In my recent experience teaching a graduate course in British and American Culture my approach was similar to what I first found students needed. The focus was to show how Anglo-American culture can be used to teach language and the importance of culture to language students. The only way to do that was to constantly ask, “How can we use this cultural aspect to teach language?” The trick is to use both inductive and deductive methods to keep the students returning to this question.
One of the highlights of the course for me was the discovery of how Shakespeare can be used in the ESL classroom and gave me insight into the student’s interests and abilities. One exercise we worked with was to re-write Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be or not to be…” from the student’s own perspective. “To study or not to study, (at graduate school)” began one response; “To shop or not to shop,” was another. Both student pairs went on to express their own suffering of the demands and financial sacrifices they must make to continue their graduate studies. “To study” reflecting Hamlet’s ‘To be”, to live and suffer under his murderous uncle. And “or not to study” and face the unknown after graduate school life, reflecting Hamlet’s fear of the afterlife if he confronts his uncle. Both pairs tried to incorporate Shakespeare’s original style, meter and vocabulary into their own passages.
What I had thought would be a simple exercise to get the students to look at the excerpt closely and modernize the language (Heyden, 2002), became a discussion on how to use literature to allow students to personalize an excerpt from literature and how this would allow the students to develop a personal connection to the work; both the original meaning and their own. It is always exciting to see a class take the exercise that you introduced and develop it much further than the teacher’s (my) intention. That is one reason I love teaching; the surprises the students give you at unexpected moments that teach the teacher!