Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It's Good for Well-Being!

Last week, I assigned my class a speaking presentation. Of course, they were horrified. ("You mean, I have to get up in front of my peers and talk about something for three to five minutes in English?! And, oh, God, you'll be listening to my enunciation? And I need to have correct grammar?? And organization?? And transitions???!!!") This is generally the point where their heads explode. But I don't mind. After all, I am ostensibly training them for life in an (Western) English-speaking university, where giving presentations is an important part of many classes, especially in business and commerce, the areas in which many of my students plan on majoring.

So, yes, presentations are an ugly, yet compulsory part of my class.

In the past, the quality of my students' presentations has been entirely underwhelming. In past semesters, I've assigned a general topic, such as "my favourite childhood memory" or "an object that is special to me", but these get really old really fast. So this term, I tried something new. I told them they could choose their topic, as long as it was persuasive; I called it the "persuasion presentation." Of course, when I first introduced it to them, they were lost. Then we started brainstorming where/when/how people try to convince others of something. We thought of advertisements, politicians, religion,  and education, among other things. The point was to show them that persuasion was everywhere. I then modeled my own persuasive presentation, which was "why you should go for a polar bear swim." I organized it with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. My main points were that you should go for a polar bear dip because it was good for your health, and because it was an integral part of Canadian culture. (BS, yes, but it didn't have to be necessarily true, as long as it was well-organized and fit the objectives).

Well, after my model presentation, one of my students, R, decided abruptly that he wanted to change his topic to be fictional, like mine. Now, this student doesn't make waves in class. He's one of my two Koreans, quiet, respectful, and motivated. He's also a good five years older than most of the other students, which gives him a maturity that some of the others lack. When I asked him what he wanted to do for a topic, he proudly answered, with a big grin, "why you should drink your own pee!!!" My response was along the lines of "double-yew tee eff," but he was persistent, even the next day, after I told him to go home and think about it. (All the other students were set on doing "real" topics, like why studying in a western university is better, why playing sports everyday is good, why renting a house is better than homestay, and even why you should eat tuna, etc...). But no, R wanted to talk about the merits of drinking your own pee. So, I relented.

On the day of the presentation, he set up his image (only two students took my advice and included an image with their presentations; the other student's image was of a can of tuna), and proceeded to launch into this amazingly well-organized, well-supported presentation, full of details, transitions, lecture language, etc... in short, everything I had told my students I expected of them. His image was hilarious, and I have included it here. His main points were as follows, and they correspond to his image accordingly: new research in the field of urine therapy, nutritional information, health benefits, and last, how it increases your lifespan. ("Do you know how old these people are? They're sixty years old!!! Drinking your pee can make you live to 120!"). It was especially funny because he appears so normal and straight-laced. Verdict: best student presentation ever!

(Later, when I told some of my co-workers about it, one said, "Hey, did you know that in Mongolia, drinking your mother's pee is believed to have amazing health benefits?")

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