Formal Debates

Formal Debates in the EFL Classroom

This is an activity I’ve found useful over the years. It gives sts an opportunity to experiment with different registers and try their hand at less-interactive speaking, so it’s good practice for public speaking and presentations. In larger classes, it also provides a way to get shier sts to have a full turn at speaking. If you try it with your own classes, please let me know how it went in the comments. Here’s how I do it:

The ideal size for teams is about 6 sts, fewer is no problem, but 8 is probably about the maximum. Since each st is going to have an argument, or sub argument, of their own, coming up with more than 6 or 8 of them for a given topic could be quite difficult. This means that for just about any high school class, the debating will have to be done in Continue reading

Forked Speech

Capture

Acclaimed author Javier Marías found plenty of agreement last spring with his opinion piece attacking Madrid’s educational system for offering Natural Science in English. (the column, in Spanish)  Cyberspace and real space buzzed –blazed even –with assenting voices following its publication in El País, just a week before local elections. I know this because Madrid is where I live, and my work here happens to include training teachers of Natural Science in English.

The syncophony (no, the word doesn’t exist) echoed from many respectable corners. This surprised me because the article presents its case without any evidence, or even reasoned argumentation. In fact it strays so far from the tenets of effective persuasive writing that I’m tempted to stick it in the Teaching Writing section [here] as an example of what not to do. It’s all heat no light.

It follows then that many readers came to it with already set opinions about Spain’s bilingual programs. The experiences Continue reading

Chicken Flight (Gapped)

Messing with my students’ heads, [1]_________ it real or [2]_________ it is you’d [3]_________ what I do, I asked classes the following question:

Which of the 5 senses is the greatest threat/enemy to the illusion of time?

The answer, of course, is smell.

It hit me when I was walking [4]_________ Bravo Murillo one night and listening to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse 5 on the Ipod. In the (audio) book, the author seems to milk the metaphor of memory as time travel enough to warrant the category of science fiction. To be [5]________ , he does throw [6]_________ some flying saucers and aliens, though sparsely. Vonnegut, like Frank McCourt and many other writers, puts a high premium on personal experience —on memory —as fodder for fiction. It’s a good way to steer [7]_________ of the great common mound of cliché and rehash, if nothing [8]_________ .

And there is a time travel element to remembering, to be [9]________ . So it was [10]_________ of ironic that it hit me while I was mentally traveling along that particular narrative. My feet, [11]________ , were carrying me toward a Kentucky Fried Chicken, which had won [12]_________ amid several roughly equidistant competitors in a complex calculus of taste, price, healthiness (imagine the competition!) and portability (Metro eating, ideally).

The thing is, I’m walking and listening, minding my own business on a crowded Madrid street, when I must have caught a tiny [13]_________ of that KFC chicken. Instantly, [14]_________ before registering the smell, I was rocketed back to Shattuck and Virginia, in Berkeley, at the age of 8 or 9 –maybe even earlier –and to the KFC that [15]_________ to be there. Though the space/time dimension of this teleportation was keen, overriding it was another feeling. Or rather a feelings mix. All [16]_________ the same micro instant came a layering of feelings from several visits to that KFC, from many times and thus from no particular time. Continue reading

Chicken Flight

Messing with my students’ heads, keeping it real or whatever it is you’d call what I do, I asked classes the following question:

Which of the 5 senses is the greatest threat/enemy to the illusion of time?

The answer, of course, is smell.

It hit me when I was walking down Bravo Murillo one night and listening to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse 5 on the Ipod. In the (audio) book, the author seems to milk the metaphor of memory as time travel enough to warrant the category of science fiction. To be fair, he does throw in some flying saucers and aliens, though sparsely. Vonnegut, like Frank McCourt and many other writers, puts a high premimum on personal experience —on memory —as fodder for fiction. It’s a good way to steer clear of the great common mound of cliché and rehash, if nothing else.

And there is a time travel element to remembering, to be sure. So it was kind of ironic that it hit me while I was mentally traveling along that particular narrative. My feet, meanwhile, were carrying me toward a Kentucky Fried Chicken, which had won out amid several roughly equidistant competitors in a complex calculus of taste, price, healthiness (imagine the competition!) and portability (Metro eating, ideally).

The thing is, I’m walking and listening, minding my own business on a crowded Madrid street, when I must have caught a tiny whiff of that KFC chicken. Instantly, even before registering the smell, I was rocketed back to Shattuck and Virginia, in Berkeley, at the age of 8 or 9 –maybe even earlier –and to the KFC that used to be there. Though the space/time dimension of this teleportation was keen, overriding it was another feeling. Or rather a feelings mix. All in the same micro instant came a layering of feelings from several visits to that KFC, from many times and thus from no particular time. Continue reading

The Virtue of an Open Mind

Growing up in Berkeley in the 60s & 70s, a with-it young dude could hardly point to a more laudable trait than open-mindedness. It was as if all the previous generation (hip oldsters excepted) and their occasional brainwashed offspring had to do was shrug off the square traditions and prejudices that were the root of all evil, and everything would be possible: utopia, the Garden regained, the age of Aquarius.

It’s hard to overstate the power of that open/closed-minded dichotomy, maybe the closest we came to a good vs. evil worldview. As a teen I lofted it up, or back, a couple of generations for consideration. My Kentucky grandmother exclaimed “Your mind is so open, sometimes I worry it’s gonna fall right out!”

I took that as a compliment, as far as I could grasp its metaphorical logic, or, if you will, get my mind around it. I later put it to my step-grandfather on the other side in some context like how good or important it was to find, perhaps at the university, equally open-minded friends. This had probably come to me as a sort of obvious litmus test. Jo, a conservative Republican whose past had led him from a Polish palatial childhood to a professional life in the biology lab, replied that as he saw it the real friends one found were not open-minded, but close-minded in the same way as you.

That sounded wrong, very even, at the time, as I took it to mean a kind of ideological partner in crime, someone sharing the same messed-up prejudices. Reflecting now though, I wonder if he wasn’t onto something.

After all, who is the most open-minded among us? Babies, certainly. But knowledge and experience gradually encroach upon that openness, and who would have it any other way?

Judgmentality gets a bad rap, while judgment is wisdom, just as we may seek to retain some child-like freshness without being childish. To what extent does glorifying open-mindedness amount to exalting intellectual immaturity, a kind of ignorance is bliss bs? To regain the garden then, but knowing what’s what.

The Virtue of an Open Mind (Gapped)

Growing up in Berkeley in the 60s & 70s, a with-it young dude could hardly point ______ a more laudable trait than open-mindedness. It was as if all the previous generation (hip oldsters excepted) and their occasional brainwashed offspring ______ to do was shrug off the square traditions and prejudices that were the ______ of all evil, and everything would be possible: utopia, the Garden regained, the age of Aquarius.

It’s hard to overstate the power of that open/closed-minded dichotomy, maybe the closest we came to a good vs. evil worldview. As a teen I lofted it ______, or back, a couple of generations for consideration. My Kentucky grandmother exclaimed “Your mind is so open, sometimes I worry it’s gonna fall right out!”

I ______ that as a compliment, as far as I could grasp its metaphorical logic, or, if you will, get my mind around it. I later put it to my step-grandfather on the other side in some context like how good or important it was to find, perhaps at the university, equally open-minded friends. This had probably come to me as a sort of obvious litmus test. Jo, a conservative Republican whose past had led him from a Polish palatial childhood to a professional life in the biology lab, replied that ______ he saw it the real friends one found were not open-minded, ______ close-minded in the same way as you.

That sounded wrong, very even, ______ the time, as I took it to mean a kind of ideological partner in crime, someone sharing the same messed-up prejudices. Reflecting now though, I wonder if he wasn’t onto something.

After all, who is the most open-minded ______ us? Babies, certainly. But knowledge and experience gradually encroach ______ that openness, and who would have it any other way?

Judgmentality gets a bad rap, while judgment is wisdom, just as we may seek to retain some child-like freshness without being childish. To what ______ does glorifying open-mindedness amount ______ exalting intellectual immaturity, a kind of ignorance is bliss bs? To regain the garden then, but knowing what’s what.