If you haven’t seen it yet, America’s Secret Slang, which is produced by the History Channel, is worth checking out. There are currently 9 episodes available, most of which are 44 minutes long.
I happened to catch this show one day when I was channel surfing and quickly got sucked in. I haven’t seen all of the episodes, but I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen. Each episode takes on a general theme and then examines the origin of slang (including idioms) that relate. Most of the segments include a person-on-the-street segment asking native speakers if they use a slang term (spoiler: they do) and if they know its origin (they usually don’t, but they often try making one up.) The origin and explanation is then revealed through in an interesting and visual way including animated words and historical re-enactments.
I’ve linked to one episode, above, and the rest are available on the History Channel website and YouTube. Be aware the the show is rated PG, so you may want to preview episodes before watching them in class or assigning them to your students. Non-native speakers will appreciate being able to rewind and review the videos online. They can also turn on captions if they find that helpful. Overall, the shows are very well made, include a ton of information, and are interesting to native and non-native speakers alike.
We’ve all seen optical illusions before. Many of them, like the Ames Room above, take advantage of the flattening effect of the still camera, which only captures images from a single perspective. But part of the fun is moving around to a different vantage point, which reveals how the eye is tricked.
Brusspup is an artist who has a YouTube channel that reveals optical illusions that he creates. These videos offer the best of both worlds because the viewer can see both the illusion and how the trick is achieved. Some examples are below.
How can these be used in the classroom? Optical illusions are almost universally engaging. Beginning with a still image of the illusion (or by pausing the video at that point,) students could be challenged to express how the illusion is created. The class could then watch the video to see the solution. This could be a fun and challenging way for students to formulate hypotheses and think critically.
Alternatively, students could be directed to the YouTube channel and asked to find their favorite illusion. They could then be assigned the task of describing the illusion (both the effect and how it was achieved) in a presentation or in writing. Depending on the level of the students, breaking down the task into step by step pieces would also be a good test of their English.
There are lots of other ways to use these videos. Whether they are incorporated into a classroom activity or just viewed as an informal warm-up activity, they are sure to get your students talking.
Getting your students to write (or speak) can sometimes be a challenge. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, which got me to thinking: Where can teachers find interesting pictures that might prompt students to write or talk. Here are some examples:
Photoshop Contest.com is a website that posts a picture each week for visitors to edit into other pictures. The results can be fascinating. The historical decoder device at right used this picture of typesetter’s letters as a starting point. In addition to generating interesting pictures, trying to tease out which components of the picture are from the original can be an interesting challenge for students.
Worth1000.com is similar to Photoshop Contest with a variety of contests for beginning through advanced photo manipulators. Although the results range in quality and interest, some of the theme categories could generate some interesting writing or discussion. For example, the subjects in Sports Literalisms and Bald Celebrities may not be universally recognized by students, but Unsung Vending Machines and Less Than Usual require no explanation. Some of the Literalisms provide interesting visual examples of idioms and other common English expressions.
Flickr is a very popular photosharing website. And, although the sheer number of photos posted means it takes a little more digging to find them, similarly provocative photos can be found. I often use Compfight.com to search Flickr because it’s very easy to select search parameters like Creative Commons licensed content and Safe Search. Try searching for terms like manipulate, photoshop, and trick to find pictures that have been digitally edited. Some, like the example of the car parked on the street have had no digital manipulation, but there is another trick involved. Can you spot it? Can your students?