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Last week I was in Tokyo having a chat with a computer genius about IBM’s Watson. A few minutes later I was speaking with a Ukrainian in New York who is expanding his business. That evening I was back in Tokyo talking about the differences between corporate culture in Japan compared to the American business atmosphere. I went saw all those people on a Thursday while sitting in my dining room.
Let me just say, I love my job. I can go all over the world, meet new and fascinating people, discuss topics that expand our mutual understanding, and still be able to have dinner with my family. That being said, it is easy to slip into a routine. Most of my students go through the same worksheets the first few times we meet. Anyone working with me will know all about the strange and funny idioms Americans use in our daily lives. (Check out Don’t Want To Be An American Idiom to see what I’m talking about.) They also read some of the same stories I have written to expand vocabulary and held with pronunciation. (Those are on my website.)
No matter what activities we do as teachers, there is always the challenge of guiding a discussion while typing what our students say. Some of our students show up with something on their minds. Those are fun days. Other days, it is like pulling teeth to get them to talk. When we begin working together, I tell my students they have a golden opportunity. I’m a born and raised, all-American boy. I live in the middle of the United States with middle of the road American ideals and values. If they want to know about the stereotypes and which ones are true, ask me! “What would you like to know about Americans? I won’t be offended by any question.” Every one of them stammers and says, “I don’t know what to ask.” Two or three lessons later, each one has a question or two (or ten) for their new American friend.
What do you do when you run out of things to talk about? You go all over the world while staying right at home, again. That is where the art and science of teaching intertwine. While we learn about the students – their cultures, their likes and dislikes, their hopes, their dreams and dreads – we have the opportunity to expand horizons. Here are some of my favorite resources for discussion.
- TED Talks – We have mentioned this before in “5 Alternative Sources of Reading Material for Advanced Learners”. It is a great resource for you since you can watch them at your leisure and expand your knowledge base. I have learned more about drones from TED than I will ever learn from watching the news. Who knew a quadcopter can fly with only three of its propellers working? (Check it out here.)
- BBC World News – BBC World News gives me an outside point-of-view which I can share with my students. It’s also divided up based on regions, so I can find stories for my Japanese students, my Russian students and my Columbian students. Occasionally, something interesting happens in the U.S. they all want to talk about. Those days are easier when it comes to preparation and harder when you have to discuss it.
- CNN and FOX NEWS – I have a love-hate relationship with the news. As an American, I watch CNN and FOX NEWS. I make my own judgements assuming the truth is somewhere in the middle. Did I mention that I am a middle of the road American? These sources both have opposing political perspectives. Depending on your students, you may want to research what is being said by one or both these sources.
- Entertainment Weekly – Sometimes you need something fun and innocuous to talk about. Maybe the new Star Wars movie came out (it just did as of this writing) and you don’t know anything about it (shame on you!), but you have a student who has a Chewbacca costume she is wearing to opening night. (I don’t have a student with a Chewbacca costume. She goes as Princess Leia.) This will help you gain some knowledge about the world of celebrities and sensationalism.
Here is the catch. As teachers, we can’t just pull up an article and say, “Let’s read this together.” Well, we can, but it’s not a good idea most of the time. If we take thirty minutes a week and do a little bit of research, it will give us a gold mine of knowledge to use in conversations with our students AND conversations with others in our lives.
What do you do to have the best conversations? Let us know in the comment section below.