Stereotype is a thought that can be adopted about specific
types of individuals or certain ways of doing things. Sometimes, people tend
to put individuals into classifications, thinking that everyone who
belongs to that group needs to be the same.
I'm sure you know this
exhilarating feeling. You've just
had a lesson and you think, Yeah! That was it! I'd like to share one of those
moments of excitement with you now. I'd like to share something I did with my students the
other day. It hadn't been planned in advance; it emerged at some point of the
lesson, and it sat perfectly with everything we had done before and what we were
to do after. In addition, it was not only about language, but it also helped to raise social awareness.
was to be an ordinary lesson - one of my favourite topics but nothing out of
the ordinary. The thing is I really love teaching adjectives describing personal traits. It's because I believe that one thing that students definitely love is to talk about themselves (and
criticize their peers). We started with what Ss already knew, i.e. I elicited
familiar vocabulary items. Then we added some more, such as patient, honest, rude,
outgoing, easy-going, arrogant, etc. We immediately doubled the input by working
on opposites, prefixes and suffixes.
In the coursebook we use there is an
interesting article about music lovers. This text describes how the kind of
music one listens to is related to their personal traits, e.g. a classical
music lover tends to be serious (what a surprise), an
indie fan is creative but not very gentle and hard-working, etc. (I remember this because it's supposed to be me;
I must have personalized the input). After regular listening and reading
activities I asked Ss what they thought. I didn't have to wait long
before one boy (14-yer-old) reacted: It's the same nonsense as horoscopes - one of Russ Mayne's fan :-), I guess.
wanted to resist, of course, because I wanted to be professional and stick to
my plan, but I couldn't help uttering a single remark: "I like horoscopes".
And it's always the same; people say it's rubbish (horoscopes, Tarot cards,
palm reading, blood types, etc.), but they crave talking about it; they want to
talk about themselves and how they do or don't fit in the category. I
experience this with kids as well with grown-ups. I'm always amused. It's fun.
And as I suspected this kind of entertainment could be great for language learning, I simply gave
it a try.
wrote all the signs on the board. We wrote names of the people in the class next to the corresponding
signs, e.g. Capricorn = Lucy, Aquarius = Jane, etc. This offered lots of extra opportunities to work on the emergent language, such as prepositions, ordinal numbers, etc. We found at least one
person for each sign, except for Libra. A side note; call me crazy but I love
secretly studying a group's dynamics based on when people were born. Mind you,
this is only my personal investigation; I deny any (pseudo)scientific
Anyway, I asked the kids if they knew what stereotype
is. I gave them a few examples, and they immediately came up with some great
ideas. I asked them to choose a person in the class they knew very well and
describe them using as many new vocabulary items as possible. This happened
towards the end of the lesson, so I asked them to think it through and write the
final version as homework.
the next lesson, I asked Ss to erase and substitute the name of the person
they had described with the sign of the Zodiac that person was. I asked Ss to
come to the front of the class, one by one or in groups if more people had chosen the same person to describe, and read out their definitions in the following
Paul A typical Virgo is lazy, friendly
and listens to rap music. Paul
likes They like being around
observed the rest of the class; they were listening closely, especially when
their sign was being described. After each presentation we discussed whether the description was true for other people as well, family members, for example. In the end I said: "Look, what we've done is stereotyping;
we claim that every person that belongs to one category is the same as other
people in that category. We judge that based on what we know about one person. Do you think it's right?" Some interesting ideas popped up.
think it was a valuable lesson because the students had learned lots of useful language
(what they had produced was concrete evidence of that), and as a bonus they understood
what stereotyping means. And the teacher had fun too!
The day before the second lesson, I had told my brother what I was going to do with my students. What he said really amused me: "Oh dear,
how I used to hate those 'creative' lessons when I was at school! What a crap and a waste of time!" A typical
Virgo, I thought. :-)