Wittgenstein for Learners

I think these quotes are apt for pondering language learning and expression. (Images are not restricted by license).









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A Game of Consequences

This is a wonderful and classic game to play in a classroom to get a collaborative comic book narrative from the students. The game is as old as the hills and is also known under the names of exquisite corpse (a Surrealist version of the game), consequences, comic jam, and a hundred other variations.



In an ESL context, the game takes a fair bit of instruction to set up properly, and several iterations & tweaks to get it executed optimally. The instructions have to be really clear and initially there is a lot of monitoring involved so that students don’t get the format mixed up or out of kilter with each other.

1. Organize the students into a circle if possible. This activity works best with five or six students — preferably of a Lower Intermediate level or above.

2. Tell the students that they are going to write a story (in fact, five stories) together, but that they won’t know what the stories are until they are finished. 

3. Distribute a sheet of paper to each person.

4. Ask everyone to write a sentence. This is the beginning and can be anything they like. If necessary, stress that they cannot talk to each other about what they are writing.

5. Then, under their sentence, ask them to draw a small picture about what they wrote.

6. They then fold the paper so the sentence is not visible, but the picture is.

7. The paper is passed to the person next to them. Each person writes a new sentence next to (not under) the picture. Emphasise that the sentence should be about this particular picture.

8. When they have completed this, ask each student to draw another picture about what they have written, under the previous bit.

9. Then ask everyone to make a fold again between the new picture and the former sentence.

10. Pass the papers once more.

11. Repeat until the papers are full and the stories are complete.

12. Ask them to read their stories, and also read them to the class, while everyone has a laugh. Analyze the grammatical errors.


I like the game because it’s bizarre, surreal, creative and entertaining. The students are generating meaning within the parameters of a group activity, yet with enough scope to add their own individualism and creativity. It’s fun, in a way it is therapeutic, and it gets them getting to grips with the concept of short narratives. So give it a crack. It’s not about getting stuff perfect sometimes, it’s about enjoying the class and using what English you can; imaginatively.



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A Myopic Mode of Teaching

Here’s a post I recently put on WeChat (a sort of Chinese Facebook) bemoaning this common preference.

“I frequently meet people who say they want 1-to-1 English classes for their child, or for themselves. But why?? One-on-one classes are NOT the best way to learn.

1. They can be boring for the learner

2. They can be difficult for the teacher

3. And costly for the parent

The best number in an ESL class is 4-10: that way you can do group activities, games, and get lots of speaking opportunities. It’s just better value all round.”

Although most people agreed that this format is flawed and basically inefficient, some also offered explanations along the lines of parents wanting the best for their child; ergo maximum attention from the teacher — the implication being that more students means it’s harder for the teacher to control the class.

I feel this reaction is extreme though and certainly exacerbated by the one-child policy. The simple truth is that: two heads are better than one. I’m not suggesting packing people in à la state education. I just believe in having more than one solitary soul being taught in a hermetically sealed bubble with ultimately limited scope and variety.


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