Ideas from the Guardian: Experiences

Generally I’m not in favour of promoting products or companies in my teaching activities, unless I’m trying to engage my students in critically analysing a subject, for example advertisings effect on children. I’m going to make an exception here though because the Guardian is a news organisation that I think deserves any publicity it gets. I believe it through it’s pursuit of quality investigative journalism, it is actively trying to make the world a better place. In this series, I’m going to share some of the ideas that I get from its online content.

I was lucky enough to see Ken Wilson’s talk Ten Things I Think I Know About Teaching and Learning at IATEFL Brighton 2011. One of his ten things was about integrating material into lessons that is more thought provoking and stimulating for your students than what you find in your average coursebook. He used the following fascinating article as an example:

“I’ve Eaten Only Crisps for the Past 10 Years.”

Here’s an idea for how I would use the article in class.

1) Begin by asking the students to discuss their eating habits with the following questions as prompts:

a) Do you consider yourself to be a healthy eater? Do you think you need to make any improvements in your diet?
b) Do you have any food ‘guilty pleasures’? (Explain if necessary)
c) Is there one food, healthy or unhealthy, that you eat more than any other?

Note: Try to keep the mood light, food can be a serious subject especially if you have students who have or have had difficulties with food in their lives. This can be true of many subjects though, so I wouldn’t hesitate to introduce it.

2) After they’ve finished their discussion, get class feedback by asking students to share some of their perspectives.

3) Tell them they are going to read an article with the headline “I’ve eaten only crisps for the past 10 years.” After making sure they know what crisps are, ask them to predict, with a partner, what kind of person they think this article is about and write down 5 brief facts about them.

4) After 3 or 4 minute discussion, ask one person from each pair to simultaneously write their five predictions on the board. Hopefully you should have a board covered in weird and wonderful descriptive ideas. Ask the students to read each other ideas and call out any similarities between them.

5) Now it’s reading time. This can be done in a number of ways, such as reading the whole article through once or breaking it down by paragraph and discussing it as you go along. You may want to create skimming and scanning activities. You will presumably also want to deal with vocabulary at some point. The most appropriate way depends on the nature of your class, so that’s up to you.

Note: You may want to edit the text to suit your students. The language may need some adjustment for their level or you may want to edit out some of the more challenging content if you think it’s inappropriate. Personally, I would like to keep it as intact as possible in order to make their experience as authentic as possible, but there may be quite understandable reasons why you want to make some changes.

6) After the main reading activities are complete, refer the students back to the board. Ask them to reflect on what they predicted about the subject of the article now they’ve read it. Were they close, or completely wrong? This should be quite fun as they are probably more likely to be wrong then right.

7) It would be interesting to encourage a more serious discussion after. The students could discuss if they think the woman needs medical or psychological help. They could talk about what they would say to her if she was a friend or family member. The tone of this discussion may need to be carefully managed based on the dynamic and sensitivity of your class.

Hopefully the students will have found this unusual story engaging and thought provoking. The woman’s unorthodox story offers them a chance to read an authentic text, encounter a fascinating life and engage critically with some moral and social issues. Much more valuable than what you usually find in a text book, I’m sure you agree.

You can find other similar articles in the Guardian’s Experiences section, from the fun “I Own a Back To The Future Car” to the probably too challenging “My Husband Died On Our Honeymoon”:


2 thoughts on “Ideas from the Guardian: Experiences

  1. James still you're making great efforts in teaching English like you were in TTI. I read the linked article. The procedure remind me of those days with you in TTI a tip and it's very useful. Thanks. This summer I participated in a seminar with Betty “How can we teach reading to students?” That seminar dealt with many methods we already talked and learned in your class. We, me and Betty talked about you and smiled. I believed you're good in Belgium. Me too. Nes cemester started yesterday. I try to enjoy meeting students and teaching and learning with them. I'm happy^^ I hope you're happy,too.

  2. Hi Jini, thanks for your lovely comment. I'm glad my ideas are useful, and if you ever need any more tips or advice, feel free to ask. And next time, you see anyone from TTI, tell them I said hi.

    Have fun this semester with your lucky students!

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