Volume II - 1994

GALA NIGHT: Experiencing English beyond the Classroom.
by  Gilberto Diaz Santos

      Gilberto Diaz Santos is an instructor of English as a Foreign Language at the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Havana in Cuba. Currently, he is teaching academic reading and writing to undergraduates. His other interests include language acquisition, non-traditional teaching, ESP curriculum design, and electronic communications.

      Everything started ten years ago while I was watching a Sunday night TV contest. As in "Jeopardy" and many similar shows around the world, people were having quite an enjoyable time answering questions, deciphering cryptic messages, and showing their abilities and speed at finding words in a dictionary. "Why not do this with my students at the Institute?" I suddenly thought.

      A month later, with a little help from some friends, fellow teachers, and students, we organized the first of a series of shows to be known as "Gala Night". This was an attempt to take English out of the classrooms--the activity was held in the school garden in an almost magical atmosphere. The show consisted of a presentation of some funny dramatizations, poems, and a Master of Ceremonies asking the audience some questions about the history, geography and literature of the English-speaking peoples as well as about some curiosities of the English language. The most important rule established from the outset was: Not a single word is to be spoken in Spanish.

Playing by the Rules

      That night's success and the many suggestions that came from the participants made us realize that we could do things more seriously and give a methodological approach to the activity without affecting the joy and amusement that characterized it. Staff teachers began to determine which of the daily classroom activities would be suitable for the next program. For this, it was necessary to follow two important principles. First, each and every activity of the program should challenge the participants and provide an opportunity for them to put into practice the knowledge and skills they have acquired in English. Second, through the different activities and presentations, students from lower levels were to get an initial input, a sort of anticipation of knowledge that they were to deal with in advanced stages, thus providing motivation and developing their intellectual curiosity.

      That night's success and the many suggestions that came from the participants made us realize that we could do things more seriously and give a methodological approach to the activity without affecting the joy and amusement that characterized it. Staff teachers began to determine which of the daily classroom activities would be suitable for the next program. For this, it was necessary to follow two important principles. First, each and every activity of the program should challenge the participants and provide an opportunity for them to put into practice the knowledge and skills they have acquired in English. Second, through the different activities and presentations, students from lower levels were to get an initial input, a sort of anticipation of knowledge that they were to deal with in advanced stages, thus providing motivation and developing their intellectual curiosity.

      According to these principles, it is important that the organizers of the program take into consideration the inclusion of games and competitions suitable for different levels in such a way that every student feels that there is a chance for him/her to participate. The competitive activities that have proved to be more successful are the following:

1. Looking up in dictionaries polysemic words to determine their meaning in a given context. The abilities to be tested are scanning, reading speed and accuracy in meaning.
2. Quickly determining synonyms, antonyms and other semantic relationships.
3. Translating from English into Spanish and vice-versa some idiomatic expressions, proverbs, sayings, and false cognates.
4. Determining the lack of concordance--be it logical or grammatical--in certain facts or sentences. For example: a rolling stone gathers no leaves ["moss" is correct].
5. Reading aloud tongue-twisters.
6. Answering questions about the life and culture, history, geography, literature of the English-speaking peoples.
7. Answering questions about curiosities of the English language. For example the meaning of certain acronyms, such as TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages). There are other possibilities for particular sections or contests related to the world of entertainment:
8. Singing parts of a pop song after having heard the recording of some introductory musical phrases. This is very funny and may help to discover talented singers.
9. Identifying names of songs, musicians and record albums. This is important since our radio disc jockeys often mispronounce some of these names and contribute to setting incorrect pronunciation models.
10. Giving the original titles of films which have been shown under different titles in Spanish.
11. Identifying the original music score from films.

More Than a One-Night Stand

      Even though the Gala Night in itself is regarded as a single event, it is only part of a whole process in which learners are exposed to the foreign language beyond the classroom. The period of time from the official announcement of the show until the very night chosen can be exploited in many ways as an invaluable intensive language practice. For example, a bulletin board or a great variety of posters help to inform about the date and place of the competition. Pictures and cartoons present things in a more lively fashion and may provide ingenious suggestions to introduce new vocabulary items. The teachers and students engaged in preparing this advertising campaign will have a chance to develop creativity and to make more complicated use of language structures. For example, the announcements can be treated like required reading material to practice any of the information-getting strategies.

      If teachers like for students to have a greater input before the Gala, special broadcasts on the school radio can be organized, and small groups can be given the chance to put into action their oral skills by performing as DJ's or news anchors. This provides new material to practice listening-comprehension. If teachers are interested in a particular linguistic structure, they can design specific advertisements to suit their purposes.

      The more motivation you can create before the Gala; the more everyone will feel a potential participant. Once the students know what's on the menu for the coming Night, they register voluntarily for the competitions. Others are selected to represent their class, and the remaining ones also think that they may succeed in answering one of the questions directed to the whole audience. You will see that the Gala is the topic of conversation in the halls; everyone feels he is to do something and commits himself to study and to prepare in different ways. Some go to the library to read or just to find a possible clue. Others study the new vocabulary or rehearse a group presentation such as a play, poem, or chorus. They exchange questions during breaks and leisure hours, or even devote more time to listening to music or radio broadcasts in English. This whole process is really feverish: the contagion takes place as additional exposure to the foreign language where, most of the time, learners play an active role in a natural environment.

In a Nutshell

      We can say that more than a one-night affair, the Gala Night is a competitive and cultural show, the central axis and culminating event of a process in which learners are exposed through different ways and challenged to interact with peers, professors or other people either receptively or productively. This practice not only provides feedback on what has been taught and practiced in the classrooms, but is also an efficient way to anticipate content and motivate new quests for information. Therefore, more than an unforgettable moment of joy and entertainment, the Gala is a special teaching situation where learning happens through a very effective and affective filter.

      For various reasons, I spent several years away from the Pedagogical Institute, where I conceived the Gala Night event. I have since came back to university life and now teach ESP to mathematics undergraduates. At first, I was hesitant to try my old technique because I did not think that it would work with this different student population. Nevertheless, I made the attempt, and I was more than surprised to see students perform in English better than ever before. Now, the Gala Night has come to be a traditional celebration of the Faculty of Mathematics and Cybernetics of the University of Havana. The remaining faculties are on their way to contagion.

Appendix 1.

In this appendix we provide brief description of the several competitions included in the Gala Night program. Information is also given concerning the linguistics skills at which they are aimed, as well as a consideration of the level they suit. This is certainly no straight jacket: other activities can be incorporated, and other levels could also be involved.

Competition: Be as Fast as Lightning

Linguistic Skills:

Listening-comprehension
Speaking
Establishing semantic field relationships

Level: Beginners

Description: A professor or anybody else selected as the Master of Ceremoniest will provide clues to the competitors. It is a fast-thinker activity.

Example 1:

M. C.: " .... cold ..."
STUDENT: " As cold as ice "
M.C.: " .... heavy ...."
STUDENT: " As heavy as an elephant "

Example 2:

M.C.: " Taxi is to driver as helicopter is to....."
STUDENT: " Pilot "
M.C.: " UFO is to unidentified flying object as ASCII is to...."
STUDENT: " American Standard Code for Information Interchange...."
M.C.: " Beefsteak is to frying pan as coffee is to...."
STUDENT: " Kettle "

Competition: Look Up the Meaning

Linguistic Skills:

Reading speed (scan-skim)
Reading comprehension
Word choice Speaking

Level: Beginners (using a bilingual dictionary) Intermediate and advanced (monolingual dictionary)

Description: Each participant should have a dictionary. It should be closed before every sentence to be presented. The Master of Ceremonies will show different posters, each containing a sentence with a highlighted word. This word may have different meanings, but only one possibility should be accepted in that context. The contestants should look up the word and provide the correct meaning. If a bilingual dictionary is used, the appropriate Spanish equivalent or an English synonym should be provided. In the case of the English-only dictionary, you could ask for the meaning or a synonym of the highlighted word.

Example 1: (English-Spanish)

POSTER: Ed crossed the river in a BARGE.
STUDENT: (finds BARCA, BOTE, EMBARCACION) "bote" (or he may also provide the English word "boat")

Example 2: (English-English)

POSTER: The student received a WIRE from his school.
STUDENT: (looks up) "The student received a telegram from his school ".

Competition: Who Translates Faster and Better? (Proverbs, sayings, idiomatic expressions, false cognates, titles of films)

Linguistic Skills:

Listening-comprehension
Reading-comprehension
Translation Speaking

Level: Intermediate and advanced.

Description: The presentation of the item to be translated can be done orally or in posters.

Example 1:

M.C.: How do you say in Spanish "He who laughs last, laughs best" ?
STUDENT: "El que rie ultimo rie mejor."
M.C.: How do you say in English "papel de China" ?
STUDENT: "India paper."
M.C.: (poster) Mind one's P's and Q's.
STUDENT: "Andarse con pie de plomo."

Example 2: (films)

English Title Spanish Title
Jaws Tiburon Sangriento
Comma Sala 8
Working Girl Secretaria Ejecutiva
The Blues Brothers Los Hermanos Caradura

 

 

 

 

Competition: Films, Actors, Actresses and Directors

Linguistic Skills:

Listening-comprehension
Background knowledge
Speaking

Level: All

Description: This is a question-answer activity that may be organized in several ways:

* You can give three names of a film linked to a single actor actress or director and ask the contestants to guess his/her name.
* You can ask for an outstanding Academy Award.
* You can ask for the original title in English by giving the Spanish translation.
* You can play a recording of the soundtrack and have the contestant guess the name of the films, singers, and stars.
* You can describe a scene from the film and ask the title.

If your school has the necessary equipment, you can play on a VCR-TV or videobeam-TV a part of a film and use it as a pattern for an acting contest.

Competition: Music

Linguistic Skills:

Listening comprehension
Background knowledge
Speaking

Levels: All.

Description: For all possible contests related to music, it will be necessary to record fragments of songs. You can ask for information such as:

* Name of the song, singer, players, album. (You can either present a recorded fragment or a poster with some lines of the lyrics.)
* Ask if the song is related to an Academy Award.
* Historical data about the song (For example "We Are the World")
* Instead of playing part of the recorded song, play a solo part in which the melody is heard.
* Name of the solo artist and in which group he used to play. For example:

Lionel Richie - Commodores
Peter Cetera - Chicago
Míchael MacDonald - Doobie Brothers

* You can also use fragments of the song and have the contestants sing a part after stopping the recording

Competition: Questions For Everybody

Linguistic Skills:

Listening-comprehension
Background knowledge
Speaking

Levels: All. The questions are directed to the audience and may be answered by anyone. But priority should be given to students. The Master of Ceremony or the Jury determines if the answer is right.

Description: Questions may be on all topics: geography, literature, history, curiosities of the English language, riddles, and the like.

Competition: Tongue Twisters

Linguistic Skills:

(Silent and oral) Reading
Speaking

Levels: All. But the degree of difficulty of the tongue twister should be taken into consideration as to the level of the students. In the same program you can have one or two tongue twister competitions: one for Beginners-Intermediate and another for Advanced.

Description: Hand the contestants a slip of paper on which the tongue-twister is written. Let the contestants read and do a little rehearsal. Then let each read or say the tongue twister; only one shot. The jury should decide who is the winner.

Competition: Gala Night

This is the backbone or main event of the show and takes place between two teams of 4 to 10 people. We suggest starting the competition at the very beginning of the Gala and scheduling other contests as long as this one lasts.The name of the competition may vary depending on the chart you would like to use (either letters or numbers).

Linguistic Skills:

Listening-comprehension
Reading-comprehension
Logical thinking
Background knowledge
Speaking

Level: All. Each team should be made up of students from different levels.

Description: Let us use the example of the Gala Night chart or poster. Each of the letters represent a question on a topic. The letters can be written on different pages of paper. On the back of each page, there are many questions written. The Master of Ceremonies chooses one. Several sets of these pages are prepared. In each turn the team selects a letter.

G
could be GEOGRAPHY
N
could be INTERESTING THINGS
A
could be ABSURDITIES
I
could be THINK DEEPLY
L
could be LITERATURE
G
could be GRAMMAR
A
could be CINEMA
H
could be HISTORY
   
T
could be TRANSLATION

 

 

 

 

Unanswered questions may either be transferred to the other team or to the audience.

Appendix 2.

      Here is just a sample of the questions we have used in the Gala Night main contest as well as in the Questions for Everybody competition.

1. Which cities are known as the "Twin Cities" in the US? In which state are they located ?
2. What's wrong with the following statement?: "I hope to attend last week's rock concert."
3. Identify the author of the poem whose fragment follows:

Here Captain! Dear Captain
This arm beneath your head,
It's some dream that on the deck
You've fallen cold and dead.

4. The themes from "The Beauty and The Beast" and "Aladdin" received the Academy Awards for "Best Original Music Score" of a film in 1992 and 1993 respectively. The two songs are performed by duos, but there is a singer who features in both. Who is this singer ?
5. Whenever there is a ship in danger, a three-letter signal is transmitted in order to request help. What signal is that and what do the letters mean ?
6. Uriah Fuller, the famous Israelite superpsychic, can tell the score of any baseball game before it starts. What is his secret?
7. The plural of goose is geese. What's the plural of mangoose?
8. Who was the only President of the United States elected for three consecutive terms?
9. How do you say in Spanish "He hit three homeruns in a row?"

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