Lessons Learned – New Horizon 3 Writing +3 – Sketch Comedy

Sketch Comedy

3 class periods

Writing + activities in the New Horizon books usually involve speaking by having the student read their finished writing sample in front of the class. Inevitably you will hear 15 to 35 versions of the same three to four sentences lifted straight from the book with just one or two things changed. However, Writing +3 gives you a chance to really do something fun with your third year students and they wont be able to simply regurgitate mostly prepared sentences. In my limited experience this maybe one of the best activities already in the book. The scope of this lesson is to take what the book has and expand on it in class rather than just using the book.

Purpose: To explore English well beyond the confines of the textbook using humor.

I did this with four different classes and the results were phenomenal. Because of the comedy element the students were way less concerned about being right and more concerned about saying what they wanted to say. In their search for laughs they had me helping them with very difficult sentences and really stretching the limits of the English ability. Some of the sketches were legitimately funny as well. Also, common problems like mumbling or speaking softly, were overcome by many of the students who suffer from those things. I also feel that this exercise would work at any time with more advanced students. If you don’t use New Horizon, you should still be able to execute this with everything in this post.

Prep: Like most things I do with my classes I try to find things that require as little prep as possible so I can focus on getting the highest impact rather than some elaborate card game or flash card system that looks cool but no one can understand. The prep for this activity will come down to you as a person being able to demonstrate your own comedic timing and improvisation skills. If you have never done improv or comedy acting before, practice at home before you try in front of the class. There are thousands of youtube and vimeo videos you can sort through that will give you some ideas about how to engage in comedy.

Handout PPTX: Sketch Comedy

Other prep would be to find a good example of sketch comedy that the students can watch. You should also write out some short comedic premises that you can use for demonstrative purposes in class. You can use the attached file for already finished ideas but that takes all the fun out of it, try and write your own. For the video I would recommend this short sketch from Japanese comedian, Shimura Ken.

Execution: Generally speaking, your twelve to fourteen year old students will likely have a very different idea of comedy from you. Not only is there an age gap but there is also a culture gap. Sometimes my mind is befuddled by what Japanese people find funny. Moreover it is unlikely that any of these students have written comedy in Japanese and probably don’t know where to start.Sketch comedy clip shot

This is where you come in. First off I showed each class the Shimura Ken sketch to give them an example of very well done comedy based a simple idea. The teacher insisted that we go through the sketch in the text book but I would try and skip it if you can. To bridge the unfunny sketch in the text book to actual comedy, I acted out the sketch on my own playing both parts and used a radio as my game console. Practice this at home if you know are going to do it so you can get your timing down. Also I would cover facial expressions and reaction noises like, “Uh…,” if you have time. I had them repeat “uh” about 10 times with different meanings associated with it. Also see my post about Emotional Sakura.

To me the most important part of this exercise wasn’t the vocabulary or the sentence construction but explaining to the kids how to generate a simple sketch. For each of the six ideas I gave them, I acted out an example with willing (and some unwilling) student participants. The results were often hilarious even if the comedy wasn’t intentional.

The introduction and the idea explanation took most of the first class. The students will need at least one whole class period to write their own and rehearse in their groups. During the writing period I would sit down and help brainstorm with groups that were having trouble thinking of an idea. Even if you are quick on your feet with ideas I would keep several canned situations written down for groups that have a lot of trouble. I also corrected grammar and offered suggestions to help improve the timing or the idea if it was a little weak.

The third class period will be performances. I offered a reward for groups that could make me laugh and several of them succeeded.

A final thought: Most of my students are pretty good but I was blown away by how well they did with this activity. If I had to chalk it up to just one element, it would be the fact that they were given true freedom to write and use English. While I had to check some stuff for being inappropriate and it wasn’t always perfect grammar they used English well beyond their normal day to day abilities. Try to make them understand, there are no mistakes for this exercise, and that when you correct something it has nothing to do with their idea. Help them with expressions but don’t rob them of the freedom creation, even if it is a little off.

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