Today’s English class was the most fun I have had in a long time. I wanted to exercise the kids’ minds and get them thinking laterally. I also wanted them to enjoy it. A lesson with a difference seemed to me a great way to start our final week of term and inject some interest into our online classroom.
I began by presenting my students with the contention that a box of chocolates is a salad.
This was not a popular suggestion.
“No it’s not!” one student said… quite defensively, I might add. “Salad is salad. Chocolate is chocolate. You can’t ruin chocolate like that!”
But, I asked, what is a salad if it’s not simply a mixture of vegetables? Chocolate comes from beans… and if you add nuts, or fruit, or herbs like peppermint, then it’s definitely a salad.
We spent quite some time redefining food, presenting the most persuasive arguments we could think of, and debating the nature of reality.
Every time it sounded like the students might be in danger of reaching a consensus, I made another suggestion.
Ice cream, on its own, may just be ice cream – but the minute you put it in a cone, or add fruit or chocolate, it’s a salad.
Coffee, like chocolate, is made from beans. It’s a salad.
“No!” was the response. “Coffee is hot – it can’t be a salad.”
So then I really twisted it up.
Is coffee soup?
Is cereal soup? Or is it a salad with too much dressing?
According to one student, and I quote, “Soup is not what soup is.”
Is the English language a metaphorical salad? Because it’s a mixture of a whole bunch of languages, right? The flavours are all mixed, but the parts are still recognisable if you know what you’re looking at.
Is the English language a sticky weed? Or velcro? Because you know, it takes something from every other language it swipes past. Maybe it’s double sided tape…
I am not ashamed to say that I really had fun. Despite their groans and protestations, I think they did, too.
Perhaps the most satisfying moments, though, were two comments made by different students:
“You’ve just entirely ruined the English language.”
“These have been the most problematic fifteen minutes of my life.”
What started out as a brain tease turned into a really interesting discussion about how we use language and define things in our own ways, and often assume that everyone else understands what we’re talking about, and that everyone else agrees with us.
It’s safe to say most of them enjoyed it… but it’s also safe to say that I enjoyed it more.