Hania’s Workshop and the Summer of 2005
Danny Singh, UK and Italy
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 is author of the book, “I was a happy man...then one day I came across Laughter Yoga”. He regularly attends Pilgrims TT summer courses as a Guest Speaker. Website: www.laughnlearn.net
Bombs in London
Summer at Pilgrims
English cricket triumph
Discovering Laughter Yoga
The Madrid experience
There is no such thing as a year in which either everything is rosy, or everything that can go wrong does! Some years are full of bad events, but something positive is always to be found. In the same way, the years which you remember for all the right reasons often contain negative events, but such is the glory or happiness obtained by the success, that the negative situations are too easily forgotten.
2005 is one of those amazing years that when I look back now, I can honestly say was one of the most influential and important in my life. While you are living the moment however, it is not always easy to compare one year with another. It was back in March that my parents had moved from a typical English house with two floors to a newly built ground floor flat. Moving is one of the most dramatic things that we do during our lives. In this case, they had lived in the previous house since 1981 and were moving primarily because of my mother’s terminal illness. It was great to see my mother’s smile back, as she moved around the flat in her wheelchair with the speed of a formula one driver, able to reach each and every corner of the flat with no difficulty whatsoever.
March was also when they both celebrated their birthdays. It had been a highly emotional week and we decided to celebrate in an expensive Thai restaurant in the centre of London, where not only was the food exceptionally good, but the bathroom had one enormous mirror inside it covering every wall space. There was also seating and some beautiful music playing in the background, one of the few times that I have spent so long sitting in a bathroom.
On 7 July, three bombs were detonated in quick succession on London Underground trains across the city and a fourth exploded later on a double-decker bus, resulting in the deaths of fifty-two people, with over seven hundred injured. I was in Rome at the time with my work coming to an end as the summer season approached. As I would be returning to London a week later, as was my habit, I was a little worried to say the least of the situation that I would face, the difficulties in moving around the city, the fear in people’s faces and the overzealous police stopping anyone who looked vaguely suspicious. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that London resisted and fought back. There was a serious police presence, but they seemed calm and relaxed and allowed the public to go about their business.
I had been attending Pilgrims in many guises since the early 1990’s. I had taught on the General English courses, the Business English courses, given workshops and been a Guest Speaker. However, up until that moment, I had never attended a full two-week training course for teachers. The course that I had chosen to follow was called, Skills for training teachers. This was being conducted by Sheelagh Dellagh. It was an extremely interesting and well-presented course, attended by an array of teachers from a good mix of countries, as is often the case at Pilgrims.
I often meet teachers at Pilgrims with whom I keep in contact, sometimes meeting them again and occasionally being invited to their schools or institutions to give some workshops. However, this year was better than most.
This summer will also be remembered by English cricket lovers as one of the most important in history. England were playing a test match series against their old enemy, Australia. It had been a while since England had won a series. Since then, they have beaten Australia several times over, including the summer of 2015. However, that summer had more significance. Apart from being a long time since England had beaten Australia, each individual match was so close, that it went down to literally the last moment and in almost all the matches, it was never clear until that last moment, who would actually win. Hence the tension in each match was high.
I can remember where I was on the last day of each of the matches. One day I was at my parents’ home waiting for the match to finish, so that I could rush to Victoria and get the coach down to Canterbury. As the match took so long to finish, I left somewhat later than planned. On another occasion, I was at my sister’s home and then there was one that I spent in the resources room at Pilgrims watching with several other English people, while non English teachers continued consulting books and wondered what all the ooing and ahing was about.
Unlike the second week of the courses, where teachers are exhausted and there is a rapid reduction in the attendance of afternoon and evening workshops, the first week was full of teachers running around trying to decide which workshops to attend. The very first afternoon workshop on the Monday was of course a question of getting to the classroom as quickly as possible for fear of not finding a chair to sit on. I had chosen to attend a workshop run by Hania Kryszewska (editor of hltmag). I cannot remember the exact title of the workshop; however, it was dealing with activities which get the students up and moving around the classroom.
Naturally enough, she presented a series of interesting activities to do, many of which I often use, but the one I remember most was probably one of the simplest. It involved going to each individual member of the class and finding two things that you had in common, simply by asking “do you..” questions. They could be related to wine, football, coffee, tennis, reading, shoes, or anything that you wanted. Once you had found the two common words, you wrote them down on your piece of paper with the name of that person and then moved on to another person. However, you were not allowed to use the same word more than once. Hence, if you had found that you had football in common with one person, you couldn’t then choose it as a common link with another person. That made it more interesting as there were a lot of us in the classroom, as there often are and we were all panting and breathing heavily by the end of the activity, in our excitement to talk to as many people as possible.
So the idea is simply to get students moving around, talking to each other and finding things in common. There is no necessity to share the information within the group. A simple, but effective activity as you will see and one that I will remember for a long time.
In September, I returned to Rome as I usually do and about two weeks later a friend of mine asked me if I was interested in attending a free presentation on laughter yoga. What the hell was that I asked? Is it some kind of joke? I have always been curious and armed with that curiosity I and my friend attended this presentation. After doing some breathing and laughter exercises, the conductor attempted to explain the benefits of this discipline. After she started talking about curing insomnia and fighting cancer, I became extremely sceptical. A fun activity it may be, but how can you start attributing it with all these benefits?
A month later, I was invited to Madrid and had the opportunity to teach a group of 35 people aged 17-60 for about three hours. These were people who were studying English after work or after college in order to attempt some state exams, which were necessary for them to make progress in their careers, not much to laugh about there. The teacher who had invited me said that I could do whatever I liked with the students, so I decided to do a series of communication activities, which were fun and lively. One of these would be the activity that I had acquired from Hania. However, before that, I wanted to try out the laughter yoga, three or four of those exercises would start them off well.
When the students walked in, they all looked very serious. The body language was clear; they didn’t want to be there! Oh dear! Maybe I shouldn’t do this laughter yoga business and just go straight on with Hania’s activity. No, I would keep a straight face and make an attempt to do this laughter activity. I did four laughter exercises and what followed changed my life forever! Yes they all burst into fits of laughter, when we did the exercises. However, when I asked them to do Hania’s activity, I then saw the effects. As there were 35 people and I had prepared various games and activities that I wanted to fit into the lesson, I decided to stop the activity half-way through. However, when I tried, one girl started shouting, but I still have another 12 people to talk to. The way that the other students looked at me, there was no way I could stop either her or them. The energy in the classroom had completely changed, the students were buzzing and willing to accept anything I could throw at them.
This experience in Madrid made me realise that laughter yoga was indeed a powerful force that could increase students learning capacities. Since then, I have never looked back. I have written four articles on the subject of laughter yoga, all published in Pilgrims hltmag online magazine and visible on my website. I have gone on to write a book, “I was a happy man...then one day I came across laughter yoga” on the subject too. But the proof of the benefits came out in Hania’s activity, that’s why I will never forget it.
By the end of 2005, when I returned to London to spend the Xmas holidays with my parents, London seemed almost back to normal. The underground was working, there were few police around and most of all, the people had spoken, they were not going to sit at home afraid of what a few miserable extremists might possibly do to them. It was then, as I reflected on the year just passed, that I realised the importance of the year 2005 in my life!
Please check the English Language Improvement for Teachers course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the English Language Improvement for Adults course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.