Drug Mule: 1 Star (out of 5)



(a series of pictures from stuff on public transport/spaces around NYC…shoved towards some connection to ELT)

What are some of the most common elements of interesting and ‘cool’ lessons? What aspects of language most often perk up the students? What types of topics make lessons feel like experiences?

I think today’s #ELTontheMTA submission suggests two of the various answers for those questions. One about language and the other more about overall theme/content/contexts.

1. Idiom.

Everyone easily agrees that idioms are (should I say ‘idiom is’?) one of the more ‘juicy’ bits of language learning/teaching. So why don’t we teach them more often? (Maybe you do!? Lemme know in a comment…!) Why do we sometimes treat them as ‘special’ ‘extra’ bits? Aren’t idioms central to everyday language? Sure, we don’t talk about drug mules very often, but we use so many idioms so often that one would thing a general task category of ‘idiom practice’ could be de regular. Is there not plenty of patterning in the construction of idioms? Seems weird to talk about ‘construction’ re: what we usually and rightly talk about as chunks etc…but are there not patterns like animal metaphors, prepositional/directional/spatial concepts, etc. that make ‘idiom skills’ a productive thing like grammar, etc., not just a ‘cherry on top’? <– that be juicy, literally.

2. Controversy.

There’s the PARSNIPS thing, which Thornbury describes in his ‘T for Taboo’ post as the policy that “imbues ELT books with a certain blandness”. As with the materials, the classes. The teaching. The learning. Controversy is an f-word in ELT (in the classroom, not the staffroom). Surely it’s wise to avoid lessons based on a text about Hancock County’s famous bacon eating contest with groups of Saudi students, etc., etc., but does this wise sensitivity at the extreme sometimes demagnetize and tragically disqualify lesson content and themes for learning that are wonderfully and electrically ‘controversial’…yet hardly tendentious or ‘too much’? Often (in my experience) when lessons have ‘strayed’ unintentionally into the controversial, it’s not at all too much but rather just enough: just enough to make the lesson ‘all stick together’ in ways that so many don’t seem to.

Is the general issue of ‘drugs’ controversial in some way? Yup. Is it something nearly everyone can relate too, has opinions about, and responds emotionally to? Yep. Good stuff then!*

So: idiom – check. Controversy – check.

And that’s #ELTontheMTA pt. 5!

(The show looks like it might be quite funny…another promo poster gives ‘cannibalism’ 3 stars…)

Of course the basic ‘Reviews’ thing is a classroom activity staple (movies, restaurants, etc.). The experimental stretch would be to switch out those tried-and-true standard subjects of review with the unexpected and zany while keeping the traditional format, like this show seems to be doing for comedic effect.

*As a CELTA trainer I would never push trainees to flirt sassily with controversy and truly controversial content. It’s really for teachers who are comfortably in control in the driver’s seat of their classrooms, of course. But at that point – it’s really part of what makes the roads they bring their students down exciting routes. No?

Not to dilute the word/idea TOO far but essentially everything that is ‘interesting’ is necessarily ‘controversial’ in some way or another.

(Agree? Disagree? Partially? Please do take advantage of the neat ‘comment’ feature below…)!

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