Please, don’t get me wrong. In a blog post I wrote about the trap of asking too many questions in the classroom, I make a point in avoiding the many questions we ask, mainly to our teens. However, I know that many educators are now questioning it because, in fact, inquiries in the classroom can lead to connecting ideas and elaborating more on a topic. Right. And I’m not against questions at all. In fact, I pointed out in the blog post that I ask questions, sometimes too many. My point was to focus more on students’ doing the job and not us being frustrated by the lack of elaborated, more in-depths thoughts. Questions are valuable, but with a few twists, we can make them a more powerful element in a task. Take, for example, a lesson I’ll soon be teaching. In the teacher’s guide of the book, you start the lesson by asking question about an image of Times Square to talk about advertisement. Lead-ins and wrap-ups in teachers’ guides are , in many cases, questions.
So, imagine we had this photo and there were questions like, “How do you feel about a place like this? Is it similar to the place you live? Where is it?” Nothing wrong with those questions, and if you have a group of participatory adults, I’m sure you’ll have an effective, interactive start, but, again, my point here is that you are doing the job by asking the questions.
Now, consider starting the same topic by asking students to COMPARE (ACTION VERB) these places, what they see, what called their attention, which one they prefer and the reason for their preferences. It isn’t a big change, right? OK, but here, students are in charge of the task, they will be activating their brains in the comparison being more active in the process, finding the language they need to communicate their thoughts. Then, you can ask them to decide which photo is more similar to the place where they live, moving to a more personal approach.
Another way that we can introduce the topic in a more surprising way is to show students a text (available here) and ask them to PICTURE the scene. They can DESCRIBE or even DRAW it. Then, they COMPARE their thoughts with each other. How are they similar/different?
For this activity, I chose Lebron’s Should I commercial for Nike because of the richness of the text, which makes it easier for descriptions, and also because they might not guess it is an advertisement. So, the surprise element works well for a lead-in.
After eliciting their creative ideas for the text, I’ll let them know it was in fact a commercial, and I’ll ask them to PREDICT what kind of ad it is and who the advertiser is. Then, we will watch the video to check if their predictions were right.
http://pt.englishcentral.com/video/11319/lebron-james-what-should-i-do (there is a whole story behind this ad because it seems it was made as to respond to his Cleveland fans’ uproar when he left Cleveland Cavaliers and moved to the Basketball team Miami Heat).
One more idea to introduce the topic of ads and buying power is to tell a story. I’d do it with Coke’s commercial.
Here’s the setting:
THE SETTING: Every day, thousands of South Asians laborers arrive to Dubai to work for a better future, saying that,
“If working here means my wife, kids and parents can be happy, then I would stay here forever”
“We do this so that our children can be educated. If they can have a better life, then my life will be worthwhile”
“I long to hear their voice every day, even for a couple of minutes. If I could do that, it would make me so happy”
THE PROBLEM: With an average income of $6.00 per day, the workers have to pay up to $0.91/min to call home, making it nearly impossible to connect to their families regularly.
THE TASK: You are the employer of this company in Dubai. How could you alleviate a bit of these workers’ homesickness? How could they connect more often with their family? DESIGN a viable solution to this problem.
They’d work in small groups and come up with a solution through a brainstorming process with post-it notes.
Next, I’d show them Coke’s advertisement:
To wrap up any of these three ideas, I’d ask the students to LIST some of the advertisement strategies companies use to sell their products. They’d compare to the most popular ones available at http://smallbusiness.chron.com/5-common-advertising-techniques-15273.html and would decide which technique was used in the commercials or ads we’ve explored.
For an extension of the activity, students could FIND examples of those ad strategies to share with partners in the following class.
So, questions are still part of the lesson, but they are not the task itself. They are embedded within the task in which students’ active role is a prominent feature. Don’t get me wrong, then. Questions are part of the deal, but they cannot prevail in your lesson plan as the only teaching strategy. Next time, you plan a lesson, have Bloom’s verb chart to help you VISUALIZE how you can make your students more active in the learning process.