Thursday, January 31, 2013

American Football

I realize I haven't written in over a month and January is just about over. I guess I've been busy and quite a bit has happened. In short, I taught the students about the history of Santa Claus and we had a Christmas party at school one night. I left for Cambodia shortly after for winter vacation. One of my coworkers left. I came back and we have been running a winter writing course which has been going tremendously well (hopefully more on that later). I have started taking weekend Korean lessons. My free time the last week or two has been spent making reading comprehension study guides for kid's books for the middle school students. But, for the moment, things have slowed down a little, so I will try to catch up as best as I can.

Despite all the stories above that I could tell instead, I feel at the moment compelled to talk about the lesson I  have been teaching all week. Because these current weeks are between vacation time and the end of the school year, the pace is more relaxed and we are able to teach on any variety of topics that we please. Since it just so happened that Superbowl Sunday was right around the corner, my coworker suggested we teach about football and the Superbowl.

Now, I admit, I am not a fan of football, and I can't say I deeply understand the game. However, I do watch the Superbowl and I know what it means to most Americans. My personal opinion of the game is irrelevant; football is a big deal and it deserves some attention, so I planned it out over the weekend. I would teach about football basics the first week and learn about the Superbowl while watching some highlights the following week as review.

One of the things you learn to do as a teacher is work quickly and take what you can use. I found a football cheat sheet on helpful as a starting point. I asked my younger brother his thoughts on what vocab was most important and with his help was able to whittle the sheet down to the essentials. I made a few slides for football history and tacked on an excellent slideshow I found called the "Basics of American Football." Rarely do you find a slideshow that is exactly what you need it to be, but this one fit the bill and even was geared towards ESL students.

One thing that I missed out on in student teaching was that I never had a repeated class, so I was never able to improve on a single lesson. Every class was completely untested material. In Korea, I am getting more chances to hone my lessons, and by the end of this week I had a whole routine worked out with jokes, slapstick, and question and answer callbacks.

My first lesson I had time to spare at the end and so we reviewed the terms by watching an excellent Goofy cartoon about football. I stopped and quizzed them as different players and actions popped up on screen. The cartoon was funny and it worked okay, but TV is boring.

The next class I borrowed a ball from one of the Chinese teachers and I had a few volunteers act out the terms with me so the class could call out what we were doing. The class became infinitely more interesting. The Goofy cartoon was there now only if we had extra time at the end for a second round of review.

Ultimately, my routine ended up something like this:

     "Hello Everybody!"
     "Hello Mr. Patton!" (I stole this from Dr. Nick on "The Simpsons")
     "So, does anybody know what is going to happen next week?"
     I get lots of answers: graduation, break time, New Years. All of these are true.
     "Okay, but what will happen in the United States?"
     Now they start to figure it out. Eventually somebody gets football and then somebody else figures out the Superbowl. I tell them we will learn about football because it's a big deal in America and maybe if you ever see it on TV you will enjoy it a little more with some education.
     I ask them to tell me what they know about football. Usually they at least know touchdown and quarterback, but the question is more to get them in the right mindset than anything else. I point to the football on the screen and ask if they know it's nickname. No one ever does. I tell them it's called a pigskin and see if they can guess why. Some classes do, others don't.
     We move onto the history of football. I start by saying football comes from the same family of sports as soccer and rugby. All of them involve running, grass, opposing goals. balls etc. I then go back to the legend of the first game of soccer. Back in the Medieval times, on a certain day the men were cleaning up the dead bodies after a particularly gruesome battle. One weary soldier found a severed head on the ground and kicked it to his friend rather than pick it up. His fellow soldier kicked it right back. Soon the whole band of them was in and soccer was more or less born. Eventually they decided balls would roll a bit smoother and be a bit less messy than heads so they altered the gameplay. Years later some weary soccer player, fed up with kicking the ball around picked up the ball and started to run it to the goal. The rest of the players were furious and told him he couldn't do it. He said "Watch me!" Of course, the other team wouldn't let this stand and promptly tackled him. Rugby was born. Years later, some weary rugby player decided that all this tackling was getting a bit too painful, so he came to the Rugby game one day with full armor and a helmet. Soon everyone was doing it. For a while, the game seemed safer until everyone realized that adding padding meant they could just be even more violent and so with a few rule changes here and there football was born. I ask them if they believe my stories, but it really doesn't matter. We talk briefly about the Superbowl before heading into game basics.
     I ask them how long a football field is and they can read right on the screen that the field is 100 yards. I ask them how long a yard is and they are baffled. I tell them it is three feet and that doesn't help either. I ask them how long a foot is. A few guesses, someone says 30 cm, which is technically right. I lift my leg up and point to my shoe and say a foot is about this long. And then for three feet I put my heels together and point my toes away from each other. I move one foot out so there is a foot gap between. I wobble around a bit as I demonstrate how long a yard is with my two feet trying to maintain balance. And by the way, a yard is about 91.4 cm. 
     We move onto the line of scrimmage. Borrowing the line my brother gave me, I tell them to think of it as the DMZ. They roar with laughter every time. I learn over the course of the week not to extend the metaphor because the laughter drops when you starting talking about invasion forces and enemy armies. 
     We talk about downs and how even though ten yards isn't far it might take you four tries to get there too if you had 11 giants trying to knock you down.
     We talk about the players, how the quarterback is like the general and the coach the president. I ask them obvious questions like why the linemen are called linemen. I ask them what the kicker does for a living. I tell them he is really good at it too and rarely misses, unlike my high school football team. They marvel at the sneakiness of the fullback position. We laugh at the dance the wide receiver does when he makes a touchdown. 
     After going through all of the terms, I get three volunteers to come up. Usually in Korea I get one real volunteer and the others are nominated by the class, usually to their chagrin. The review is where the magic really happens. We review all the terms by acting them out. I get the kids to growl and make angry faces like the linemen. We fake tackle each other. I have the class decide what the quarterback should do with the ball and we act it out, naming the players and objects on the field along the way. The wide receiver does his touchdown dance and I ask how many points it was worth. A surprise fourth volunteer is sent up by the mob to be the kicker. She kicks the ball and we pretend it goes through my arms and makes the goal and we once again review the score. The kicker sits down. She's a specialist and she does her job well. 
     If there is time we watch a few minutes of the Goofy cartoon and review again. I pause at the wide shot of the stadium and ask them if they think they know why the Superbowl is called the Superbowl. They figure it out every time.

I have to say, despite not liking football, which I even admitted to in several of the classes, this was one of my favorite lessons. I think not being an expert on the topic helped me to just focus on what is important. Too often I get bogged down in minutiae and in this case I think my ignorance was beneficial because I could relate to my students. I also feel I have a better appreciation for the sport. Several times during various classes it dawned on me just how much strategy and cleverness it must require to be good at this sport. I think Monday morning I will be watching the Superbowl with fresh eyes.