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Teaching Tips 70

One of the pleasures in life...

Left hand

What have Pat Bonny, Paul Klee, Marilyn Monroe, Oprah Winfrey, Jack the Ripper, Paul McCartney, Nicole Kidman, Bill Clinton got in common?

Yes, they were/are all lefthanded. Not particularly startling you might think but this week we are going to use lefthandedness in some lesson ideas to coincide with Lefthanded Day, which is celebrated on August 13th. Did you know that 10% of the general population is lefthanded, although this is reduced to 0% in Japan, I believe due to the cultural stigma that has been associated with lefthandedness.

Here is a procedure for part of a lesson you might like to use:

1. Put the famous people above on the board & get the students in pairs to come up with possible links.

2. Introduce the idea of Lefthanded Day. (Obviously find out if there are any lefthanded students in the class beforehand & explain there is lesson coming up on it.)
As a bit of fun, tell the students that they should write with the other hand for the remainder of the lesson - for help with righthanded people writing with their left:

3. Ask if the students do anything better with their left rather than with their right hands - if they are righthanded, of course. Give out the quiz to do individually & then discuss the answers.

From The Left-Handers Club:


We all, of course, know in which hand we hold a pen, but how far does this bias extend throughout your body? Are you left-eared? Left eyed? Here is a simple test you can apply to yourself.

1. Imagine the centre of your back is itching. Which hand do you scratch it with?
2. Interlock your fingers. Which thumb is uppermost?
3. Imagine you are applauding. Start clapping your hands. Which hand is uppermost?
4. Wink at an imaginary friend straight in front of you. Which eye does the winking?
5. Put your hands behind your back, one holding the other. Which hand is doing the holding?
6. Someone in front of you is shouting but you cannot hear the words. Cup your ear to hear better. Which ear do you cup?
7. Count to three on your fingers, using the forefinger of the other hand. Which forefinger do you use?
8. Tilt your head over on to one shoulder. Which shoulder does it touch?
9. Fixate a small distant object with your eyes and point directly at it with your forefinger. Now close one eye. Now change eyes. Which eye was open when the fingertip remained in line with the small object? (When the other eye, the non-dominant one, is open and the dominant eye is closed, the finger will appear to move to one side of the object.)
10. Fold your arms. Which forearm is uppermost?

If you have always considered yourself to be right or left-handed you will probably now have discovered that your body is less than total in its devotion to its favoured side. If you are right-handed the chances are that you were not able to be 'right' 10 times.

4. Tell the students some interesting facts about lefthanders:

From The Left-Handers Club:

Most left-handers draw figures facing to the right
There is a high tendency in twins for one to be left-handed
Stuttering and dyslexia occur more often in left-handers (particularly if they are forced to change their writing hand as a child, like King of England George VI).
Left-handers adjust more readily to seeing underwater.
Left-handers excel particularly in tennis, baseball, swimming and fencing
Left-handers usually reach puberty 4 to 5 months after right-handers
4 of the 5 original designers of the Macintosh computer were left-handed
1 in 4 Apollo astronauts were left-handed - 250% more than the normal level.
Left-handers are generally more intelligent, better looking, imaginative and multi-talented than right handers ( based on discussions among members of the Left-Handers Club! :)

5. Students in pairs brainstorm difficulties that lefthanded people might come up against in daily life eg. Desks, machines etc.. Get them to collate a list. Feedback with one list on the board - get a student up to the board to do this, reminding her/him to use the other hand to write with!

6. Reading - below is a rather old article but still useful.
a) Put the title on the board & get the students to predict whylefthanders still feel left out - collate the ideas on the board.
b) Students skim the article to see if any of their ideas from the prediction or the problems mentioned earlier are mentioned. Alternatively, cut up the article into paragraphs & students sequence it as logically as they can, given the genre, & then discuss why they made their decissions, looking at the cohesive features of the text.
c) A more detailed comprehension task, for lower levels?

7. Response to the text - discussion - have they heard of lefthanders being discriminated against eg. in Spain I have heard in the past of school students having their left hand tied behind their backs so they had to use the right. This could lead on to a discussion of other discriminations in society & why they might exist.
There are some interesting results of a questionnaire at The Left-Handers Club site for discussion:

Why left-handers still feel left out

Angelique Chrisafis, Arts correspondent
Guardian, Thursday June 6, 2002

Over the centuries they have been beaten on the knuckles, locked up, ridiculed and prevented from reproducing in case they spawned freaks.

Now left-handers are facing another affront. A psychology professor told the Guardian Hay festival yesterday that society will never stop being biologically and culturally dominated by right-handers at the psychological expense of those who hold their pencil in their left hand.

Chris McManus, a professor of psychology and medical education at University College London, trawled thousands of years of the history of cells and culture - from "left-handed" amino acids, to stone age tool-making practices and Giotto frescos - and found that "right equals good and left equals bad" in common perception.

In his book Right Hand, Left Hand, he noted how expres sions for the word "left" had become terms of abuse in every culture - something that New Labour might already be aware of.

"Our society is organised according to right-handers. Left-handers are the last of the great neglected minorities," said Prof McManus, who is a right-hander with a left-handed mother and daughter.

In Britain around 13% of men and around 11% of women are left-handed, compared with 3% before 1910. Left-handedness coincides with high incidences of genius and creativity, and also autism and dyslexia.

"The one thing that will change the suffering of left-handers is to get engineers to see that for 10% of users, their designs are still back to front. Scissors, microwave doors, power saws and water gauges on the side of kettles are a constant reminder. Psychologically, left-handers still claim to have problems. The social consequences are immense."

Left hand

Here are some links on lefthandedness to follow up for more material & classroom ideas:
Famous lefthanders.
The Left-Handers Club
Left-Handers Club
The Lefthanded Universe.
Lefthanded shops
Even get your own lefthanded piano
For righthanded people learning to write with their left hands.
Lefthanded Liberation Society
Lefthanded links

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There is a tendency for teachers to treat pronunciation work as something different so that when phonology work is carried out in class, the whole lesson is taken up with it. This can result in overload, with phonology being seen as a chore for both students & teachers.

Phonology is extremely important, both receptively & productively, & does need attention in class. There are three areas when this can happen; as it crops up, in awareness activities & as an integrated part of the lessons.

To introduce students to the different aspects of phonology, there have to be activities to get these ideas across. Awareness of stress & tone units, particular sounds, word stress, pitch etc.. are needed so that they can then be integrated. Phonology can crop up at any time in the form of correction, students' questions or an unanticipated feature arising.

It is the integration of the different aspects of phonology that we're going to have a quick look at. Here are a few areas where phonology can easily be integrated systematically & smoothly:

  • vocabulary work -. eliciting the number of syllables & the stress placement, stress rules, spelling rules, the highlighting of sound features eg. schwa, consonant clusters.
  • listening - working on different features either directly from the tape or the script. Students identify tone units & tonic syllables, attitude through pitch, understanding tones, sounds in combination; linking, intrusion, weakening etc...
  • presentation - highlighting phonological features in the target language.
  • controlled practice - drilling - highlighting relevant features first & then beating the stress while carrying out a drill. When they sound boring as they carry out a practice activity, tell them so & encourage them to be more enthusiastic.
  • speaking - monitoring of pronunciation during freer activities with feedback afterwards.
  • dictionary work - word stress & sounds being integrated in any activity that requires a dictionary.
  • written records - encourage them to be complete with the phonological analysis included. Go round & check as they copy from the board, making sure they include everything & that it is accurate.
  • include phonology in progress assessments. As you set goals for work on bigger language areas, set goals for areas of phonology.
  • talk about it & encourage student contributions so that it does become another part of the learning process.

I'm sure there are other areas. Integrating phonology does make the area much more friendly & less daunting for all. To see the index of phonology-elated pages on the site

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One of the pleasures in life...

One of the pleasures in life for me, & many people, is music. In class though, it seems to be generally used as a special activity, & sometimes as a kind of a treat for the students! Seems a bit mean.

So how about integrating it more & more. This can be in the form of using background music when the students are on task. I wouldn't use it for a reading or individual writing tasks as it can distract & concentration lost. For speaking activities, it can help all to become more involved as they won't be heard by others & there is a lot more volume as a result. And ask the students if they like the background music & change to suit.

Another aspect is listening for pleasure in class. We use songs because we like them & we know our students like them but unfortunately as soon as a song is mentioned, the gap fill comes out! There are many activities to use & we'll look at some in a future Tip.

How about simply playing a song & asking the students beforehand to decide if they like it or not as they listen. And then leave it at that. It doesn't have to be linked in to the theme of the lesson but can act as a relaxing change of pace & focus in a movement between stages of the lesson or a cooler at the end. Not any old song will do though. It has to be understandable for the group. If not it will be demotivating - a case of listening to how much they don't understand! It's not as if there is a shortage of songs so if it is comprehensible then it can be fun, relaxing & confidence building.

For the intensive course, try a song every couple of days & for the longer course, a song each week. As well as choosing the songs yourself, consult the students & ask them which they have heard recently that they understood & liked & then play them for the others. Music is one of the pleasures in life, & students are exposed to English songs outside the classroom, so we can make the classroom & learning more pleasurable by incorporating these carefully selected songs.

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