Monday, February 25, 2013

March Madness: A Learning Opportunity

March. Cabin fever peaks. Moods swing from mellow to violent. Budget crises loom. The world's eyes turn to ( basketball. Teachers blog offers five ways to take our national obsession with college basketball and subvert that time-wasting obsession into English learning. The site offers several suggested lesson plans that spring out of basketball. In this post we will focus on two of them, one of which involves poetry. Surprising.

Basketball Poetry 

In this lesson plan students to read some poems about basketball. Here, by the way, is a link to Poetry Foundation's list of basketball poems, in case you need it. Then, the lesson plan suggests, "Brainstorm with students a list of words describing the sport of basketball or describing their feelings when watching or playing the game."  Then the plan suggests getting the students to write their own basketball poems. 

Two thoughts occur after reading the plan. First, while basketball is played in quite a few countries, literally billions of people obsess over soccer. Use whatever sport brings out people's emotions. Second, to paraphrase my college creative writing professor, Debra Spark, "Get out there and write lots of drek." Specifically, she meant that it's more important to focus on writing something  than to worry about it being immortal verse, or even good, for that matter.  

You've Got Game, 

In another plan the origin of basketball is revealed:
  • James Naismith set out to create a game that met certain conditions: It had to be a game that could be played indoors in winter and provide strenuous physical activity for a group of unruly boys.
  • Explain to students that they are going to create new games that meet specific conditions they set up. Suggest some possible conditions, such as a game on snowshoes, a racquet game played in water, an indoor team game using two beanbags, a field game using a fishing net and a Frisbee.
The challenge, for an English learner, is to lay down the rules and conditions for their newly created sport using the English they know and new vocabulary they have to find in order to describe it.  
Ricochet Potball Goal Stand
This activity worked in my family years ago, when we created the noble sport of ricochet potball. These were the conditions: ugly late-winter weather and nothing on TV, very limited space (a ranch house living room), two to four players, a butterfly sling chair, a one gallon crock and a half dozen dead tennis balls. 
We put the crock in the seat of the chair at a 45 degree angle, with the opening pointing toward the foul line. Then we lobbed tennis balls at the opening in such a way that they didn't bounce back out. When a player got a ball in the goal he or she said "Potted one!" It was simple, but it even an invented game like this one would create a challenge that a learner must learn English and really apply the new vocabulary in order to make it work. Vocabulary that's put to work is vocabulary that stays with the learner. 

 Kudos to Literacy Network instructor Jen Sell for sharing this resource.

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