Ken Wilson’s Six ways to create the ‘Wow!’ factor

It’s that time again at Six Things, time for another guest piece. This time we’re joined by none other than Ken Wilson, author of one of my all-time favourite resource books Drama and Improvisation. I’ll quickly pass over to him here as he has quite a bit to share. It’s all worth it, a real ‘wow’ of a post.

There are moments in all our lives when we go ‘Wow!’ Some of us say it out loud. Some of us say ‘Wow!’ quietly to ourselves. Some of us just raise our eyebrows. Emotionally, it amounts to the same thing.

Imagine you bump into a friend called Eric, who started going out with a girl called Susie three months ago. The conversation might go like this:

“Hi, Eric! How are things between you and Susie?”

“Good. We’re getting married next week.”

How would you react to this news? Select your answer from the following choices, or write your own.

a)     Say out loud: “Congratulations!”

Think: “Wow! You’ve only know her for three months!”

b)     Say: “Wow! You’ve only know her for three months!”

Think: “Is she pregnant?”

c)     Say: “Is she pregnant?”

Think: “Have I got time for a coffee before I start work?”

If the answer is (c) and you’re a teacher, you may want to consider finding another job – maybe as a police interrogator.

Eric’s announcement of his impending nuptials was enough to elicit a spoken or thought ‘Wow!” in examples (a) and (b). In other words, the statement had “The Wow Factor”.

Now try to imagine the following scene: an English class full of state-school teenagers who HAVE to be there. They aren’t PLS students who have paid to be there, nor are they students in a multinational class in Cambridge, England or Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The adjective often used to describe such teenagers is ‘bored’, but that isn’t fair. They’re going through a lot of emotional and physical changes in their lives and at this point, they probably haven’t realised the ‘importance’ of any of the subjects they are being taught. So telling them that English is important because half the world speaks it is not a motivation to learn.

They’re probably underwhelmed by the material in front of them. Particularly the reading material. Apart from a lack of engagement, there will also be a sizeable percentage of the group for whom the act of reading a dense text is an ordeal.

For these students, at least for a few moments in your lesson, you have to try to create “The Wow Factor”. Make them feel the same emotion as you felt when Eric told you he was marrying Susie.

By the way, I think I’m the first one to talk about The Wow Factor in ELT, so I’m going to trademark it as my own. From now on, I will refer to it as The Wow Factor .

OK, here goes.

Generally speaking, it’s really difficult for course books to provide anything remotely resembling The Wow Factor . It’s therefore something you the teacher have to provide. Or you have to get the student to provide it. The good thing is that if you are the one who provides Wow Factor material, the students will think you’re really cool.

The simplest way to provide Wow Factor reading material is to use ‘Amazing Facts’. So before I suggest six ways to use them, here are some examples of ‘Amazing Facts’ which may be useful in one or more of the following activities.

  1. A cockroach can live several weeks with its head cut off.
  2. Your heart beats over 100,000 times a day.
  3. Coca-Cola would be green if they didn’t add colouring to it.
  4. Worldwide, more people are killed each year by bees than by snakes.
  5. The longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds.
  6. You’re born with 300 bones in your body. By the time you reach adulthood, you only have 206.
  7. A quarter of the bones in your body are in your feet.
  8. More people are killed by donkeys annually than are killed in plane crashes.
  9. A chicken with red earlobes will produce brown eggs, and a chicken with white earlobes will produce white eggs.
  10. In the course of an average lifetime you will eat about a hundred insects in your sleep, including ten spiders.

Now! Six ways to create The Wow Factor in your classroom.

1      Put Wow! facts on the wall around the room.

Before class one day, put some ‘facts’ on the wall. If you want them to  be noticed by the students when they come in, put them in big letters on coloured card.

But it works just as well if they DON’T read them when they first come in. At a certain (quiet) point in the lesson, ask the students to walk round the room and read the facts on the wall. The students do this, and when they sit down, you say: “Can you now write down the facts, please?” They will look daggers at you for asking them to do this, because you didn’t tell them that part of the task when they first walked round the room.

When they’ve written what they can remember, you can ask: “Would you like another chance to look at the facts?”

Their faces will light up with smiles and they will nod their heads. This time, they will read the facts more carefully, and will be able to write down the things they forgot when they sit down. You can give them a third chance, if you like.

There is also the chance you might see a raised eyebrow or two while they’re walking around and reading – the nearest you’re going to get to a ‘Wow!’ from most teenagers.

2      Wow! facts before you start using a new course book.

With a new class and a new course book, I like to do this: take 10 topics from the Contents page of the new book and write them on the board. It might look like this:

What do you know about …

  • great white sharks?
  • American prisons?
  • meeting people online?
  • Julius Caesar?
  • Heath Ledger?
  • megacities?
  • Ian Fleming?
  • the Amazon rainforests?
  • Australia?
  • healthy eating?

Now ask the class if they know anything about any of the topics. They will say ‘No’ of course, because they think they will have to stand up and say something. Tell them that they don’t have to say anything, they just have to write something down. Ask them to write a fact about one of the topics on a piece of paper.

Now ask the students to mingle and read other people’s facts. Finally, ask them if any of the other facts made them go ‘Wow!’

3      Wow! facts warmer

Go online to find some Wow! facts about the topic of the next unit in the book. It is almost certain that there are facts about the topic that you can find online that will impress your students. All you have to do is google the topic + amazing facts. I just did it with the first topic on my list above, great white sharks, and I found this:

The great white is the largest shark. But a relative of the great white that lived 65 million years ago, Procarcharodon megaladon, was 13 metres long! It was big enough to hunt and kill whales.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s probably more interesting than the material in the book. If you can get a modest ‘Wow!’ from the students, they may find the reading text a little more interesting.

4      Students bring their own Wow! facts. (Google homework)

This is basically the same as (3) but the students do the work. Simply give them the topic of the next unit in the book and tell them to bring a ‘Wow!’ fact to the next class. They can of course look up the facts on websites in their own language, but they must write them down in English.

5      Wow! Gap exercise

Find some Wow! facts and ask the student to try to fill in the missing words.

Here are some examples.

1     A Boeing 747’s wingspan is longer than ________________
(a historic event in the history of aviation)

2     Walt Disney was afraid of _______

3     More than 50% of the people in the world have never ____________

4     It is physically impossible for pigs to ______________

5     In Saratoga, Florida it is illegal to sing while wearing _____.

Do you know the answers? I will send them to Lindsay in a week or so!!

6      Wow! True or False

Finally, do one of the above activities, but add one or two untrue ‘Wow!’ facts. Student have to work out which one/s they thing is/are false.

So how and WHERE do we find Wow Factor material? Very simple, just google Amazing Facts, and you have more Wow! material than you could wish for. And if you want material about a specific topic, do as I did and google Amazing facts + the topic.

Happy Wowing!

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 3:17 pm  Comments (25)  
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