Winning With Weird Lesson Content

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” – Hunter S. Thompson

It’s 9 a.m. and your first period is about to begin.  You walk into a class full of freshmen who, despite being non-English majors, were all smiles six weeks ago when the semester began.  Now, however, the novelty of university life is starting to wear off and you recognize the familiar sleepy faces, the bored and vacant looks in your direction, the obligatory student with the furtive hand under the desk trying vainly to hide their smartphone.  And all you can think about is that one dreaded sentence a teacher hates to say to themselves:  “I AM LOSING THEM.”  In this article, I will explain how you might end up winning them back with weird lesson content.

The Flight 19 Lesson

About three years ago, I started using some weird content in my class after seeing a presentation about it. I used our dreamreader article about the disappearance of Flight 19 in the Bermuda Triangle to get the students talking.  The theme of the class was unsolved mysteries. I invited students to share their own stories of the supernatural or paranormal while I assigned other students to be skeptics and find rational explanation for the flight’s disappearance.  I asked students to use their imagination to write about what might have happened to the flight in a sci-fi movie or TV show.  We watched videos about The Bermuda Triangle and I asked the class to do some research on the history of the Triangle and why so many disappearances of ships and planes have occured there.

This sort of stuff really seemed to rekindle the students’ enjoyment of the class and I carried through with this theme by introducing other weird topics to them like Bigfoot, Numbers Stations, and the RMS Queen Mary in subsequent classes.  I won’t say it brought all of them back – there are always some students who are determined to be bored no matter what you do in class – but it did help to lighten the atmosphere quite a lot.  And it left the students wondering what we’d be talking about in the next class, which kept them coming back.  It was a nice way to get out of the rut of the usual English conversation topics that many coursebooks seem to run over again and again.

Unearthing the Weird

There’s a reason that magazines like the World Weekly News were a staple of convenience stores and supermarket checkout lane racks for so many years.  People really love reading this kind of stuff.  And if your students don’t like it, at least you can tell your colleagues over a coffee that you’ve taught a lesson that revolved around Hillary Clinton’s Alien Baby.  For the rest of your tenure, you can be “that guy” (or gal).  If you’re not comfortable with going that weird, then simply do a search for “odd news” in google and you’ll surely find something interesting from a legitimate news source.

If you have a class that’s suffering from the mid-term doldrums and there’s nowhere else to turn, why not try the weird route?  You might be surprised at how providing content that’s widely divergent from student expectations can turn them on to a class again.

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