Pizza with my Students

25 Jun

When are we all going to go out for pizza?

This was the question from all of my advanced students almost from Day 1.  Teenagers are persistent and after three months I was eventually worn down to saying ‘yes’  a couple of weeks ago.

And what a revelation!  In the hour and a half (the length of a class) I probably got more English out of them and more of their stories than I had in the last month of classes.  Comfort really is the key (affective filters and all that) but it also helped – not hindered – that the conversations were switching from L1 to L2 depending on which part of the table I was in conversation with.  I placed myself strategically at the middle of the table so as to be accessible to all and then I simply let the conversation happen.

So now I have a conundrum – where does and should L1 fit into a conversation class for a homo-linguistic group of B2/C1 English speakers?  Everyone, including the teacher it must be said, enjoyed this forum of communication far more than the classroom.  Instead of me actively monitoring them, they were checking themselves and asking me for clarification or correction.  If I wasn’t part of one end of the table’s conversation then it would slip back to L1 (as we would naturally expect) but this meant that the conversation continued and nobody got bored and, most importantly, the periods of English conversation during that dinner probably had more value and were of more interest to the learners than a great majority of discussion we’ve had in class.

So this brings about an interesting point for dogmeists – environment and space.  Working around emergent language and a conversation-driven syllabus is great and can be rewarding and sometimes very successful, but how easy is it for our learners (and the teacher for that matter) to handle this approach, a departure from traditional methodology, while still surrounded by the four traditional walls of the classroom.  Here I am considering the hidden curriculum of space and a thought-provoking post that Willy Cardoso wrote a few months ago.

Can I move every class to the pizza parlour?  No – I don’t think my school would cover the cost of all that food!  Would it be a good idea to do this regularly?  Yes.  Would it be a good idea to do it frequently?  Probably not – I feel you get less out of special occasions when they are not special.  Can this ‘success’ be moved back into the classroom without the pizza?  I don’t know.

Thoughts, suggestions, ideas?



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3 responses to “Pizza with my Students

  1. Naomi Epstein

    June 25, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    You raise a lot of points to think about here.
    Could you perhaps imitate the pizza parlour effect by having a day where the classroom is arranged completely differently, a lesson in the yard, a picnic in the park where the students bring the food?

    • Gordon Scruton

      June 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

      Naomi, an interesting idea that I wouldn’t be opposed to trying unfortunately we have no yard and the park is too far away. One of the other issues, which I’m sure I’m not alone in having to deal with, is that I have classes directly before and after this one so logistically such relocation is only really possible outside of normal class time.

      I think the main thing here is that learners are smart and teenagers especially can often spot when you are trying to put bells and whistles onto something they essentially don’t particularly like. The ‘pizza night’ worked well because the idea came from them, they had ownership of it and they had control.

      • Naomi Epstein

        June 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm

        Well, it seems you have your answer in your reply to me! Talk it over with the teens. Share the limitations with them and see if they have suggestions.
        With my teenaged students, last lesson on Fridays is always a game lesson. Same classroom and setting but they look forward to it.
        Teens like being asked their opinion!
        Good luck!


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