Sunday, November 23, 2008

Blue Jeans Blues

I like to use the jazz chant titled "The Blue Jeans Blues" by Carolyn Graham as either the opening, or the ending of my lesson about the clothes people wear.

My students would normally tell me that this one's more interesting than the rest of the jazz chants that I've made them recite in the class.

They told me those jazz chants made them sleepy, whereas this one is different. It's a song! A simple, yet an interesting one, just right for my beginner or elementary students.

And I'd like to relate about how I had taken an advantage of the students' liking of this jazz chant to kick start my elementary class one day - as well as the result.

First, we revised some of the nouns related to clothes that we had learned the day before i.e. a pullover, a scarf, gloves, trainers etc. Then, we recalled the adjectives that can go together with those nouns, i.e. tight, loose, comfortable, formal, smart etc.

The students were briefed that they were going to work in small groups of four, and their task was to replace the names of the clothing items in the jazz chants with other clothing items, and use a different adjective rather than blue.

They were also required to include some background sounds/music to their new song like clapping or finger-clicking. They were given 15 minutes for discussions and prepare for a presentation after that.

They seemed to enjoy the planning part it. There were lots of laughters and giggles while they decided on the new items and the new adjectives - and there were more of those when they start practising the new lyrics.

However, when they presented their new blues, the presentations weren't as exciting as I had imagined them to be. Most students were still shy - could be due to their age which range from 18 - 36 years old. At that time, my mixed-nationality students had also been classmates for only three weeks, so I guess they were still not very comfortable with each other.

Of course, there were a few students who tried harder than the rest, but their group mates' non-willingness to cooperate got to them quite fast. So when I asked them whether or not they'd like to present again, everybody refused.

I've tried to incorporate such activities (a bit of TPR) to my immersion classes before and they have failed every time. I used to be under the impression that TPR doesn't work with adult learners since their emotional barriers seem pretty high.

However, last two months, I had a chance to practise a bit of TPR combined with the grammar translation method with two groups(classes) of students in a local university. These students were all Malaysians, and the activity took place some time in their 7th or 8th week together as classmates.

I put them into small groups of four, and prior to the task, I had taught them The Beatles' song "Yesterday" in an attempt to demonstrate the lexical approach of learning English through songs.

In this activity, their task was to translate the song to Malay, their mother-tongue. The result was very encouraging. Not only the translation was good, they sang it with actions that portray the meaning of the song (in an attempt to insert the elements of TPR). The result - the whole class and I were very entertained.

Group discussions in progress as in the content-based approach we normally practice - something that I noticed my USIM students really enjoy doing in the classroom.

So, I guess it's not totally the age barrier that prohibits students from participating in this type of activities, but the level of comfort that they feel being with each other plays an important part. As adult students, the duration for their warming up and bonding with the others seems to be taking up quite some time.

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