When Opinionated Adults Clam Up

I first learned of The Holstee Manifesto video from Sandy Millin’s Blog (Almost Infinite ELT Ideas) last year. I decided to try and adapt my take on using the video back then, with my high-school students, for my current course with hearing adults.

So many bikes in the film, but none like these!
(Photo by Omri Epstein)

I emphasize the word “hearing” not because there is any dialogue in this video (I look for videos that tell a story without dialogue!) but because I noted how much the students enjoyed the music! When we worked on it bit by bit I muted the film and they missed the sound.  The previous film I had used (the power of words) was given as homework so I didn’t think about the musical aspect. Not used to thinking of it!

I planned a short activity for the last part of the lesson. This course of 38 adults is almost completely devoted to reading comprehension of academic texts. The students need to successfully pass a reading comprehension test in order to be accepted to a higher education program. They landed in my class because they failed such a test. For two lessons in a row we’ve had texts about depressing topics (prisons and violent ant-abortion activists) and something cheerful was certainly in order.

I told the students that we were going to do an activity that would involve an introduction to expressions of opinion. With these adults you have to be very clear about why you are doing something that isn’t reading a text.

Epstein Family Photos

For starters I just let them watch the video from start to end. It’s only about two minutes long. They seemed very absorbed and curious, some complained that the text went by too quickly. I assured them that we would be going through it slowly with me freezing the frame, which we did. But it was a shame that I hadn’t photocopied the text in advance for them – it would have been easier.

I showed a sentence from the video and then presented an expression of opinion and asked for a volunteer to give his/her opinion on the statement from the film, using the expression. My example for the students was:

Statement from film: If you don’t like your job, quit. ExpressionPersonally“. My opinion: Personally, I think it is better to find a new job and then quit my old job”.

The second sentence (the first one went smoothly, just the way I had hoped) was:  If you are looking for the love of your life, stop. They will be waiting for you when you start doing the things you love. The expression of opinion was “As I see it”.

There was a murmur of approval when we finished ensuring that everyone understood the sentence. The ages in class range from 20 to 62 (only one man is 62, certainly not the average age!) and it obviously struck a positive chord. I was so pleased!

And then I made a mistake.

The student who was supposed to give her opinion on this statement said ” As I see it, I want to do things I love”. I said that that wasn’t an expression of opinion on the statement itself. As she was one of the older women I asked if she would give such advice to her daughter and she said yes. But then someone said: “Well, its all good advice, we agree with them all and thats it”.

The students remained very interested in understanding exactly what the statements in the clip were but did not really want to express their opinions on them. Only one brave student broke away from the crowd and said “I strongly disagree (the expression on the board) with the statement “all emotions are beautiful” (the Sandy Hook School in Conneticut was mentioned). I even suggested they use their mother tongue first to say what they think as we barely work on speech in this course but that didn’t help.

Many students told me, as they left the class, that they had enjoyed the video. They did encounter new vocabulary in a meaningful context so they hadn’t wasted their time but my plan certainly backfired.

I plan to try an “end of the year film with them to end next week’s lesson. I have to give some more thought to how to use it!



2 thoughts on “When Opinionated Adults Clam Up”

  1. It’s taken me a couple of weeks to find this post. I’m glad I managed to give you the inspiration for this lesson – it sounds like a good route to take the video. I think the point about the students not wanting to share their opinions is an important one, and one that Fiona Mauchline talks about in relation to teenagers on her blog. I think this is the best post relating to it: http://macappella.wordpress.com/2012/04/
    How were the groups set up? Were they sharing their opinions full class? I wonder if that will have made a difference too. Perhaps they could give another person’s opinions rather than their own: Naomi strongly disagrees with…because….

    1. Sandy!
      This is the second version I’m trying with it. Have a different variation for a different purpose coming up next month.
      They were sharing their opinion with the whole class because we were going through the video together. It would have been better to let them all see the video to get into the “mood of it”, then give out the text and have them try the activity in groups.
      except that some would have spent so much time on understanding the sentences that they wouldn’t have gotten to the opinion part…
      Thanks for brininging up Fiona’s post – have read it and certainly worth a reread. All her posts are!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *