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What Do You See?

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What Do You See?

Photo © Michael Luger

As I wrote in Befriending the Beamer, I love me a lesson with an overhead projector. Since about Day 1 of teaching, when I discovered that foreign people automatically assume I am cool just because I used to live in New York City (sweet ignorance!), I have loved bringing in photos of the New York, and my hometown, so I can tell the students all about America.

I tell them all kinds of things, about the neighborhoods of Manhattan, the bagel toppings, the types of houses, the modes of transportation… They left the classroom with their heads stuffed full of info.

But then a few weeks ago a (non-teacher!) friend suggested that I show them a photo and ask them what they see.

Ask them?


I gathered some photos of seemingly simple scenes (all photographed by my amazing husband in Washington, D.C.) and showed them to a few different groups, from teenagers to nearly fluent adults. The output was incredible.

Take this photo. In my previous slide shows I would have narrated, “This is Arlington Cemetery,” and moved on. Enthralling. But I asked my students to list at least 10 things they could see. When they ran out of things they could list colors, shapes, dimensions, emotions.

Photo © Michael Luger

What did they see?

Shadows. White. Grey. A wall (hey, I didn’t see that!). Horizontal lines. A forest in the distance. Rows. Symmetry. Equality. Death. Sadness. Solitude. Soldiers. Marching. War. Peace. Death. Heaven.

I couldn’t write fast enough, filling the board with words.

Photo © Michael Luger

For this photo, at first it seems like the only logical response is “chairs!” but instead I got:


It was fascinating in each group to observe how the longer they looked at the photo, the closer they came to putting it in the right context. It went from “chairs” to “auditorium,” until someone detected the tiny blades of grass between the legs of the folding chairs. Outdoors. A wedding — no, too many people, and no aisle. A speech. Somebody famous is speaking. The Pope! With plastic folding chairs? The president. No… (Hint: it’s once a year.)

Well, I won’t give it away, but if you look long enough, perhaps you’ll see for yourself.


Befriending the Beamer

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Ah, Projector Day!

At most of the schools and companies I’ve taught at, the projector (or “Beamer” as German-speakers, and now I, forgetting it has a real English word, call it) is the Holy Grail of lesson planning. It is difficult to find (Does the school own one? Can I reserve it? Where is the sign-up sheet?) and nearly impossible to use (Are the right cables there? Do the cables fit my laptop? Is there a school laptop that works? Is the internet blocked in the building? Does the sound work) but if you persevere, you will be most rewarded.

However, the more experience I get (and I assure you, I am not pretending to be any sort of pedagogical expert, having a sum of zero hours of pedagogical training behind me; just trial and error, as my students can attest), the shorter my viewings become. At first it was full 90-minute films (with discussion questions, of course!), then 20-minute TV clips (note: intermediate students don’t really get jokes in the dialogue, but they LOVE seeing people fall down), and now a minute-long YouTube clip can spark enough conversation to last an entire period. Here are some of my favorite places to find good materials.

1), for example, is brilliant. I use the Super Chill Orangutan lesson as often as possible to review the different tenses. The best part is, there is no English at all used in the film. Just a soundtrack to a short clip showing an orangutan leaving his apartment to go to an audition, just like a regular aspiring actor in LA. Then the students have to use their own language (I suppose it’s easier to focus if they aren’t distracted by the dialogue) to narrate what he is doing: he is getting on the bus, he is sending a text message, etc. And watching an orangutan mail a letter is WAY better than repeating for the 10th time, “Sally IS MAILING a letter to John.”

2) Lessonstream got me thinking that any video that shows a lot of action (rather than dialogue) can be used for building vocabulary or reviewing tenses. Mr. Bean is a great example, or Monty Python (in fact, it’s probably better to show these clips with the sound off, as even I can’t explain all the British slang…). This Monty Python sketch is full of all those annoying verbs we use all the time but nobody bothers to teach you in class, like “reach” and “lean over” and “bounce”.

3) I have only used twice in a C1/C2 TOEFL preparation class, but the class loved it both times. We watched this talk and, though I had prepared questions for the entire thing, we could have spent an hour on the first three questions. After listening to several combined hours of “lectures” on the TOEFL preparation CD (some of which are really interesting, it’s true, but still they just feel so fake!) it was so refreshing for me and the students to listen to something equally challenging but at least real. The subtitles offered in several languages and interactive transcripts make them ideal for students to use at home. (Or so I think. I have yet to hear of anyone who has taken my advice and played one while cooking dinner.)

But I feel like I’m just a beginner in the world of technology. What other kinds of clips do you use, and how do you use them? I would love any feedback from students or teachers, though I find some of the best ideas come from those who have nothing to do with the education profession!