Sometimes, you get lucky. A planned activity that you hope will be moderately interesting and instructive turns into a runaway success. Here’s one:
Inspired by a recent article in the New York Times that reported that reading Chekhov was the best way to learn to interpret other people’s body language, I was lured into taking the Times’ online quiz to see how good I was at reading visual cues. As it turned out, I had inadvertently latched onto what became a wildly popular vocabulary and speaking activity.
I started by putting students in groups of four and announcing that we were going to have a pop vocabulary quiz. “Please number a piece of paper from 1 to 10, with one paper per group,” I told them. Their groans quickly subsided when I cued up the New York Times wellness quiz from October 3, 2013 entitled, “Can You Read People’s Emotions?”
Under each of more than 30 photos of different people’s eyes, the Times listed four different adjectives. The challenge posed by the Times was to “choose the word that best describes what you think the person depicted was thinking or feeling.” For example, are the eyes depicted “Apologetic,” “Friendly,” Uneasy,” or “Dispirited”? Each of the 30 photos has its own distinct set of adjectives.
Needless to say, the first challenge for the IEP students in my advanced Speaking & Listening class was to understand the adjectives attached to each photo. So as we went along, we detoured to learn the meaning and pronunciation of the adjectives that were confusing to students, stopping along the way to discuss how some of the adjectives related to others (i.e, what’s worse: despondent, despairing or dispirited?)
They then had to argue and reach consensus with members of their group about which adjective to select to best describe the feelings of the person in each photo.
We repeated this effort 10 times, using the first 10 photos in the New York Times quiz. Then, I went back to the beginning and asked the different groups to shout out the adjective they had chosen for each picture. Sometimes the different groups agreed. At other times, the groups disagreed with each other.
Finally, we checked online to see which answer the Times’ editor considered “correct.” The teams added up their points. One group had a perfect 10. Another straggled in with only 4 points. But in fact, there were no losers—everyone learned a lot of great new vocabulary in a way they would not soon forget.