Thank you to Kevin for another installment in the Teacher Ideas series - submissions always welcome! This time he reminds us of the importance of student choice in communication.
Four Stories, by Kevin Lathrop
Students use English to say what they like and don’t like, to make choices, that is, to exercise powers of expression, act freely. Students in Saturday Level 4 brought to class stories they rather than someone else had chosen. Groups in turn selected the ones they thought the best. The reasons for the choices matter.
Janet provided the first story. It is from less than ten years ago, when she took her son to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. She went with a friend who has a son close in age to hers. They discovered that at the end of every ride there is a store at which you can buy souvenirs. Realizing this, Janet told her son, “Okay, after each ride, you can buy something for not more than ten dollars.”
“If there were ten or twenty rides, it would be a lot,” Janet explained. “At the time, my son was crazy about dinosaurs, possibly very expensive.”
Sure enough, at the end of the Jurassic Park ride, there were big dinosaurs on sale. To Janet’s surprise, her son and her friend’s son took one look at the large model dinosaur and ran away, scared of the thing. Janet didn’t hesitate. She told her friend, “Run girl! Run! Then we can save money!”
Claudia told the second story. It happened on Thanksgiving Day. She was planning to spend the holiday with family and friends. Her brother had just arrived from Colombia and gotten a good job at a bakery, using his experience as a pastry chef in Colombia. Her brother and coworkers at the bakery offered to cook a turkey for the big dinner, and Claudia and family prepared vegetables, salad and other dishes to accompany the big bird.
Claudia was waiting with the guests for the turkey but her brother didn’t come. Thirty minutes before dinner, she phoned her brother and learned that there had been a problem at the bakery. They had sold all their turkeys, including the one reserved for Claudia’s gathering. She got furious and shouted so loudly at her brother that she thought his boss could hear through the telephone. Her brother said to Claudia, “I’m sorry. I have to choose between you and the customer, and I’m going to choose the customer. I need this job to survive.” Claudia was still angry but understood. The wages in Colombia are much lower than here. Her brother couldn’t afford to lose his job.
A half hour later her brother and friends arrived, carrying a large cooked ham with all the trimmings. Her guests were happy because everyone preferred ham to turkey. Claudia felt bad for a while about getting angry at her brother, but in the end all was harmonious and stomachs were full.
When Miriosi lived in the Dominican Republic, she moved from one house to another. Walking to the new home, she passed a long park with many trees. The location is dangerous because some people use the tree as cover and rob passersby. It was seven o’clock and dark when Miriosi went there. She felt afraid. She saw one man on one side and a second on the other. She tried to run through them, but they ran after her. Miriosi tried to run quickly but found she couldn’t. Fear had paralyzed her. Fortunately, things turned out differently than she had expected. The two running men crossed to the far side of the street. Robbing Miriosi had not been their plan from the beginning! They’d all just happened to be heading in the same direction in a hurry.
Leonor had a very short story. It is only for older people, she said. The adventure happened in her country, Peru. Leonor was thirteen years old and a friend invited her to fish in the river for white salmon. Her friend brought two others, so their group totaled four people. Two of them decided to swim. The river was connected to a small volcano, which had very hot water (that of the river was also fairly warm). Many people swim in it anyway. When the friends had been swimming for twenty minutes, one of them disappeared. He was gone almost all day. His friend went to tell his parents what had happened.
It took the parents six hours to come to the river. The missing friend appeared on the river surface, floating, no longer alive! The next day a volcanologist came and said that the volcano was active. Since that time, swimming has been prohibited in that place. The experience was a surprise for Leonor and her other friends and scary. She wanted to give a gift of fish to her parents. She thought if her mother and father received such a present, they would agree to her studying at an English school, but because of the accident she and friends could not go fishing as they had planned. English has always been important to Leonor and still is!
These stories reflect not only the choices of the group but of the protagonists, those who lived the experiences and have learned to use English to tell them.