Sunday, 16 December 2012

The end is nigh…

I’ve never really been one for ‘seasonal’ or ‘topical’ lesson plans, mainly for the reason that I don’t see the point of introducing a bunch of new vocabulary items (like ‘sleigh’, ‘hot cross buns’, ‘bonfire’, ‘cheese-rolling’ or ‘pumpkin lantern’) just so the students can complete a word search or talk about a holiday or special event that they really don’t know that much about anyway.

However, this year I decided to make an exception due to all the completely unnecessary ‘hype’ about December 21st, 2012 and the supposed end of the world allegedly forecast by the Mayans. Early last week, I overheard a few of my students discussing whether or not the end of the world was coming and what would/could/might happen so I thought it would make a nice topic for class and a welcome break from trudging through our colourless coursebook.

The end of the world (as we know it)? - Image by mikelehen

But rather than compile a list of apocalyptic vocab and enter it into an online crossword puzzle maker, I decided to listen to my inner-dogme voice by simply bringing the topic up with my 5th graders and seeing what would happen. This was done on Friday the 14th so I asked them if they knew what was going to happen in exactly one weeks’ time. “The world is finished!” shouted out one boy and it was immediately obvious from the reaction of the class that this was something they wanted to talk about.

I asked them what they had heard about December 21st and whether or not they believed it. They had heard (or made up) all sorts things ranging from a massive meteor storm to the Earth being devastated by huge earthquakes and tsunamis to the Sun exploding. Most of them, however, did not believe it surprising me with their rational and logical explanations such as the lack of any evidence of potential disasters to be found either on Earth or in space.

So far, so good but where could the lesson go from here? As it happens, we had been studying the topic of ‘extreme weather’ previously and had read a (rather dull) text about how to protect yourself during a storm so I suggested they might want to make a list of advice for how to survive the end of the world. One bright little girl then pointed out that in order to do that, we would need to know exactly what to protect ourselves from. And so, the next phase of the lesson began: in groups, make a list of predictions about how the world will end on December 21st and then come up with advice on how best to be prepared for it.

The students the proceeded to become more engaged in an activity than I have seen them at any other point so far this academic year. They started coming up with a whole series of catastrophic events (“first, the electricity will go off, then night will turn to day and everywhere will freeze”) followed with corresponding tips on what to do (“make sure your iPad is fully charged before the electricity goes off” was one of the best ones)! A couple of groups started coming up with ‘survival kits’ or began to design shelters or modern versions of Noah’s Ark to save humanity. This was close to my ideal view of teaching - all I had to do was walk around, feeding in bits of language and making suggestions where needed while the content and ideas all flowed from them.

We then set about presenting our ideas. Some groups went for posters, others for oral presentations and other for videos. Of course, we ran out of lesson time but without the word ‘homework’ ever being mentioned, the kids were already making plans for how to finish their projects off at home.

At best, we had a really good lesson and, even if the worst happens, at least we’ll be prepared!

4 comments:

  1. Hi Dave,
    As it happens, I had a similar lesson with my older students and I used a great video by NASA scientists Why the World Didn't End Yesterday http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QY_Gc1bF8ds.
    It helped to get the discussion going.

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    1. Thanks for the link Baiba. That would go a bit over my 5th graders heads but it seems like a great way in with older/higher-level students. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Sounds like a fun lesson! With a group of enthusiast students I guess you could just let it (and their imaginations) run.
    If I may, a comment about your opening paragraph. Agreed, some vocab is never going to be remembered (once a year I recall the Czech words for holly, mistletoe, ivy, etc.!); but the point is perhaps that in talking about this vocab the students are using a lot of other good vocab and structures.
    On Monday I had a student who recognised a picture of holly, didn't know what it was in English, but gave a good description of it and other things in her garden.
    It's a bit like One Word A Day - http://owad.de/index_en.php4?PHPSESSID=36fcf0bab25eb473f520abc7c37eb97e - the word itself is not so important, but for 5 - 10 minutes a day the student is using English.
    Looking forward to reading more of your blog!
    Regards
    Mark
    http://envenglish.blogspot.cz/

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    1. Hi Mark and thanks for commenting.

      Perhaps I shold have clarified my context a bit more. As I live and work in Turkey, the standard 'festivals' featured in coursebooks are not relevant (Christmas, Easter, etc) which makes it all a bit irrelevant. I have had good lessons discussing Turkish and/or muslim holidays - that makes for a good role-reversal as they teach me about the occassion. :-)

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