Small Tweaks

Yesterday I was wrapping up the last chapter of the novel my German I class has been going though and we had a big goodbye scene at the airport where the exchange student says goodbye to his girlfriend.  I wanted to send this book out with a bang, and as we rolled, a couple ideas came to mind.

Tweak one: After we read the final scene, we went back to read it dramatically (with hand out–palm upturned–shaking it with a flourish as we spoke).  That worked great to get another rep out of that section.  It worked even better when a student protested that the girlfriend wasn’t as dramatic, so we came up with a high voice to read her part in.

Tweak two: As I looked at the text detailing the final goodbye, complete with exchange of gifts and kisses I knew there was absolutely no way I was going to get any actors to go near this scene.  So I remembered what I learned in my puppetry class in college that people will do things with puppets that they would never do themselves.  So I grabbed Knut, our stuffed polar bear class mascot to play the role of the boy, and evil pony (who takes care of English blurters for me) to play the girl.  At it worked!  I got serious drama as the stuffed bear threw his arms around and enfolded the pony in his embrace.  The class hung on every move.  I even stole a few more reps by coaching the bear to play to the back row by exaggerating the gestures (simple because I was coaching the bear, not the student; a puppet works as an ego shield).  Great day.


2 responses to “Small Tweaks

  1. What did you mean about “evil pony taking care of English blurters”? Sounds interesting because I have kids who constantly say page numbers in English, etc and I am tired of threatening with a detention!


  2. Hi Linda,

    I have several stuffed animals I use in class for various reasons. A couple go home with students, who take pictures with them and come back to report on their weekend. Others show up at various times in stories. The deal with evil pony is that if somebody is not even trying to work in the language, I’ll go ahead and put a pony stuffed animal on their desk. It then stays on their desk until somebody else starts going off in English and then he moves to their desk. Whoever has the pony at the end of the period owes me a five minute free write.

    When I first introduced him I had to be careful that enforcing the rule didn’t take over the class. For the first few days it was all everybody riding each other hard on it, but then it calmed down, people got used to enforcing themselves, and he only comes out every so often. I don’t use the pony every time that I could, but really only for egregious offenses.

    The upshot? He’s a tool in my toolbox but not the answer to blurting. He does help me create an atmosphere of expectations that gives me some moderate leverage. Calls home on my really bad blurters did the main trick, but evil pony used with a light hand keeps things enforced with a sense of fun.

    Personally, I let things like page numbers go with a sense of just prompting them with a “come on” type hand gesture; I don’t want to pull out any big guns unless I really have to. I’d rate evil pony as my tool when people aren’t working in good faith with me, but use much lighter remonstrances when people just forget. If evil pony doesn’t do the trick, my next step is to have them see me after class–I like the sense of suspense they have to live with as punishments are much more effective when they’re not specific.

    A couple unexpected results, however, are that evil pony is now the most popular mascot to show up in my stories, and everybody now knows the word for “evil.”


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