Fun and games in the classroom
Class 9b of the Lessing-Gymnasium in Plauen experienced this in January as the winners of Spotlight's Language World Cup competition. For three days, instruction was handed over to two native speakers — Jeff Cobb from Boston and Nicola Paxton from Glasgow — for an entertaining and fun learning experience.
The workshop, offered by Lingua Projects, is one that's becoming popular at schools in Germany. The pupils play games, indulge in cooking and baking (think brownies), play a typical British or American sport, engage in role-playing and rehearse sketches for a show they'll put on. The only catch is that everything that's said — all day long — has to be in English.
"Even when someone needs to go to the toilet, he has to explain that in English," Tobias Himmerich, founder and head of Lingua Projects, told Spotlight. The pupils' English naturally improves hour by hour, day by day, without pressure. "It's about communicating, not about being tested or graded."
Based in Marienfeld, near Gütersloh, Lingua Projects developed its concept six years ago in cooperation with the University of Paderborn. The guest teachers, hired by invitation, have come from the United States, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Britain, India and even Papua New Guinea. A range of professions and backgrounds adds to what they can contribute to the classroom experience. The native speakers have included musicians, actors, a gallery owner, and spouses of army and embassy personnel.
"The programme does not replace the curriculum; rather, it enhances it," Himmerich says. By interacting and having fun, the pupils overcome their shyness about speaking. The kids in fact enjoy the experience so much that some of them even speak English when their parents come to pick them up. Himmerich recalls one time when summer heat forced a school to close for the rest of the day. "'Do we really have to go home?' the children asked. The teachers were astonished."
The programme lasts from three to five days, depending on the school, and finishes with the pupils performing the sketches they've prepared. From the audience, their parents can judge how cost-effective the experience has been. Although they cover most of the expense, as they would for a class trip, it comes to less than €100 per child.
The programme is designed for kids in the 7th year of school and above. "Two years of English instruction at a secondary school are a must, so that there's a foundation to build upon," says Himmerich.
Lingua Projects now also offers programmes in Spanish and French as well as week-long workshops based around exam preparation, the language of business, and science. For more information, see www.lingua-projects.de