Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Engaging Students through Foul Language

In the credentialing program, the instructors teach you all of these wonderful strategies to help you be a more effective teacher and design compelling lessons.  But one thing they never teach you is the power of cursing.  At the middle-school level, throwing in a curse word from time to time is a great way to add a little liveliness to your lectures.  Not any of the big ones (dropping the F-bomb in the middle of class might be a bad idea), but the more mild curse words, such as "crap," "hell," "damn," and so on.  The reason is simple.  Ninety percent of your students don't really give a crap about what you're teaching (see how nicely "crap" slides into that sentence?), but if you drop in the tiny occasional curse word, you will suddenly have their undivided attention.  Especially with seventh graders.  They have just graduated from elementary school in which any type of foul language is a huge no-no, so when they hear a teacher slipping in even a mildly bad word, you can see their mouths nearly drop open in shock as they snap to attention.  For example, a few weeks ago I was teaching my students what it means to be "objective" in writing.  Here is an excerpt from that lecture:
Okay guys, if you were a reporter and you were covering a burglary, you would have to be objective, which means keeping all of your opinions and emotions out of your story.  It might sound something like this: "At approximately 2:15 a.m last night, three suspects were seen entering the Quickie Mart on Rodeo Drive, wearing black ski masks.  The suspects managed to flee the scene with..."
At this point I noticed the students were beginning to fade.  Enter curse word.  Back to lecture:
Now, did you guys notice how there was no emotion or opinions expressed in this news story?  It's not like the reporter said, "At 2:15 a.m last night, three suspects burglarized the Quickie Mart.  OMG, this really pisses me off!  What's up with all of these retard-criminals?"   
At this point, I had my entire class back, laughing and hollering.  Simply from using one mild curse word.  And once they're snapped back to attention, you have them for at least another good ten minutes before they start to fade again.  The above was a longer example, but this technique can also be played out in a short and sweet fashion.  Example:
Q: Mrs. P, why does the word 'goose' turn to 'geese', instead of 'gooses'?
A: Because it's one of those bastard words we talked about earlier that doesn't follow the rules.
The key is you can't over-use this technique.  If the word uttered isn't a shock to their system, it does no good.

On a somewhat related note, did you know that, according to Myth Busters, cussing actually increases your pain tolerance?  So not only is some mild cursing good for student-learning, but it actually provides the teacher some much needed therapy throughout the day.

So teachers:  Know your material, design engaging lessons, and...cuss a little.  Join me next week for Part 2 of this series: How Vodka can improve student retention.  ;-)