At school today, my students talked about St. Nicholas Day and the treats and presents they got. I told them that Kinder Surprise eggs were banned in the US, which completely boggled their minds.
One boy: “You mean, guns are legal, but Kinder Surprise eggs are not?”
Another boy: “Hundreds of people are killed by guns, but Americans are scared of Kinder Surprise eggs?”
I explain about fears of choking hazards.
First boy: “But you can swallow a gun, too.”
Second boy: “Or swallow the bullets and choke.”
My students officially have more sense than US legislators and consumer advocates.
Since next week is the last week of class before Christmas, I’m planning to show a film of some kind in class. Mostly, I use British or American TV shows, because I can space out the episodes over the schoolyear and the kids tend to connect with plots and characters, which in turn hooks their interest.
I usually pick programs which have never been shown in Germany, because that way all kids are on the same page. Plots and dialogue must be easy enough to understand for non-native speakers. The show should be fairly new and characters should be young enough that the kids can relate. I tend to prefer British shows, because they have less exposure on German TV and British actors usually articulate more clearly. Plus, it usually helps if the program has a sense of humour. Educational value is secondary, as the educational value is watching and understanding a film or TV show in a foreign language. I also have a couple of exclusionary criteria: No sex, no excessive violence (fantasy and stylized violence is okay, but I avoid realistic violence and excessive gore), no seriously morally questionable behaviour (i.e. shows which portray murder or torture as justified or casually kill off main characters or children), a good balance of strong male and female characters, no problematic stereotypes (the kids usually don’t notice, but I feel icky), no really bad language (because the last thing you want is your students employing Gene Hunt’s best insults on the playground) and no strong accents (because the second last thing you want is your students adopting Gene Hunt’s accent).
I have a list of shows that work well for this purpose: Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures (only for the 5th and 6th graders), Demons, Chuck, that sort of thing. So far, Demons and Chuck have been the most successful ones.
By the time I get around to showing TV shows, I can usually gauge the kids’ interests pretty well (just give them a creative writing assignment and you know what they like to read and watch). But sometimes I also ask them what sort of thing they’d like to see.
With this particular group, I’d planned to watch the BBC adaption of Philip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke, because there was an excerpt from that novel in their textbook. But one class hadn’t read that excerpt, while the kids from the other class (my group is a mix of two classes) didn’t much care for it. So scratch The Ruby in the Smoke. Well, at least I won’t have to rewatch it to check, if it’s really suitable.
So I asked my students today, if they have any preferences regarding what to watch, if they prefer fantasy, SF, action, historical adventure and so on. One boy immediately demanded “No romances please”, whereupon I said that I wouldn’t choose a pure romance, much as I would love to show a Jane Austen adaption someday. A girl said that she didn’t like overly gory stuff, which is out anyway.
Then a boy said: “Can’t we watch something normal, like real life?”
I begin wrecking my head for suitable, true to life teen dramas and wonder whether Skins would work, though I’d have to check it for suitability first.
Then the boy continued: “You know, like Fringe. Or that show about a psychic.” [I suspect he means either Psych or The Mentalist]
I honestly wonder in which reality the kid is living that he considers Fringe, Psych or The Mentalist normal and true to life. I’m also still stumped on what to show them. The X-Files and Jonathan Creek are too old, Torchwood and Misfits are totally unsuitable for any number of reasons, The Sarah Jane Adventures is too young for those kids. I’ll probably end up showing Chuck again, though I know much of the dialogue by heart by now.
On second thought, Hustle might also work. The morals are a bit iffy (even though they only scam thoroughly unpleasant people), but it has plenty of action, really smart plotting and is very visual. It has been shown on German TV, but only on a digital niche channel that hardly anyone watches, even though they have some really good shows.