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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 4; Issue 3; May 02


This one's good …

By Carlos Islam, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK

In an average week I receive a dozen or so email messages that have been forwarded from friends and colleagues. They forward these messages because a joke made them laugh or angry, or they were touched or shocked by a story, or there was something in the message they found relevant or incredible. Whatever the reason, the emails engaged them emotionally and they forward them to me because they think I will react in a similar way.

It is this quality of affective engagement that makes the jokes and stories circulated via email a great source for language learning material.

After receiving an email with the subject line 'one liners' for the third time in six months, I started telling my favourite one-liners to friends and then students…

Four fonts walk into a bar.
The barman says,
"Oi-get out! We don't want your type in here."

Two peanuts walk into a bar.
One was a salted.

A jump-lead walks into a bar.
The barman says,
"I'll serve you, but don't start anything."

A woman walks into a bar and asks the barman for a double entendre.
So he gave her one.

A man walks into a pub and goes up to the bar.
"Pint of best," he says to the bar man.
Whilst waiting for his drink, he notices that Vincent
Van Gogh is sitting at one of the tables.
He goes up to him and says,
"Are you Vincent Van Gogh?"
"Yes," the old man replies.
"Do you want a pint?"
"No, ta. I've got one 'ere."

A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption.
One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named 'Amal.'
The other goes to a family in Spain and is named 'Juan.'
Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his mum.
Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she
wished she also had a picture of Amal.
Her husband responds,
"But they are twins. If you've seen Juan, you've seen Amal."

My friends often groan in amusement and enjoy the humour even though they may have heard the jokes before. I'm often interrupted by friends who remember jokes they have read and inevitably a round of jokes follows my one-liners.

Students have fun with the jokes too. A student or two will usually 'get' each of the jokes but almost all students are interested in reading the jokes and working out the humour for themselves. While working out the humour, students frequently make discoveries about the language, especially when encouraged and prompted by the teacher.

Students also like to retell the jokes or stories for the same reason my friends forward the emails in the first place; if they tell the joke or story effectively, it will have a similar affective impact on their classmates/friends as it had on them.

I believe, with careful selection and adaptation, many of the forwarded email messages we receive have the potential for facilitating language learning. I also believe that there is a publishing opportunity for a book containing emailed jokes, stories accompanied by classroom activities that exploit the contents of these emails.

Below are two adapted email jokes that Chris Mares (ex-colleague at the University of Maine) and I have used with our own students. I am proposing to use the jokes and activities below as a format for a recipe style resource book. The book will contain a section specific activities (like this one), a section with generalisable activities designed to affectively engage learners and a section advising teachers on adaptation techniques with the aim of encouraging teachers to create their own materials from forwarded emails.

The Pig Conundrum

Type: funny story
Level: intermediate to advanced
Class time: 15 minutes (activity 1) to 2 hours (all activities)
Preparation: 0 minutes (activities 1-5) or 10minutes (if decide to do activity 7 and copy the story for the students to read)

Two neighbouring Yorkshire farmers, John and John, went to The Farmers Fair in Ilkley, where they both bought a pig. When they got home, John asked John how they would tell who owned which pig as they seemed to be the same size and age.

"Well," said John, "I'll cut off one of my pig's ears. How's that?"

"Fine, I guess," said the other John.

This worked until a couple of weeks later when John stormed into the house.

"John," he said. "Your pig has chewed the ear off my pig. Now we have two pigs with one ear each. How are we going to tell who owns which pig now?"

"Well John," said John. "I'll cut the other ear off my pig. Then we'll have two pigs and only one of them will have an ear."

"Ah there's a good idea," said John.

Again this worked fine until another couple of weeks later when John stormed into the house again.

"John," he said. "Your pig has chewed the other ear off my pig. Now we've got two pigs with no ears. How are we going to tell who owns which pig?"

"Ah this is serious, John," said John. "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll cut the tail off my pig. Then we'll have two pigs with no ears and only one pig with a tail."

"Ah that would be good," says John.

Another couple of weeks went by, and you guessed it, John stormed into the house once more.

"John," shouted John. "Your pig has chewed the tail off my pig and now we have two pigs with no ears and no tails. How are we going to tell them apart?"

"Ah, well, John," says John. "Why don't we just make this simple. How about if you have the black one, and I'll have the white one."

Activity suggestions

  1. Before reading the story, ask students to think of the type of problems farmers might have, especially farmers with animals.
  2. The teacher reads the story stopping at interesting parts to ask student to predict what will happen next or what will the two Johns decide to do now? You can change the context of the story to make the farmers from area in which you are teaching or from your home area to avoid offending your students and/or change the animal from a pig to a local farm animal.
  3. Students draw a cartoon strip of the story with captions.
  4. Students retell the story to a partner.
  5. Students write the story making the two characters friends who buy the same car, backpack, coat …, or tow friends who are dating identical twins.
  6. Read the story and then act it out as dialogue.
  7. Give students a written copy of The Pig Conundrum and ask them to work out rules about the language, for example, direct speech.

A Matter of Perspective

Type: moralistic story
Level: intermediate to advanced
Class time: 20 minutes (activities 1-4) to 2 hours (all activities)
Preparation: none

Chris, an American business consultant was at the pier of a quiet coastal Mexican village when a small boat docked. Inside the boat Mike could see several large yellow fin tuna and a smiling fisherman. Chris complimented the man on his catch and asked how long it took to catch the fish.
"Only a little while," The fisherman said.
"Why didn't you stay out and catch more?" Chris asked.
The fisherman replied that he had enough to support his family's immediate needs. Chris then asked him what he did with the rest of his time.
"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, stroll into the village every evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life."
Chris scoffed.
"Look," he said, I'm a Harvard MBA and I could help you.
You should spend more time fishing and with the profits buy a bigger boat and with the profits from the bigger boat you could by a fleet of boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, and eventually open your own cannery. You would control the product, the processing, and the distribution. You would have to leave here, of course, and move to Mexico City, then LA perhaps."
The fisherman smiled and asked, "But how long would all this take?"
Chris thought briefly and said, "15-20 years."
"But what then?" asked the fisherman.
Chris laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would go public and sell your stock and become very rich. You would make millions."
"Millions … then what?" the fisherman asked, his brow furrowed slightly.
"Then you would retire. Move to a coastal village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play the guitar with your amigos."

Activity suggestions

  1. Tell students they are going to hear a story about an American business person and a Mexican fisherman. Ask your students to describe what they think a typical American business person and a typical Mexican fisherman look like. (You can change the nationalities and places in the story to make it appropriate to your context.)
  2. Ask students to tell you about the business person and fisherman's lifestyles, what they have, what they do, what they want, what's important, etc…
  3. Tell the story.
  4. Ask your students if there were any differences between their opinions and the story they heard.
  5. Ask your students to retell the story.
  6. Ask your students to imagine a conversation between the fisherman and his wife when he goes home and tells her either a) what happened, or b) that they are going to be rich. Ask your students to write the dialogue between the fisherman and his wife or role-play the situation.
  7. Ask your students to write a story about what happens to the fisherman after his conversation with the business person.

If you would like to contribute to the publishing proposal I am suggesting, please send me an email with an adapted email message and activities to C.Islam@lmu.ac.uk or just forward a message that affected you.

For more email jokes and materials look out for the next edition of Folio (vol. 7/1), where I will be reporting on a presentation I did at a MATSDA (the Materials Development Association) conference advocating the use of forwarded emails as language learning materials.

Carlos Islam is a Lecturer in Language Learning and Teaching at Leeds Metropolitan University. He is a teacher, researcher, trainer and materials writer and has been involved in ELT in the UK, USA, Spain and Japan.

Kids say the darnedest things

These are some bizarre things that students have written in their papers. They were posted in 1999 by Geoffrey Astbury.

The future of "I give" is " I take".

A census taker is a man who goes from house to house increasing the population.

A virgin forest is a forest where the hand of man has never set foot.

The general direction of the Alps is straight up.

Most houses in France are made of plaster of Paris.

The people who followed the Lord were called the 12 opossums.

The spinal column is a long bunch of bones. The head sits on the top and you sit on the bottom.

One of the main causes of dust is janitors.

A scout obeys all to whom obedience is due and respects all duly constipated authorities.

One by-product of raising cattle is calves.

The four seasons are salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.

The word trousers is an uncommon noun because it is singular at the top and plural at the bottom.

Syntax is all the money collected at church from sinners.

The blood circulates through the body by flowing down one leg and up the other..

In spring, the salmon swim upstream to spoon.

Iron was discovered because some one smelt it.

A person should take a both once in the summer, but not so often in the winter.

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