Monday 1 September 2014

Turkish Session Diary 10: A hunting warm-up game

Ever since I had my first proper WAYK session with Arne I was convinced that its real power is unleashed in its "hunting" form. Its "pushing" form is very effective in itself, where the practitioner is the driving force. But it's when the learners are put in the driving seat and acquire the skill of "pulling" the language from the fluent speaker that it really becomes a supercharged engine of language acquisition.

In subsequent posts (Turkish Session Diaries 6, 7 and 8 and "On the art of hunting language") I pondered the question of how to help learners develop this skill. My attempts at explaining and demonstrating had only had limited success, but this week two things happened that gave me inspiration just in the nick of time.

The first was a Facebook post by Latin teacher Eric Mentges (private link) in which he explained how his "students worked in groups on forming an English set up based on a card they drew" after which "each group presented their set up and the others had to guess what they were going for" and they "then discussed which example ... was most obvious, what other possible interpretations there could be". This sort of thing sounded like just the ticket.

The second was last night when I played the Uno Pictionary card game with some friends. This is different from normal Pictionary in that there are no pens or paper involved, you have a selection of 20-odd small cards with different shapes, stick men, stick houses and so on. By using the cards in ingenious combinations together with a bit of miming you help your team mates to guess the word (see annoying ad). It occurred to me that exactly the same sort of ingenuity is required for language hunting, using limited vocabulary and a limited range of objects to help the fluent speaker provide the needed word.

Today we played a game in English with the following simple rules:

The hunter draws a card with a word on it. To enable the group to guess the word, he must use only the objects in the Set-up or others that are readily available. To begin with he can only use the words "What is this?", but he can reuse words used by the group as they guess. Miming is, of course, encouraged.

The Set-up was three glasses and a bottle of water. The words I started out with in the deck included "empty", "full", "drink", "thirsty", "pour", "spill", "taste" and "share". I first demonstrated and then the learners took turns, with some coaching from me. For the second round I got them to come up with some new words, and they came up with some imaginative options like "top", "tall", "round" and "drop".

Then I pretended not to speak any English, and got them to hunt the same words from me in Turkish. Pretty soon we ran up against some interesting quirks. For example, in Turkish if you describe someone as "big" or "small" you are referring to their age, and we describe tall people as "long" because there is no separate word. Ultimately it served to demonstrate the advantage of contextual, Set-up based learning instead of double-encoding meaning in both a first and a second language.

Of course the main thing was they were finally hunting!

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