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.  ;-)


  1. Too funny and I SO agree. Just today, I came out with "it pisses me off." It did certainly get the students' attention. The potential problem here is that I said it firmly as I was explaining why I didn't like to be ignored when I am trying to get their attention and focus. i have used, "hell," "crap," "sheeety," "weiner" instead of winner, even "cagada," or "caca," (Spanish for shit, although the spelling might be wrong). Oh, and the occasional "damn." This happens mostly with my Honors class because there are so many crazy boys in it. I have to keep them entertained and focused, which can be difficult sometimes with this social bunch.

    It's nice to hear that someone else understands that this is not a terrible thing. I sometimes wonder what parents think when students mention these things at home. So far, no problems, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.

    Teaching can be sooooo difficult. We do what we have to!

  2. Laughing my ass off! Did I get your attention? LOL Seriously though, this post is SO funny.
    I am not sure about Vodka and student retention, but I know cheap white wine does wonders when I am trying to write a case conceptualization on a borderline patient.

  3. From that new, awsome movie "The Fantastic Mr. Fox"


    I though about this for the past two hours, and honestly I can't really recall any specific lesson of the English through 4 years of Catholic school and 8 years of public school, but I can read and write the English language good. =)

    I can't even imagine the restraint you guys must be under in that occupation. Although one might think otherwise, even within the Marine Corps, while the foul language is very present, and from time to time (at least while I was in) you could very well get physically struck, the use of cussing is still very much used within reasonable context.

    I think my most favorite method of attention grabbing was when an instructor would break from the lesson when he noticed us falling asleep during a class, and begin yellilng (talking) at us if we were fighting along side him instead of under him.

    We were going over the M2 .50 Browning machine gun, which its design has not changed since its invention in 1911. We were all nodding off (probably because we have to walk everywhere with all our gear on), and the instructor broke the flow of the lecture on the weapons specs and starting yelling "Hey, wake the fuck up! If you're not going to pay attention to these classes then when people are shooting at you you're not going to remember that you have to pull the bolt back twice instead of once on this weapon system. You'll get yourself killed and everyone around you killed because you won't sit up and pay attention!"

    "English....who needs that, I'm never going to England."


  4. @Niecy, good point, I can't imagine the stories my students come home with. I try not to think about it too much. ;-)

    @Shan, thanks for tip, although I'm curious as to exactly what you "conceptualize" while drinking cheap white wine.

    Perry, how do you manage to find a link that is applicable to EVERY thing? That cracks me up! As far as you being unable to recall a single English lesson, I think we tend to remember only those lessons which fall under our favorite subjects. Like I can't really recall any math lessons I ever learned, but I can remember a TON of English lessons from my childhood. I love your instructor's method of waking you guys up--I wish I could use such methods on my students. But if I did, little Johnny would go home and cry to his parents "Mrs. P said the F-word and then said that I and everyone around me are going to DIE." And they sort of frown upon that type of classroom management at my work. *Sigh*

  5. I'm known to locate certain things from time to time.

    Yeah, I'm pretty sure in the movie "School of Rock", Joan Cusacks description of why she runs the school the way she does is not any kind of science fiction.

    Just remember, you can use those methods though...on your last day. =)


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