Robert started his lower-intermediate class by asking “What did you do this weekend?” Several students had typical answers:“I went to a movie”, “I went out with friends”, “I had a party”. One student said “I went to a burning.” “Oh,” said Robert, eyebrows raised, “A barbecue?” The student nodded, looking uncertain. Robert’s mind went into overdrive.
This was a perfect opportunity to make the class more “student-centered” as his TEFL instructors had gone on about. Take a student’s comment and expand on it by eliciting and introducing some new vocabulary connected to barbecues. Robert stared drawing pictures. Beer. A grill. Games. Some meat on a spit. Some of the words the students knew already, some Robert had to teach. He drilled pronunciation , but only after checking meaning.
After all this, the orignal student looked perplexed. He hadn’t been involved in any of the activities highlighted on the board, which Robert found a little unusual, but rationalized that different cultures had different barbecue traditions. This was the UK and these were British barbecue traditions he was teaching.
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It later transpired that “burning” had been a bad translation on the student’s part. In fact, a relative had died and he had attended the cremation ceremony.
Major blooper. It would be ideal if there was a moral to this story, but all that comes to mind is “Be careful if your student says he went to a burning.” (Okay, perhaps there are elements of “If you’re not sure what a student means, ask questions and don’t assume they understand your suggestion.”)