Join us for a weekly English conversation group that will meet on Thursdays from 11:00 AM to 12:00 beginning in March. The cost for each class is $12.50. We will meet at 735 Shelby St., Suite #106, Indianapolis, IN 46203. Class size is limited to five students.
Today we learned about the first Thanksgiving and why the Pilgrims came to the New World. Before we began, I asked everyone what words came to mind when they heard the word, “Thanksgiving.” The words “turkey,” “family,” and “dinner” were called out by our students. I wrote these on the board.
As I told the story of the history of Thanksgiving, I drew pictures on the dry erase board to help illustrate key points I wanted our students to know and remember. In this case, I started with England on the right side of the dry erase board and moved westward, to the New World. New vocabulary was introduced and explained as we progressed through the story. We also paused for a three-minute video about Thanksgiving that included captions.
After sitting for a while, I asked everyone to stand up in a small group. Speaking doesn’t just happen when sitting in a classroom setting, after all. The students took turns sharing a sentence or two about the picture to tell the story in chronological order. I then challenged each student to tell the entire story independently.
Later, the students were given time to write their stories in their notebooks and have their teacher check them. Interestingly, the students repeated common errors when reading their stories aloud despite reading their own (corrected) writing; however, progress was still made. At first, when I asked what came to mind when they heard the word, “Thanksgiving,” only three words came to mind. Now they are able to talk about the history of Thanksgiving. One of the students commented that the story map was helpful for being able to talk about and write about this topic. Overall, I would consider this lesson to be a success!
I recommend taking an improv class for so many reasons, one of which is that some of the exercises can become great springboards for ideas to get students to speak in a group language class. Knowing how to read and write in a language is quite different from speaking it. This is especially true with some Japanese women I have taught. Although their spouses may have opportunities to use English in the workplace, many Japanese women I’ve met tend to befriend other Japanese whose husbands have been assigned to work in the United States. Making American or other English-speaking friends can be tough.
From what I have learned, the Japanese can read and write with a fair amount of clarity; however, forming spoken sentences doesn’t happen without a lot of thought first. Sometimes a series of imperfect sentences can communicate much more than a few perfectly constructed sentences. My goal is to create an environment in which students feel free to try to speak in front of their classmates and me with the understanding that they will be corrected afterwards so that they can ultimately improve and communicate more fluently. This has to be done carefully so the students are not discouraged from speaking at all.
One recent activity that I did with a group of four women was to role play buying a used car. First, I introduced some vocabulary. Next, we listened to a dialogue while reading the script silently, and then the students were paired off. Each person took turns with the role of salesperson and car buyer while reading the script aloud. Afterwards, I modeled how to act out the skit without the script and emphasized that the skit did not have to exactly match the original dialogue. (I chose the most advanced student who was the least shy to help model how to do this.) After we completed the demonstration, I asked the women to work their partner and take turns playing each role without a script. After some practice, it was showtime.
The grand finale was when I had the students speed up the performances from about five minutes to a time limit of three minutes. The result was that the students spoke more naturally, sounded more fluent, and were talking to an actual person while speaking. It wasn’t just reading from a script anymore. It was about interacting.
Improvisation is a part of daily life. We may have patterns that we use in different situations, but ultimately, we think of what we’re going to say depending on whom we are speaking with and what the situation is. Rehearsing is a good idea when stakes are high, but reading from cue cards is not nearly as effective as communicating with the person in front of you.
Our students no longer have reservations about making reservations. We introduced frequently used sentences and phrases. The students learned about frequent mistakes non-native speakers make, and then we practiced making reservations. They also learned the difference between reservations and appointments.
Come join us in Columbus, Indiana for one of our classes. Do you have friends who would like to join you? Let us know!