Beyond the Wall
Danny Singh, UK
Danny Singh, born and raised in London, but now based in Rome, gives creative English language lessons and teacher training courses all over Italy and abroad. He also offers stimulating monthly presentations on language related issues at Rome’s biggest international bookshop and is visible on web TV www.inmagicartwebtv.eu with a series of interactive English video lessons. He regularly attends Pilgrims TT summer courses as a Guest Speaker. Website: www.laughnlearn.net
The Berlin Wall
Beyond the Wall
The idea for this article came on 9 Nov 2009, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. The media talked about nothing else all day. I thought of the obvious question to ask my students, the classic teacher’s question, What were you doing on 9 Nov 1989 as the Berlin wall came down? Naturally, my mind went back twenty years ago to that fateful day. It was a strange day and indeed period of my life. I had just moved to Italy, was living in a small town called Avezzano, located in the beautiful region of Abruzzo where no-one spoke a word of English and I was trying to get over the cultural shock of having moved there from London.
Roughly a month after I had set foot there, I still had no idea what Italians were talking about, although I did notice that the locals seemed a bit more agitated than usual. I had met a small group of University students who spoke a few words of English, so I proceeded to ask them what all the fuss was about. One of them responded in a monotone voice that the Berlin wall had come down! I remained rooted to the spot, almost paralysed. Had I misunderstood?
The problem was that at that time I lived alone, had no TV, no fixed line phone, no mobile phone and of course, no internet, therefore no way of checking that that the information was correct or indeed following it in the media or press. This is something unimaginable in today’s society, twenty years on.
It was only after going back to the UK for Christmas and watching the highlights of the year on the BBC that I was convinced that the Berlin wall had indeed come down, however, I hadn’t lived the emotions of that historic moment and hence felt that something was missing. What 9 Nov 2009 gave me, was the opportunity to watch all the TV clips in several languages, interviews, videos, photos, reports and articles and I duly read, watched and listened well into the early hours of the night.
What were my students doing on 9 Nov 1989 when the Berlin wall came down? Responses obviously varied according to their ages. Some were too young to understand the significance of it, while others were well aware that some big changes were about to take place all over the world.
We had an interesting discussion on this subject which could have gone in many possible directions. However, at this point, I decided to give it my own direction.
I put forward the following situation. In front of you, there is a large white wall. What do you do? Some students replied that they would turn back and go home, others that they would try hitting it with a hammer, others said they would try climbing it, or going around it. My idea behind this is that the biggest wall or obstacle to reaching our goals is often within our minds, so I was trying to convince my students to go beyond those barriers.
In the end, I told them that if you pushed the wall hard enough, it moved and opened. As you go through the wall, you see a garden. How is your garden? Is it large, small, full of grass, trees, flowers? Is there a pond or a lake? Are there any animals? What sounds can you hear? Birds singing, children playing? What colours can you see? Are you in your garden or are you watching from the outside? What aromas can you smell? Leaves, wood, grass, fresh air?
After stimulating their senses, I got them to describe their personal garden to other members of the group. They enjoyed this activity immensely and it produced a lot of new vocabulary, so I asked them to write it up for homework.
When we met the following week, the details in their written work were so great, that I decided I needed to continue this activity in some way. So I got them to visualise their gardens again, then told them that at the end of the garden, there was a house. How is your house? Is it large or small? How many windows and doors are there? Is there a roof and a chimney? What material is the house made of? What colour is the house? Now go inside the house!
Once again, after stimulating their senses, I let them describe their individual house to each other. This produced even more new vocabulary than the garden exercise and again I gave this as a written homework exercise.
This is essentially a very simple exercise using the process of imaging, getting the students to work with their senses to create their own visions, sounds and aromas which become easily memorable thanks to the personalisation of the activity. The detail in the students’ written work was the proof not only that they had enjoyed the activities, but that they had really learned effectively. What gave me the original idea however, was almost certainly linked to emotional intelligence and emotional memory, the very basis of many of the best ideas.
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.