Brain of Britain/Turkey/Iraq

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 50th IATEFL conference held in my hometown of Birmingham earlier this month. It was a very busy four days during which I attended many workshops, talks and plenary sessions. I’m going to be doing a series of posts showing how I have or will incorporate ideas from the conference into my lessons.

One of the sessions I attended was How to speak British, by Martyn Ford.
Martyn is the author of these postcards, some of which I have owned for a long time and even have stuck up in my office. His session was very amusing, and he also gave all attendees some postcards, one of which inspired me to incorporate it into a lesson.

This is the postcard in question:


I teach an IELTS speaking and listening class with a small group of Iraqi students, although on this day, only one student was there. I started off by writing the word stereotype on the board, and eliciting the meaning by providing a few stereotypes. He then told me the stereotype of an American and an Iraqi woman.

Then I gave him the postcard and told him to have a look, notice any new words and think about the meaning of the text. The only words he asked about were custard, pastry, mistrust and nostalgia. Mistrust was a useful piece of vocabulary to exemplify prefixes and elicit other words that can start with “mis” (miscommunication, misunderstanding). Nostalgia is another interesting word, and not one many learners come across.

The next step was dividing the whiteboard into two and drawing a large, empty head on one side. As we’re both foreigners in Turkey, we worked together to fill in the “brain of Turkey”. This required negotiating skills (just how much of the Turkish brain should be filled with thoughts of meat? Is this a female or male brain?) and sharing opinions and ideas. Once the brain was full, we discussed each section of the brain and justified why the topic had been included. Here’s our completed “Turkish brain”:
(Please note that my student came up with most of these and I hope no-one is offended by any of them!)


Now the activity had been modelled and we’d worked on one brain together, I asked the student to draw another head on the other side of the board, which was the collective brain of Iraq. He had to complete the inner workings of the brain, and when it was full, present his ideas to me. Here’s the completed Iraqi brain:


This was an enjoyable (although sometimes eye opening if you look at some of the topics my student included) and very productive activity. We also briefly discussed what other nationalities brains might contain.

For larger groups of students, I would give each pair an A3 piece of paper and ask them to work together to complete a brain, then stick them up around the room, look at the other posters and perhaps use post it notes to leave comments (agree, disagree, question). Pairs could also present their ideas to the rest of the class. This would certainly be a more interesting activity to do in multinational classes but even in a mono-cultural class, people are bound to have differences in opinion.

There could also be follow up work involving writing, researching stereotypes, even going into language for making generalisations (my students have big problems with overgeneralising so it could be very useful to work on phrases like “tend to”).

I do think that if I were to use this with my Turkish classes, I would have to approach it carefully to avoid arguments and overly political discussions. I would also spend longer introducing the topic of stereotypes using images and eliciting, and try to keep the whole activity light hearted and funny.




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