Six ways to exploit Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize in class

I haven’t done a current news item six for a while, and with all the flurry about my last post I’ve been thinking hard of a follow up. I have a new class that has just started, and the other day someone asked me what I thought of Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. We had a bit of a chat, and it got me thinking… I haven’t got anything about Obama on this site, and he is such a current favourite among English teachers. Here then are six ways you could exploit this event in class.

1 Introduce it creatively. Two ways to introduce the topic. 1) write the letters for Obama, peace, nobel all mixed up on the board and ask students to make words with them. Can they find two names with the letters? 2) Write or project the following text on the board and ask students to speculate what it’s about and what the gap could be. This was taken from the official White House blog post by Barack Obama.

Good morning.  Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning.  After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, “Daddy, you won the ______________, and it is Bo’s birthday!”  And then Sasha added, “Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up.”  So it’s good to have kids to keep things in perspective.

2 Use the Press release for text study. If you go to the Nobel Peace Prize website you can see the official press release. It’s a nice short text that begins like this.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples…

Use the whole text for language study. There are several collocations on politics in there, some interesting structures and lots of lexis relating to international relations.

3 Examine the debate. Of course, this nomination and award has not been without its controversy. Many think that it is too premature for Obama to get this prize. Others see it more as encouragement. Some of this debate is raging back and forth on newspaper sites. Check out this opinion column from the Telegraph “Obama winning Peace Prize is absurd” and the responses below to give you a taste. Ask students to read these and then give their own opinion (or the other way around).

4. Teach peace slogans This can lead in nicely to some teaching of famous peace slogans, like “Make Love not War”, “Give Peace a Chance” “Let’s try Preemptive Peace” etc. There is a collection here used by activists to put on signs. If you have access to internet with your students you could get them to make one of these or one of their own into a button, using this nifty little web tool called Cool Text.

Sample peace button I made with CoolText

Sample peace button I made with CoolText

5 Make a peace “glog” (or poster). If you’re working with either young learners, secondary school students or adults who like getting creative you could make a glog. A glog is a poster online, like a single webpage with images, music, text etc. Check out this site to find out more. I’m currently using Glogs with one of my classes, and asking them to make a Nobel Peace Prize glog is an idea I’m thinking of trying out. Of course students can always make a traditional paper poster too, and put them up around the class.

6 Hold your own awards ceremony. After all this you may be a bit “peace-d out”, so use this as a springboard to host your own awards ceremony. You could have categories such as “Most Participation”, “Best Contributions”, “Top Talker” etc. Students cast their nominations by secret ballot, and later on in the year you hold an award ceremony to give out certificates or little candies or something like that. It’s an idea.

Published in: on October 13, 2009 at 6:27 am  Comments (7)  
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Six things to know about Global


The beautiful, intricate astrolabe which we chose for the image on the cover of Global.

OK, now I warned you that you could expect at least ONE post about my upcoming book. Yes, that’s right for those of you who did not know already I am a writer of books for teachers and coursebooks for learners. My new course is called Global and it’s to be published by Macmillan in 2010 and 2011. I’m very excited and proud of it for various reasons, and I’m going to share six of them here.

1 Global Voices. First of all, check out the cool little video embedded below. This is an excerpt from an actual listening we did for the book. Totally unscripted. Totally authentic.

Why am I telling you this? Teachers have been recognizing for some time now that learners need to be exposed to accents from around the world. From the very beginning I wanted to include a strand in the book with authentically recorded audio of various accents from around the globe. It took some time to set up, but we did a great deal of these with students at a language school in the UK and with people on the street. We first recorded the audio, and then I wrote the material (usually it is the other way around, which can result in artificial listening material).

2 Try before you buy. If you go to this site, you can see the film again (or show a friend) and also download a sample unit from the forthcoming book. When I say unit, I mean WHOLE unit, with teaching notes and audio too. Not just a pdf of two pages which doesn’t tell you anything.

Why am I telling you this? In a discussion on Twitter around five months ago, Karenne Sylvester was having a go at ELT books (she sometimes does that, you can see examples here). Anyway, the topic of “try before you buy” came up. I immediately went to the publisher and said “we gotta do this.” It was a pretty major fight to get everyone to agree but finally we did. Now, it’s true that most books have a downloadable sample but they aren’t exactly instantly useable in class – they might be missing the audio or answer key or stuff. We put a whole unit up there, which consists of four completely different main lessons, a functional lesson, a writing lesson, Global voices lesson and study skills activity. It’s from the Pre Intermediate book. You can use any bits of it in class, for free. Enjoy.

3 Moving away from typical topics. The unit you can see there is called Hopes and Fears. It doesn’t feature your typical cosmopolitan, fudgey, middle classy, woman’s magazine topics. There is a lesson on aid workers, on real children’s hopes and fears for the future (including war, death, single mums, poverty etc), on famous dystopias in literature, on Pandora’s box and on An Inconvenient Truth and climate change.

Why am I telling you this? Because I think many coursebooks are guilty of portraying a rather comfortable kind of lifestyle and I wanted to try and do things differently. I also find that coursebooks are sometimes a bit lowbrow. We don’t need to dumb down.

4 No celebrities. There are no film stars, music stars, reality television stars, sports stars or any celebrities at all in this book. Or in the whole course. They have been banned.

Why am I telling you this? It’s kind of linked to point 3 above. Plus I wrote an article for a magazine about how I wanted to try and write material without recourse to celebrity culture so I had to keep my word, right? My feeling is that if celebrities are to be used in class then it’s best for the teacher to bring in something more current and appropriate off the net. They don’t need to be in books.

5 A different design. We went through about a year of wrestling with design to try and make something that looked different from other books.

Why am I telling you this? Too often the coursebooks look the same, all boxy and rigid. I personally love how the designers have made the pages and the text, but that is a personal opinion I’ll admit. Like it or not, at least there is something different about it.

6 A prize. There is a prize for either a Flip Mino video camera or an antique Globe if you sign up for more details. There is of course the option of checking a box if you don’t want to be emailed by Macmillan or have your email shared etc.

Why am I telling you this? I personally wanted to do a post that only focused on certain key elements of the book but since Macmillan were nice enough to offer a prize I thought I’d better mention it. You can find out more here.

So, there you have it. A nice little video you could probably use in class to spark a discussion on reasons for learning English, a set of four or five whole lessons with teacher’s notes and audio, an essay for teachers by a well-known methodologist and a chance to win a prize. All free. Even if you don’t rush out and tell your school to pre-order a million copies 😉

In November there will be more exciting stuff appearing on the Global site, more news about technological elements of the course too which I will definitely want to tell you more about. Until then, it’s back to business as usual here at Six Things. Commercial message over!

Published in: on October 8, 2009 at 7:56 am  Comments (48)  
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Six original topical teaching ideas for October

All right, I fully expect that EVERY teacher has a Halloween lesson prepared so I’m not even going to bother “going there” as they say. No, this is the place for slightly different topical teaching ideas. I call this my “open source” materials writing. Here’s a germ of an idea, you grow it into a full activity or lesson.

1. Teach about dinosaurs! For all you young learner teachers (and hey, why not the adults too?) this month is International Dinosaur Month. Actually, I’m not sure if it is anymore, because the website about it doesn’t seem to have been updated for a few years now. But who cares? It’s a good excuse to do a dinosaur-based lesson. Get children to describe dinosaurs, design their own, compare them or make a story with them. More dinosaur lesson ideas here.

2 Discuss ageism! October 1 was the United Nations International Day of Older Persons. This is a good opportunity to have a class discussion on issues of age or ageism (depending on your class level).  I’ve always found there is lots of mileage in talking about what’s the best age to get married, have children, retire etc. You can find information and potential sources for texts about ageing here.

3 Explore silly science! This month the Ig Nobel prizes are awarded. A parody of the Nobel Prize, the Ig Nobel is awarded to achievements that make people laugh, and then make them think.  One of my favourites was from 2007, an experiment that discovered that hamsters recover more quickly from jetlag when given Viagra. Great stuff for a reading lesson and discussion on science in general perhaps. To see more check out the wikipedia entry.

4 Think big. October 12 marks the ten year anniversary of the  Day of the Six Billion, when the earth’s population reached six billion people. There is an old website here that could provide interesting material on the positive and negative aspects of population growth. Potential also for a short activity on vocabulary of big numbers (eg we say six billion, not six billions).

5. Go Wild. This month the film version of Where the Wild Things are comes out. I don’t expect it will be much good, even if it is directed by Spike Jonze, but the picture book is an American children’s classic.  I think you can find a video version of the picture book on YouTube. Again, this would be a great read-aloud for kids classes if you can get a hold of it.

6. Go Global. This month, a sample of my upcoming book will be released on the net. It’s going to be like a “try before you buy” and will contain several lessons, audio material, teacher’s notes and an essay by a well known methodologist. I’m very happy that Macmillan has agreed to do this, for free, as there is often a shroud of secrecy around upcoming coursebooks. So keep your eyes open for it! I’ll be posting more about this in the next week or two.

Published in: on October 4, 2009 at 9:25 am  Comments (22)  
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