A few weeks ago (OK, in mid-November…I’m posting this far too late!), a friend from the English Teachers’ Association of Berlin and Brandenburg (ELTABB) started a new workshop for advanced learners of English. She called it ‘The English Salon,’ and it was for more confident English speakers to come along in an informal setting, enjoy a glass of wine and watch and discuss a TED Talk. She had found a brilliant location: a little wine shop in the centre of Berlin, where she could set up a screen and speakers and where there was, of course, a lot of wine! I missed the first one for teaching reasons, but I offered to attend the second to provide a British English voice to complement Sherri’s Canadian/American English.
I arrived at about 7.30 and made polite chitchat with the two other students who were there. Sherri had kindly provided some nibbles, and the owner of the wine shop provided us with a rather delightful glass of wine. A few other students were due a little later, so we cracked on!
Sherri first gave an overview of TED Talks, as not all students were familiar with them. There was even a professionally prepared handout, which I thought was a nice idea for students to take away with them, as it explained how they can get the most out of TED Talks.
I personally love teaching lessons with TED Talks, and always find that my students really engage with them. This is part of the reason I wanted to come along to Sherri’s new event – I thought it was a fantastic idea, and I was also curious to see how she teaches using these videos. I normally pre-teach some vocabulary in various different ways when I use them in class, and then do some exercises to further engage students in the topic before watching, but of course the aim of this evening session was for it to be informal and relaxed, so Sherri didn’t take this approach. Instead, we decided which of the 2 TED Talks she’d brought we wanted to watch, and then we started watching!
We watched the well-known talk about whether schools kill creativity by the ‘creativity expert’ Ken Robinson. Of course, education is something almost everyone has experienced and therefore has an opinion about. I hadn’t actually seen this talk before, but I had quickly printed off the script just beforehand and read it on the train to be a little prepared. Ken Robinson is British, and mumbles and makes a lot of very dry, British jokes throughout and I thought Sherri did a great job of stopping the video at these points and making sure the students had understood why everyone in the TED audience was laughing. In fact, the whole act of stopping the video every now and then is something I don’t normally do – I normally play the whole thing once, and that’s normally enough to act as a springboard for students to discuss further afterwards. (And if not, then I always have discussion questions at the ready on bits of paper!)
However, I really liked Sherri’s approach because it broke the talk down nicely, and made sure the atmosphere stayed relaxed, as everyone had time for a little nibble and a sip of their wine in the talking breaks between concentrating on the talk. She actually even skipped some bits, which I thought was a good idea because when I read the transcript I had been surprised at just how many random tangents the speaker went off on!
The meat of the talk provided more than enough fodder for just under 90 minutes of conversation and everyone had contributed over the course of the evening. Between the attendants, we covered the German, North American, British and Greek school systems, so it was really interesting to compare them all – particularly for someone so interested in education like me. We often went off on tangents too, once resulting in a long conversation about Physical Education classes at school! But that’s the real beauty of TED Talks – everyone has something to say!
Overall, I think ‘The English Salon’ is a fantastic idea and one which I hope does continue into the New Year. I hope Sherri doesn’t mind me offering some feedback (in fact, I’ve asked her such, and she said it was fine 🙂 )
- encourage the students to take notes – or at least let them know it’s OK to do so if they wish… Some learners (myself included!) like to write things like new vocabulary down and I think the wine and the nice location may have made them think such ‘school’ behaviour wasn’t acceptable
- have more pointed questions to ask, rather than always relying on reactions to the video – sometimes students do need a little bit of coaxing! (I’m sure Sherri did have these prepared but I just find awkward silences unbearable, so am always keen to fill them as a teacher!)
PS. On a slightly related, and very proud note: my best friend from university recently gave a TEDx Talk on gender stereotypes in science, technology and engineering subjects (STEM) and I thought I’d share it here to further champion her great cause! It’s called ‘Hard Hats and Lab Coats’ and I think it’s great – but then again, I would 😉