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  • Writer's picturePippa

Classroom comic relief

For the people reading this who know me, they also know that I like to laugh. A long time ago when I was learning how to teach English, I had a trainer who frequently reminded us to “make it memorable”. In other words, it was likely that students would remember a grammar point or a new phrase if you showed them an unusual photo, taught them some relevant street slang or perfected a soft-shoe dance routine. That said, often it’s the students with their comments and asides who make classrooms memorable for me.

I was reminding my literacy class of one pronunciation for “ow” and put a short list of words they knew on the whiteboard….now, cow, down, how, wow. After we went through the list, I pointed to “ow”, slapped my arm and cried “Ow!” and then got the students to repeat the words as I kept hitting my arm. Then I asked if they said “Ow!” or something else in their respective languages and so we went round the room finding out what they exclaimed if they suddenly stubbed a toe. Finished with that I pointed at “cow” ,mimed horns and did my best imitation of a mooing cow. Well, they cracked up and when the laughter stopped I asked each of them what cows said in their languages. H’s dad is a farmer in Afghanistan and H used to help with the animals. H knows cows better than I do and you would have thought a cow was in the classroom when H bellowed out his version of a cow mooing in Farsi. When we’d recovered from the laughter, we switched to dogs and goats. They thought “Woof, woof” was hysterical. As the students were leaving at the end of the lesson, one of them came to me and thanked me for making her laugh. I said that they’d all helped make the classroom fun that day.

Still on the subject of sound effects, I discovered while we revised geographical terminology that P does a great imitation of a swamp. I asked the students if they could explain what a swamp was and some replied with that sucking sound that we all make when describing quicksand. Then P. commented that you had to be careful around swamps and the best way to check for the presence of a swamp was to throw a stone. She mimed throwing a stone accompanied by a gurgling glub that made us believe there really was a swamp in the far corner of the classroom. Of course, we asked for a repeat.

In the lead-in to a reading comprehension in another group, I was concerned that the students were not going to relate much to hotel rooms that cost $150 a night, continental breakfasts and impressive urban views. I began by pointing out that not everybody had money to go on expensive holidays and then A. chimed in with a comment about the fanciest hotel in Kabul. I don’t know if he’s been to the hotel or if his remarks were based on something he’s heard but I let him continue describing a fancy hotel room complete with a widescreen smart TV, fast Wifi and a fridge with cold drinks. Oh and the view was of a wonderful park. After you check-in, you go out for a walk in the park across the street then to a restaurant and finally back to the hotel where you spend the rest of your stay watching Bollywood movies, playing video games and sipping drinks from the fridge. It was a great review real or imagined.

Later in that same class, M announced that he was going to have four wives. I looked over at A whose faith also allows him up to four wives and asked if he planned a similar future. No, you need a lot of money. I suggested he needed his money for expensive hotel rooms. Ha ha. Back to M who boasted that each wife would be a different nationality until S, a feisty feminist from west Africa, attempted to silence him by saying nobody would want to marry him anyway with those old-fashioned attitudes. M didn’t care. The football team he plays for in Athens won the championship at a recent tournament and as he showed off his gold medal I got the feeling that he’s already mapping out his life and maybe he really will be able to support four wives.

And then there were the cans of pop and the mullah. In the literacy group, we’ve been working on “magic e” understanding how a short vowel sound becomes a long vowel sound when you add “e” to a one syllable word….you remember, mat becomes mate, sit becomes site and pop becomes pope. After the class sounded out “pop”, I showed photos of cans of Coke and Pepsi and told them that was pop. H, the student who moos, started laughing. When I asked him why, he said something about Farsi and a mullah, pointed at the picture, repeated pop and laughed some more. Laughter is contagious but I still didn’t understand what was so funny. I turned back to the board pointing at the word “pope” and then it hit me. I reached for my phone to consult Professor Google and found a photo of Pope Francis. Pope as mullah and then pop? I handed my phone to H and asked “Who is this?” and he beamed as he exclaimed “Yes, yes! Pop, pop!”

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