounds like great fun to them. There are a variety of activities you can do to introduce aspects of the Halloween tradition. All depends on student level, time, and resources.

-Show a short video in English on the history of Halloween. Make sure it's entertaining and has lots of costumes and clips from haunted houses.
-Supplement this English Corner with the showing of a horror film. Don't make it too scary or gory (Michael Meyer? Um, no). The students here are not used to this genre. A good choice would be a classic horror film, a horror spoof, or Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
-Show "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" and then carve pumpkins together. Admittedly, this introduces a made-up Halloween myth that Americans do not actually celebrate, but it's a fun cartoon and segues nicely into pumpkin carving. If you can't get pumpkins, find a place where it's okay to make a mess, or if you don't want to chance a student chopping off his or her finger, you can draw jack-o-lanterns on the chalk board or make them out of construction paper. This is a good activity for making a plan, and giving and receiving directions in English, if you can actually get the students to talk together in English while they're carving the pumpkin.
-If you have a lot of time and resources, have a costume party where each student tells the rest of the class in English why they chose their costume and what it means. This is a great vocabulary builder. If you cannot actually have costume party, the students can imagine what they would dress as.
-The idea of a Halloween Song is a bit of a misnomer, but it can be great practice for pronunciation and quick speaking. Perhaps Monster Mash, or Thriller. We used a song called "Bony Fingers, Bony Toes," which I had never heard before.

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