I have been teaching English in Granada for about six years. My students are University kids, and a lot of them are just trying to get their official Cambridge exam certificate in order to receive their diploma, since in Spain it is a requirement to graduate, and these students are the tough ones. Class after class, group after group, year after year one can start to feel like a factory pumping out exam-ready students who don’t know how to have a conversation about anything other than the required test vocabulary allows them. Students who only and always respond to “How are you?” with “Fine thanks, and you?”
This is my nightmare.
I’ve always pushed myself as a teacher to find creative ways to engage the students in their language learning journeys. I try to make learning English not just about learning grammar and wrapping their minds around our ludicrous phonetics, but I also try to use English as the messenger for other types of information to open up the classes to broader topics and more thought-provoking conversations.
One day I was pondering some way to get them to practice listening in English that wasn’t watching Friends or Game of Thrones with Spanish subtitles, and then it occurred to me. Ted Talks! I turned on the projector and walked the students through the website, showed them how to search through the innumerable topics available, sift through the playlists and choose a talk. Next I explained that they would listen to the talk without subtitles to try to understand the general context, the main message of the talk. Next, they would watch it again with English subtitles, and then they could read the transcript for a closer study. I told them to take some notes, learn some new words and think about their reactions to the content they had just heard/read. The following day in class they would share a synopsis of the talk and their thoughts about it.
That first Ted Talks class was a raving success. For the next class I decided to give the students a topic and let them choose their talks within that topic. The next day we had a lively conversation about the meaning of happiness, and the kids were about to talk about their ideas confidently now that they had they tools and vocabulary to do so.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate as a photographer in a live Tedx event, the first one in Granada, and it was so inspiring to be in such a creative and community focused environment. The stories of overcoming hardships, alternative lifestyles, the musical performances, all of it was a treat. Granada and its community of driven, curious and artistic people continues to impress me.