Using Comedy to Develop Listening Skills

(Reading time: 3 - 6 minutes)

Motivation – The Acid Test: There is one thing the Brits are experts at – and that is not cooking. It is a pity though that Comedy Clubs are not as popular as restaurants, or we would all be ‘Going for an English’ a lot more often. But why should all this matter for an EL teacher? Well, the way I see it, it all has to do with student engagement. For me the Acid Test of motivation is the answer to this simple Q: ‘Would your students want to do this activity if they were NOT in an EL class?’ With this question in mind, a moment’s reflection will show us that the very same student who might grumble about doing a listening task at school, may well spend hours in front of their PC watching clips on YouTube. So why not do the same thing in class?

 

Nick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) is an Academic Consultant with LEH (the representatives of the Pearson PTE G Exams in Greece). In his years of active involvement in the field of ELT he has worked as a teacher, examiner and trainer for both teachers and Oral Examiners. His love of comedy led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’ project on YouTube. He has written numerous articles on Methodology, while others from the ‘Psychology and ELT’ series have appeared in many countries. He likes to think of himself as a ‘front-line teacher’ and is interested in one-to-one teaching and student motivation as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology. When he is not struggling with students, he likes to spend his time in a swimming pool or playing chess. For articles or handouts of his, you can visit his site at  www.michelioudakis.org.  

 

How to do it: The first question is where we can find such material, but the answer is simple: just go to YouTube and type ‘Comedy for ELT’. The next question (and a very important one) is how to best use this material *. Well, here is a simple guide – in 4 easy steps:

  • Step 1: Set the context: This is a vital step. Saying a few things about the clip kills many birds with the same stone: i) it makes it easier for students to understand what is going on (it activates the relevant ‘mental schemata’;  ii) it gives the teacher the chance to explain to them some difficult cultural / linguistic points in advance (you can incorporate them into the description); iii) more importantly though, a good introduction helps generate a ‘gap’ – it explains the situation but it leaves students guessing about what happens in the end (curiosity = increased motivation!)
  • Step 2: Give the students a focus task: Students’ interest may well decline after a few seconds unless they are given something to do. This first task has to focus on meaning (what is happening) and it has to be easy (so as to give students a sense of achievement). It can be simply answering a few Qs or completing a few incomplete sentences. It is important to get the balance right: the teacher needs to make sure she spaces them apart properly, so the students do not ‘switch off’ between one Q and the next but she doesn’t want to include too many, so that the students can still enjoy the clip. [To watch a clip, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=xN--gGkS8aU;].

  • Step 3: Give the students a language task:
    Once the students have understood what happens in the clip, we want to focus their attention on the language, so they can derive the maximum benefit from it. Usually, it makes sense to give them the whole script, with some gaps for them to fill in, or some words to change or slot into the text. ** Watching a clip more than once is not a problem because  i) students often discover nuances that had escaped them the first time and  ii) students still enjoy the humour, partly because they now focus less on understanding what is happening, so they can better appreciate how much work has gone into crafting these sketches. [To watch a clip, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpE8_uyBNtA; ].
  • Step 4: Think about a follow-up task: To get the most out of such material, it makes sense to get the students to invest more. There are many ways they can do that: i) they can write something similar themselves (perhaps adopting the sketch to the Greek reality);  ii) they can prepare a similar dialogue/monologue themselves perhaps generating additional humour by reversing the ages/gender/nationality of the participants;  iii) sometimes students may love the sketch so much, they may simply want to act it out (think about the appeal of Karaoke!) and perhaps record themselves so they can share the clip with their classmates! [To watch a clip, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDebN3XRN90];].

 

A wise investment of time: Such clips are hugely popular with both teachers and students, but you sometimes hear the occasional objection: ‘What about exam prep?’; ‘Such material will never come up in a test!’ or ‘The coursebook listening tracks are more carefully graded for language/content’. These are of course valid points. Yet how often do your students go home and listen to their Coursebook CD for fun? Let’s say that from every 10-min Listening task your students do in class, they learn 5 words, while from every Comedy clip they only retain 1. Now imagine that when you play this Rhod Gilbert video in class (www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwYfZLTn7ZM) they love it so much, they go home and watch every single Rhod Gilbert clip they can find on YouTube. How many words will they have learned by the end? You do the math….

 

 

* NB 1: There are free task sheets for almost all of the clips under ‘Comedy for ELT’ on YouTube. Just let me know which ones you would like to use with your students and I will send you the handout.

** NB 2: For short clips, the script can actually be found right under the screen on YouTube; just click on the description (where it says ‘Show More’).

 

 

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