dimarts, de novembre 20, 2007

Guessing, constructing and deconstructing stories

It is the second time we’re meeting this week – maybe that’s why at the beginning there’s only a few of us – and Tim starts the lesson showing the class three examples of the didactic unit we had worked on the previous day. These units are from another group and Tim goes through them quickly. We comment on them aloud: they’ve used quite a lot of Internet material, which will surely have a good impact at the students. Everybody agrees that they are clearly very good.

To begin with, the atmosphere suddenly becomes more intimate: a dim light, a picture on the class screen and all of us watching expectantly. We can see a picture of Batman and Robin trying to rescue a man trapped in a building on fire. It looks like a real picture but, actually it is a completely flat drawing painted with chalk on the pavement. It’s just a matter of perspective!

Now Tim focuses on the while reading activities, as they are usually the most difficult to be dealt with. This activity is called “What’s the next word?” The class is divided into two teams. We are shown an extract from a text by Laurie Lee, As I Walked out one Midsummer Morning. The text, which appears on the class screen, stops at one point and we have to guess which word comes next. All the members of the team must agree on the word but only one speaker gives the final answer. We get points if we say the right word, a similar one or at least one which shares the same speech category. Tim advises us to choose a mixture of easier words at the beginning of the text and some more difficult ones at the end. Predicting words turns out to be a really funny, competitive activity.

We move on to another task: “Deconstructing and reconstructing more complex sentences”. We are going to work with real short stories – one-sentence long – that appear in newspapers. Again divided into groups, we are given a different short story each and we have to deconstruct it, that is, taking the original information and transforming it into several sentences, e.g.

“Plans for a romantic dinner went wrong for Cardiff man when he thought his wife’s plastic breast enhancers were chicken fillets and fried them”.

1. There was a man in Cardiff.
2. He wanted to have a romantic dinner.
3. He intended to fry some chicken fillets.
4. He fried his wife’s plastic breast enhancers.

So each group deconstructs its story and then passes it to another group, whose task is to construct the text again. Then each group reads the reconstructed version aloud and the group that deconstructed it previously comments on the changes. Finally Tim reads the original texts and we all have a good laugh, as some of the stories are really funny!

Now we read some more of these stories together and we have to choose one, which will be transformed into a longer story. After some discussion, we finally make our choice, a very good one indeed: The Referee story

“The kick-off in a soccer match at Shawbury, Shropshire, was delayed for 20 minutes until the referee was discovered locked accidentally in the toilet”.

This is going to be a writing task following different stimuli:

1. First it’ll be a written stimulus. Each group writes four questions about what happened before the incident. Then we swap papers and the groups must write the beginning of the story making sure they answer the questions they’ve just been given. Then we swap papers again.
2. Now we are responding to a hearing stimulus: music. The instrumental music that we are going to listen to will inspire us to write the development of the story. It’s a rather frightening, dramatic music and we write the feelings or ideas it suggests. Then we use this information to continue writing.
3. In the final stage, we pass the story again to another group and this time we must follow a visual stimulus. Tim shows us two pictures on the class screen: a plump, smiling man and a rather unusual car. One of these visual elements must be included somehow in the end of our story…

When all the stories have been completed, it’s time to relax and just listen to Tim, who reads them all aloud. We have a great time as the stories turn out to be really funny and Tim, as usual, helps with his amusing mis-en-scène.

It’s time to go, but before leaving tireless Tim proposes a lateral thinking problem in which, again we have to continue guessing. It has to do with Italians, mothers, fathers and secretaries…. It’s late and we are exhausted but, at the end, we manage to beat him!

Lucía Ayuso Palacios