Milking Material, part 1: Inferring Context & Meaning
One of the best things you can do with material is milk it for all it’s worth! Too often I’ve seen a teacher’s hardwork go underutilized with regards to all the juicy language available in material they’ve found (or created). We spend so much time preparing our lessons, often from scratch, that it’s a shame not to extract everything possible from it. With this in mind, let’s look at an example of milking material.
Take a look at this script from a great source of current language (and one of my favourite TV shows), The Simpsons. It totals a whopping 02:46 (that’s less than 3 minutes) yet I’m confident at least four different activities covering different skills and target language can be made from it. You can view it here or right click and save it to your computer.
So let me tell you about my first use for this material: critical reading–inferring context and meaning.
There are many little phrases that, without watching the episode or knowing anything about it, we can use to infer things about the context. Give Ss this as a handout and preteach vocabulary that would be necessary for basic comprehension. Let Ss read the dialogue, once alone and then once as a role-play. Ask them basic comprehension questions. Then get into the meaty part of the lesson: put the following questions on the board and have Ss reread the dialogue looking for contextual clues that help them. Encourage Ss to think about and discuss why they think so with their partners.
- Where is the scene taking place?
- Was this an expected or unexpected visit?
- How does Grimes feel about being there?
- Has Grimes ever met Homer’s family before?
- What does Grimes think about Homer’s house?
- How does Homer feel about Grimes’ living situation?
- What are they looking at when Homer talks about Gerald Ford and the Smashing Pumpkins?
- How does Grimes feel about his life compared to Homer’s?
- What’s are the differences between Grimes and Homer (according to Grimes anyway)?
- Who does Grimes say “it was nice meeting you” to?
- What is Homer trying to accomplish during this scene?
- In general, how does Grimes feel about Homer?
Take this up as a class. Ask Ss to justify their ideas using words and phrases from the dialogue. Highlight how we critically read in order to generate context. Alternative to reading, this same exercise could be used as a listening activity if played without the visuals.
How else do you think you could use this material? I’ll show you another suggestion in Part Two.