This is a guest blog written by Nick Michelioudakis and it will be included as part of the August ELT Blog carnival on humor. You can read more about the blog carnival and how to participate here (11 more days to submit your blog!). This post covers how English Language Teachers can use different YouTube videos to get students more interested in English. I am sure you'll enjoy it and hopefully get a laugh or two from the videos shown here!
Why use these clips?
This material is not meant to be used like ordinary coursebook material. There is no progression from easier extracts to more difficult ones, nor has there been an attempt to focus on micro-skills in any systematic way. The main purpose of these sketches is to motivate students. Having used extracts from comedies for a number of years, I found them by far the most interesting material for students and I was amazed to find that although virtually everything else has at some time or another been put to use in the EFL classroom, this was not the case with radio and TV comedies.
What can I use this material for?
The fact that most of the sketches are quite short suggests that they can be used as ‘fillers’. Naturally, this is not to say that they cannot be used to achieve other aims. For example they can be used to...
... introduce some topic (‘Comedy for ELT – Relationships 1’)
... demonstrate activities (‘Comedy for ELT – The ‘Yes-No’ Game’).
... practise topic vocabulary (‘Comedy for ELT – Technology’)
... practise functions (‘Comedyfor ELT – Small Talk’)
However, most of the dialogues are so funny that very often all the introduction the teacher needs to make is: ‘Listen to this!’
In what way is this material different?
Compared to what one normally finds in ELT coursebooks, these excerpts are generally more difficult for a number of reasons:
- They are authentic – i.e. not originally meant for the ELT classroom.
- They are scripted, so there is none of the redundancy and repetition which makes real-life speaking somewhat easier to understand.
- The delivery is usually very quick.
- The accents are either ‘strange/funny’ (deliberately) foreign-sounding or exaggerated.
- There are puns and ‘double-entendes’ which make real-time processing harder.
- There is often play with register, or other devices which again make the listener’s task harder – just as even in the L1, it is often difficult to ‘get the joke’, even if one understand all the ‘words’.
It follows from the above, that the teacher’s role is to help the students as much as possible, to make it easier for them to enjoy these extracts. This can be done by:
- Setting the context: explaining what the situation is and who the participants are.
- Supporting students with unknown vocabulary / background knowledge / cultural elements etc.
- Keeping the tasks easy – easier than the students’ level would suggest.
Precisely because the material is fun, it may be that some students (of the ‘unless-it-hurts-it-can’t-be-good’ school of thought) may feel that it is a waste of time. For this reason it is a good idea for the teacher to:
- ‘Sell’ the idea to the students, stressing that if they can understand these dialogues they will have no problem with the – relatively easier – ones in the exams, and
- ‘Link’ the dialogues to the rest of the lesson, so that they are integrated and there is a sense of purpose and continuity (that is the reason why the ‘Theme’ is mentioned in the notes accompanying the clip).
- Don’t give students the punch-line; it spoils the sketch for them as it deprives them of the pleasure of understanding it themselves.
- Don’t play extracts which require too much explanation.
- Unless you know your class / private student really well, don’t take unnecessary risks with ‘dangerous / taboo’ topics (e.g. sex, politics, religion).
- Don’t treat this material like the listening tasks you normally come across in coursebooks. Make it clear to students that you see it as an ‘extra’, a ‘treat’. If they expect it to be special, this will act as a self-fulfilling expectation. Remember: Anything can be ‘schooled’!.
Normally in listening activities it is a good idea to get students to listen to the audio/video clip more than once, with the normal sequence being first listening for gist and then for detail. In the case of these sketches the first task is normally easier than one would expect as focusing too much on it would detract from the students’ enjoyment. Typical activities are T/F Qs, Complete the sentence, Ordering or Straightforward open-ended Qs.
In my experience students want to be able to understand the dialogues as fully as possible, which is why in most cases the second task involves them working with the script (e.g. typically filling-in gaps combined with adding, deleting or changing words).
[NB: The words which are blanked out are not random; in most cases words are deleted so that students have to understand the missing words to ‘get the joke’ or in order to focus their attention on some important preposition, collocation etc. Similarly, when a word is substituted for another, in the vast majority it is a near synonym, so that students will not have to look up the meaning of the original word].
For the students to both enjoy the extracts and derive the maximum benefit from them, I believe it is a good idea to listen to them more than once. In fact (unlike other material) the less challenging their task becomes through repeated listening, the more students enjoy the dialogues as they can appreciate the humour more – their increased confidence enables them to catch things they had previously missed!
As the main aim of the listening activities is to help students to appreciate and enjoy the dialogues, I have not included any follow-up language or skills work so as not to spoil the whole experience for them. However, there are a number of things teachers can do after these listening sessions. Here are some ideas:
- Role play: students may like a particular extract so much, they may want to act it out, or, better still, record their dialogue on audio or even video tape (‘Constable Savage’).
- Parallel writing: students may write a similar dialogue on the same or a related theme (‘Two Recipes’).
- Extension: where a dialogue is part of a story, students may want to continue it, or simply write a paragraph ‘predicting’ what is going to happen next (‘Letters H – Miss P.’) They can then listen to the rest of the sketch/episode to check their predictions.
- Noticing: unless the script-writers have deliberately tried to create a funny effect, the language used perfectly mimics colloquial speech. Indeed, some of the best scripts are not scripted (‘Death’). Therefore it makes sense to occasionally ask students to go through the scripts simply underlining phrases. [NB: Instead of focusing on unknown–extremely rare/low- frequency items, it is best if they look instead for expressions/collocations which they can easily understand, but which they would not have used themselves.]
Last wordsThis is the main idea: You ‘sacrifice’ some of your precious contact time in the hope that the motivational effect will more than make up for it! In a sense, it is a calculated ‘gamble’; there is always a trade-off between quantity and quality. Here the bet is that the amount of exposure the students get, will more than make up for the opportunity cost. If the ‘gamble’ works, you may find that the students who spent 15 minutes in class watching a Rowan Atkinson clip, will then go on to spend another 5 hours at home watching every similar clip they can find! To find out why just watch some of the clips yourself! :)