Today, I tried using "Essential Questions" with my classes and put this technique to the test.
The lesson was a reading activity. The text is about the queen of soul, Sade. It talks about her life and why she avoids publicity and prefers keeping a kind of privacy. I started by asking the question: Do you want to be a celebrity? Why? What is the price we pay for being one?
First, we talked about the brighter side of the story: my students said that celebrities have all the commodities and the privileges we may dream of, like being famous, being rich, being able to travel to many countries, being able to have fairy-like weddings, etc,.. I wrote down the answers on the board under the heading: Good side.Then, I asked: Can you think of any bad points? Are all celebrities happy? My students hesitated for a moment. So, I showed two pictures: one is a recent photo of Britney Spears shaving her hair, the other one is for Michael Jackson hiding his face from journalists and photographers after the trials in the American courts.
So, my students started talking about pop stars going to rehab because they have psychological problems or because they are addicted to drugs or alcohol. They also mentioned the fact that some were harassed by lunatic fans. We talked also about paparazzi and how they made Maradona loose control and almost kill one of them. I wrote these and others on the board under the heading: Bad side. Later, my students sat in groups of four and started writing about being a celebrity. They only jotted down a few more ideas and I asked them to keep them for future reference when we will write about this topic.
When we moved to the reading activity, my students were equipped with a valid background and a good range of vocabulary that they would come across in the text. It was clear that the debate we had made my students appreciate the text and they enjoyed the reading activity as a whole.
I think essential questions are great because they can involve students and provide them with a real context and a reason for learning the language as these questions led them to broaden their knowledge and awareness of current issues. However, I think it is not the only way to make students adhere more positively to the learning process.
Coming posts will talk about other compelling techniques that can be as interesting as essential questions.