Thursday, June 11, 2009

Magic Hat

Most students love English but not many of them enjoy speaking in English. Based from my observation, their resistance is greatly affected by low self-esteem and lack of vocabulary competence. When I did the 1st ULBS assessment with my students, I noticed that almost all of the students resorted to READING rather than TALKING to me. You know what they did? They stood in front of me and clutched their notes as if they are their lifelines. They would read the notes without lifting their eyes from the clammy papers. No eye contact whatsoever. Even a gentle reminder on eye contact earlier on did nothing. Ziltch. Squinting your eyes or giving funny unsatisfied gestures to these poor creatures did not leave any lasting impact. I guess all they really wanted was to finish it off as soon as possible and stop the butterflies or other pests fluttering in their stomachs.

As much as I find it amusing, I was a bit concerned on this trend. Sigh. I didn't think they get the idea of an oral presentation. I thought asking them to do prepared speech would ease them in talking in public. Now that sure didn't work, missy. What shall I do?

I remembered doing a speaking activity with my former Form 6 students last year and it was a raving success. The students totally loved the activity. Well, the activity is pretty simple. I prepared some papers with a one-word topic written on them and put them in a box. Then, the students take turn to pick a paper and then, have to speak about the topic in front of their classmates for about 3 minutes. Nothing fancy schamancy. Just regular topics such as 'family', 'football' or 'movies'.

I decided to apply the same activity with my Form 3 students. This time, I've change the medium. Instead of using a box, I used my rattan-woven hat. Hence, the name of this activity is The Magic Hat! Well, you know me, I just HAD to give it a fancy name. However, instead of 3 minutes duration, I asked them to make 5 sentences that revolve around the topic since there are 36 students in the class. Wouldn't have enough time to finish it off within two periods.

When the students saw me bringing the hat to their class just now, it automatically piqued their interests. My students are hyperactive in class. They love drama but when it comes to speaking in front of the class, they become as timid as a mouse.

Why do you bring a hat, teacher? Are we having drama session today?

I explained to them what I've in store for them. The usual choral reply would be "Alaaaaaaaaa, so hard, teacher. I cannot speak in front of my friends." Typical reply of my classes. My next strategy was to console them and told them nicely that I would prompt them with questions if they are stumbled for words. I asked Yogeswary to be the first candidate. She shook the hat and scrambled the papers inside and chose a piece of paper. She wasn't sure at first. Then, I praised her when she succeed in stating her first sentence. Then, her confidence soared. She was talking spontaneously. I beamed happily since I succeed in helping my students talk spontaneously. I guess I wasn't prepared for the overall outcome of this activity.

The students LOVED it. Even those weak students were eager to know how the Magic Hat works. They practically hovered around my table to hear what their friends had to say. When I couldn't get a student to talk in front of the class, I was happily surprised when some students volunteered to be next. Some even made a beeline to be next. I never seen anyone so eager to speak and express their feelings in front of public. You rock, 3PM2! My students definitely made my day.

One remarkable thing that I've noticed from this activity is that every student is able to speak in English. I do not believe when any teacher complains my students are so weak, they wouldn't possibly converse in English, you know. All you need is to tap into their interests and know how to motivate them to speak. Giving them mundane and rigid topics would never trigger their primary interests in speaking. For Syafiq, the weakest students in that class, I gave him the topic that he's comfortable the most; Football. Since he is a state football player, I am sure he could say something about his passion. For a student who never speak English all his life, I was proud that he tried to make sentences even if he fumbled through the process.

I know I may not yet be a Guru Cemerlang but deep down inside, I know I tried my very best to teach my students. I want to impart knowledge that is relevant to their real lives. I hope to introduce lessons that would encourage the weak students to use English in their daily lives rather than sit meekly behind their desks because they are too afraid of expressing their feelings in English.