Monday, March 27, 2006

The Tomato: An Important Tool for ELT and Foreign Language Teachers

An Important Tool? Really?

What has a tomato got to do with English or foreign language teaching? Try this. Take a tomato, display it prominently in front of your English or foreign language students. Now ask them to tell you about it. “Ask, “What things can relate?” If one of your learners asks, “Teacher, can I touch it or pick it up or handle it?” you should say “Yes”. Just don’t let them eat it. No prop, no class you see.

The idea is to generate the use of the four basic language skills using a known prop or piece of realia. With the exception of Antarctica and possibly the Himalayas, I don’t know of any other continent or geographic region where the tomato might not be known. The learners then, must come up with as much tomato-based input as they can. From some individual learners there may not be much, but collectively, the input generated could be considerable.

Brainstormed Tomato Themes

Here are some allowable input themes my learners have brainstormed using this exercise.

*Tomato dishes
*Allergies, especially food allergies
*Cooking methods used with tomatoes
*Tomatoes in songs and movies (Remember “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”?)
*Collocations with “tomato”
*Countries where tomatoes are grown or heavily used
*Chemicals and nutrients in tomatoes
*History of tomatoes
*Tomato-colored objects
*Idioms and expressions using “tomato”
*Tomato statistics and records (world’s largest, smallest, etc.)
*Famous people who liked tomatoes (like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who reportedly put catsup on everything she ate )
*Companies that feature tomato products
*Tomato stories and anecdotes
*Words that can be made using the letters in the word “tomato”

By now I’m sure you get the idea.

The Power of Your mind

Try this visualization exercise right now. Close your eyes. Picture a tomato. Can you see it? In your mind, touch it. Pick it up and move it around in your hands. What does it feel like? Is it warm or cold? Can you smell it now? Describe the fragrance of your tomato. Okay, now you can take a bite. How does it taste? Do you want another bite? Would you like to sprinkle some salt or sugar on your tomato? Go ahead. Help yourself.
If you’re getting hungry or otherwise reacting during this exercise, great, your learners will too. Even more so with a real tomato on hand.

So try this language-stimulation exercise to get your learners talking and using English or another target language to actively communicate. It’s been a great help to me with my learners in generating speech and related topics during language class or Conversation Clubs.

1 comment:

shinobu said...

I remember feeling assured to hear a distinguished linguist once say language teacher must be able to teach with a telephone book, not with a beautifully edited course book. I totally agree with this tomato prompt. Although I teach English for TOEFL, I always like to think about teaching in a more innovative way. Maybe I should bring a tomato for the next class (and end up teaching the differences between the relative pronouns of that and which!!)