Monday, March 17, 2014

Teacher Ideas: Themes Of Interest

Thanks to Kevin for another great installment in our Teacher Ideas series. (Submissions welcome!) Read his account of generating interesting themes for his Saturday classes.

Themes Of Interest, by Kevin Lathrop

Students learn the best - quickest, most efficiently - when the content of the class is interesting. Of course, everyone varies in what themes they find of interest. An instructor of mine in graduate school counseled that in the search for effective materials the best resource is students themselves. In my Level 4 Saturday course, I asked students to choose from among their own stories those they found the most interesting and then to identify the themes.  

The theme of Gerardo’s story was help. Gerardo was thirteen. He was in his country, Ecuador. After finishing school, on the way home, at around 1:30pm, he rode a bus. Near his house, he asked the driver to stop the bus, but the driver only slowed it down. Gerardo really wanted to get home, so he jumped off and hurt his leg. His knee was bleeding badly. He was scared. He asked some people to help him, but nobody responded. Gerardo just stood up and kept going to his home. His grandmother was there and took care of his leg. Her treatment was to put salt and water on the wound to clean it. Gerardo still has the scar. Gerardo chose this story to tell because it had happened to him and in that respect was interesting by definition. The group agreed with that assessment.

Sadness is the theme of Rosa’s story. It’s about her nephew’s wife. One evening last year the nephew called to say his wife had gone to the hospital with a headache. In the hospital, the doctor told them that they hadn't found any problem with her head, so they had to take out a piece of her brain for a biopsy, which would be done in a laboratory in another part of the country. After three or four weeks, Rosa’s nephew and his wife received sad news. The doctors said his wife had brain cancer and only six months more to live. She was twenty-seven at the time. 

Rosa’s nephew and his wife had to tell the whole family. They had a ten year old son in Ecuador and decided to have him travel through Mexico to New York so his mother could see him for the last time.  During that period she received chemotherapy and every possible treatment to eradicate the cancer. Exactly six months after the doctor made the diagnosis, Rosa’s nephew’s wife died. Her son arrived fifteen days before that, on his birthday. Now Rosa’s nephew and his son live with Rosa.

The theme of Maria’s story was surprise - with an element of fear. It took place two months ago in her apartment, where she was with her cousin, who was in another room.  From the bed room, Maria heard a loud noise, went to explore and discovered that a picture had fallen down in the living room. Her cousin asked what had happened. Maria said she didn't know. Thirty minutes later, a second picture fell down on the opposite side of the living room. At that moment, Maria and her cousin started to pray. 

Ulkar’s story had the theme of suspense. A few weeks ago, she was waiting for a bus on the street. There was a message on the front of the bus, flashing lights reading, “Emergency. Call the police.” The driver said, “Nothing has happened. You can get in.”  The bus was stopped and everyone on the street asked the driver what was wrong.

When Ulkar got off the bus, other people on the street asked her what was going on. She said, “Nothing happened. I was on that bus.” Finally, the driver pushed the button to turn off the emergency sign. Ulkar noticed that he was laughing. He hadn't been able to operate the “off” switch until then (maybe it was broken). Ulkar found the incident amusing and instructive. She explained that in her country, Azerbaijan, buses don’t give passengers visual warning of danger. Ulkar likes that those here can.

Graduate school was useful, but not nearly as interesting as Saturday Level 4 at the English Language Center.

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