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Pushing the Teacher-Talk Envelope
Resourceful ESL instructor finds a way around laryngitis

I just came across this message that I wrote to my MEC colleagues last November 16th during a week when I had laryngitis. I teach oral skills, so at first the thought of teaching just seemed impossible, especially the day when I had near-zero voice. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it shouldn't be a huge problem, and would in fact be less trouble than prepping a sub, so I carried on as described below.

Several of you asked yesterday how I intended to teach OS with no voice. To save my voice today, here's the answer!

Pondering how to explain to a sub what to do with no voice was exhausting just to consider so I decided to do a no-teacher-talk day.

1) I wrote instructions on overheads and had all students read them aloud in chorus before each activity. When they didn't read together, my Saudi student named Bill yelled at them all to "read together please," and we started over, and most of them did as he asked.

2) We were in the language lab, and I had planned for them to take notes on a taped lecture. We did that as planned. Then I had them answer questions from their notes with partners. All instructions were given as in #1 above.

3) I had planned to show them "Jungle 2 Jungle" to go with our level 3 themes of global village, North America, and stereotypes. I usually show it later in the term but decided to move it up for this occasion. They first went through the guessing protocol (guess which name goes with which character; predict what will happen in the movie), with a handout and instructions as per #1 above. Then we watched 15 or 20 min. of the movie.

4) We returned to the classroom where I wrote movie topics on the board and elicited statements from them about what they had seen. At this time I had a little voice with which to get this activity going.

5) Then, as planned, students worked on posters for their "What I Would Like Others To Know About My Country" presentation coming up. Most were working with partners and did not need to talk to me. One student is not using class time to do this as he wants to do extensive research and do a fancier presentation than others are doing, after Thanksgiving. So I sat next to him and invited him to tell me about his country (Egypt) since he wasn't working on his poster. He was very happy to do so. He understood that I had no voice, but really enjoyed telling me a lot of things about Egypt that I hadn't known before.

Today, we'll have a listening quiz, then one or more student presentations, then see a bit more of Jungle 2 Jungle, and finally, students will go to the level 6 speaking poster session in Nolte Center with specific instructions on how to talk to the presenters and report back to me on paper and/or to the class on Monday. All instructions today will be given as in #1 above.

It was interesting yesterday to observe leadership emerge (Bill repeatedly gave instructions to get others on track when they were in their usual 'duh, what do I do' state); to listen closely to student negotiations about what to do, without my usual intervention; and to see the silent students have to take responsibility for their tasks. They learned that if they did nothing, I would try to talk to them and it was painful to listen to, so they began trying to say anything to keep me from talking!!!

Is that more than you wanted to know? As I said, I'd like to save my voice today and not tell this story verbally!

By Margaret A Scheirman, Minnesota English Center
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN