My first week of teaching in the DukeEngage Zhuhai program has been a little daunting, yet rewarding. All the students are excited to begin the class, and many are enthusiastic about participating in the activities. However, I’ve found that some kids are more shy, and will avoid speaking whenever possible. This can be remedied by one of two things: either making the activity so exciting that they’re emboldened to participate (even if to a limited extent), or calling on them directly.
One game that captures the spirit of the first week is Fast English. In this game, a vocabulary term graces the top of the screen, and ten images sit below it. The students shout the number of the image which fits the term at the top. For example, if the term is “snake,” and a picture of a python sits in 7th position, the virtual class will echo with a vigorous, discordant shout of “Seven! Seven! Seven!” Even the shyest of the bunch aren’t afraid to participate in this raucous declaration. It’s fun and it’s wild, a moment of shared triumph between instructor and students. In many ways, this could be considered a victory.
Other instructors have serious qualms with this game, and not without reason. It’s preposterously loud, and interrupts the other lessons which occur simultaneously in the same room. Furthermore, Hsiao-mei says the game doesn’t actually contribute to English learning: the students are just shouting numbers. Both objections are valid, and point to significant shortcomings of Fast English, but they don’t warrant scrapping the “shout-it-out game model” altogether. In my opinion, this was our first and best attempt so far, in creating an activity that is both genuinely fun and encourages full participation. As our teaching strategies evolve over time, I think it is important that we take with us the lessons of Fast English: to seek to promote a lively and spirited class, but to avoid letting this singular goal step on all the other program goals.