|courtesy of adhocactors|
So here's what I did:
I went into the classroom, introduced myself and told them that I was now giving them permission to lie. Not only was I giving them permission, I was going to teach them how to do it. And so I assigned each student a character. The shy young woman in the corner became the 20 year-old oldest brother. The good looking confident man in the middle of the front row became the elderly grandmother. I then broke the class into small groups, and had each group choose a scenario from one of the Units they had already covered in class. And then I told them to put the language books -- Indonesian in this case -- away and start talking to each other, in character, in English, i.e. to role play. Man, were they skeptical. But then the chatter started, and the laughter, and the playfulness and the fun. When I walked around checking on each group, they barely even noticed me hovering there. The room was now filled with energy, and considering that Intro Language classes often meet at 9 am, that's a big change.
After about 20 minutes, I called everyone together and asked each group to say what they had talked about. As they did, I wrote down key words or ideas on the board, things like: falling in love, excitement, making money, going to the post office, restaurants, attraction. Each group ended up with a list of 10 - 15 words or topics, some of which were seemingly quite complex. The final step then was to look at the lists and think about not if, but how they could say each idea in Indonesian. Amazingly, they realised that much of what they had chatted about in English, they could already talk about a bit in their new language. And the others....well, they could say those as well, just by using what they did know creatively. For example, they might not know how to say "I am excited about seeing my friend" but they could say "I am happy because I will soon see my friend." They may not have known how to say "to make money" but they had just learned out to say "to make cookies" and so all they needed was to look up one new word. Simple, yes? Yes, but obvious to them, no.
The assignment of writing a paragraph then changed. It became write a paragraph, but pretend you are not you, but someone else. Write about that family, or that person's trip to the post office. Develop a character and remember the playfulness and creativity you discovered in the classroom. Use that to write your otherwise boring beginning language paragraph.
I was thrilled to see how well this worked. But it also had a secondary benefit. Not only did the students learn how to develop a character, how to "lie", but they were reminded that language is a tool to be used to express what you are already thinking or feeling or imagining. It is not a straight jacket which tells you what to express. It is not something to fear, but something to use as you will. It is flexible. It can be stretched and played with. And the more playing and stretching you do, the more fluent you become.