Jeans for Genes (with some teens)

Today I wore jeans to work.  Normally I’m a bit smarter, but it’s 20th September, which means it’s Jeans for Genes Day.

If you’re unfamiliar with it, JfG Day was established to encourage people to ‘dress down’ for a day, paying a few pounds for the privilege, with the proceeds going to Genetic Disorders UK, a charity which “aims to change the world for children with genetic disorders”.

Here’s how I turned that into a topical lesson for my upper-intermediate group (about half of whom are in their mid-late teens, hence the post title) this morning:

1. Warmer – I asked them to guess why I was wearing jeans today.

This was much more entertaining than I’d anticipated.  Their speculations ranged from “you’ve already packed your suitcase for your holiday next week and only have one pair of jeans left”, to “your washing machine might have broken”, to “you might have been burgled by someone with a dress fetish”.

2. Video – two little girls with brittle bone disease

I explained why I was really wearing jeans, first of all; then told the students a bit about Jeans for Genes Day.

I told them we were going to hear first-hand from a child with a genetic disorder, told them a bit about the girls in the video (without giving away too much!), and gave them 5 questions to answer while they watched:

  1. What does it mean to have brittle bones?
  2. Do all the children in the family have this condition?
  3. What are some of the things Tiana’s mother worries about?  (Try to catch at least 3.)
  4. How does the condition affect Star’s legs?
  5. Has Star ever broken her skull?

Here is the video itself:

(I chose this video from a selection of 4-5 minute videos on the Jeans for Genes website.)

After watching it once, the students compared what they’d understood with a partner, before watching it a second and final time.

Between these two views, I checked they understood “fracture”, “careful” and “painful”, all of which occurred in the video.  One or two students had been unsure about “skull”, but their partners cleared this up for them.

Nobody caught everything the first time but in whole-class feedback after two viewings, they had all done quite well.  We also looked briefly at the accent of the people in the video (northern English, which the students were not familiar with, e.g. pronouncing ‘up’ as /ʊp/).

3. Pick a charity & research it.

After responding to the content of the video (mostly, they found it interesting but sad!), we quickly brainstormed some typical issues addressed by charities (poverty, illness, child abuse, etc.).

There were 10 students = 5 pairs.  Each pair selected one area from our list of charity types and I suggested a charity they might be interested in learning more about.  Some pairs had their own ideas.  This was the final list:

Each pair had an iPad (or used their own mobile devices) to research some basic info on their chosen charity.  After about 10 minutes, they had 5 more minutes to prepare a brief presentation for the rest of the class.

4. Presentations

Each pair presented what they’d found to the other students.  The others had time afterwards to ask questions, and we finished with a brief bit of error correction on some relevant lexis (e.g. pronunciation and use of the word “association”).

And that’s all there was to it!  Straightforward lesson structure with an engaging, real-world topic, and practice of listening (with video), spoken fluency and some relevant and emergent lexis.

I mention specifically that there were quite a few teens in this class as I don’t teach this age group very often, but find this is the sort of thing they really engage with.  It suits their maturity in terms of discussing delicate issues, as well as their enthusiasm for presenting and using technology to engage with language content.

(If you want to find out more or donate, click here.)

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About Laura Patsko

Senior ELT Research Manager for a major publisher. Alter egos: English language teacher, language learner, teacher trainer, linguist. Not necessarily in that order.

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