Wednesday, April 23, 2014

STEPPING INTO ANOTHER CULTURE: Embodying the language incrementally and noticing

ROUTE TO GEORGIA TECH CAMPUS! Invited to teach a class at the Georgia Tech Language Institue, I was delighted to be back on campus and in the classroom to see what I could discover. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
Hallelujah for stepping into the unknown and for those that courageously enter! 
As an English language instructor to international adults--ones who have lept from their culture to my American one--I am in awe of their willingness to speak in English and try on new behaviors while speaking a new and foreign tongue!

Recently, I have engaged in learning a new language myself while remaining in my own country, my state of Georgia, and my town of Decatur. The language is that of InterPlay! InterPlay has its own vocabulary! For example:

hand dance,
body wisdom, 
noticing, ...only to name a few words and phrases!

And I am curious about how InterPlay concepts can be integrated into language learning! Therefore, I was grateful to Karen Peterson, a colleague and instructor at the Georgia Tech Language Institute, who invited me to "guest lecture" in one of her classes on the afternoon of April 23, 2014 as a way to help build the students' confidence in expressing their leadership skills. 
LEADERS AT THE LANGUAGE INSTITUTE! Karen Peterson, (front row, right) poses with her class of leaders who have formed activity clubs as part of the coursework this session. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)

I saw her invitation as an opportunity to continue practicing my new insight to teaching language, a direct result of my InterPlay training: I would ask the students to EMBODY THE LANGUAGE using laughter yoga, improvisation and InterPlay tools! Why?
  • KINESTHETIC LEARNING = Learning through physical activity/Doing 
  • FUN & PLAY & CREATIVE CHALLENGE = Positive learning outcomes   
  • FLUENCY of SELF (whole person) = LANGUAGE FLUENCY
EMBODYING THE LANGUAGE = Confidence/Empowerment    
(see this blog for more information about embodying the language) 

For this "guest lecture," I decided that I would practice the InterPlay concept of incrementality in the way I saw it practiced in the recent InterPlay Asheville Untensive I attended recently(see this blog). AND...I would have the students play with vocal quality and gestures to arrive at the improvisation exercise, "YES, and..."!

When teaching English as a second language (ESL), we teachers introduce three aspects of vocal quality:

VOLUME: loud to soft
SPEED: fast to slow
PITCH: high to low

These concepts of volume, speed, and pitch are important to implement at a micro-level for producing syllable and sentence level stress in order that the speaker's pronunciation is clear and easy to for the listener to understand (the opposite would be a mechanized voice vacant of rhythm and tonality). Then at a macro-level, volume, speed, and pitch can be varied to express individual speaker's personality, to tell stories, or to command attention.

These were the steps I used to facilitate the students experimenting with their voices:

Babbling Warm-up for Whole Group and in Pairs: 
1. My name is ****, and I could talk about ****
2. In pairs, students volley back-and-forth: "I could talk about" (exchange pairs three times)
3. In pairs, students take turns telling a one-minute story on a neutral topic. The concept of "noticing" is introduced.
4. Noticing is shared in pairs and then with entire class.

Experimenting with expanding the vocal range in English
1. Breathing from the belly

2. Breathing from the belly with sighing

3. Raising the left hand above the head, intaking belly breath, expressing three vowels (eeeee, ahhhhhh, oooooo) from high pitch to low pitch with hand cascading to the speakers' knees and raising it back above the head, returning to high pitch. Repeat with right hand.

4. Performing a three-breath song for a partner.

5. Noticing is shared in pairs and then with entire class.

Culmination in two-minute story telling
1. In pairs,  students are asked tell a two-minute story on a neutral topic experimenting with volume, speed, and pitch.  

2. Noticing is shared.

1. Students are invited to shake a left hand, right hand, left foot, right foot, whatever they were sitting on.

2. The activity WALK, RUN, STOP is introduced and students are invited to experiment and play with those forms. One movement form I like to encourage international students to try is BEING REALLY LARGE, so LARGE that their entire body fills the room. Often the international students who come to my classroom have not been invited to be "large" in this American culture. Instead they feel puny and lack confidence. Embodying LARGENESS here on this American ground, feels good to them! They notice that feeling LARGE feels good.

3. WALK, RUN, STOP is then enacted with music. Student's are invited to pause and watch other students, to imitate, to experience making choices.

4. The noticing afterward pleasantly surprised me! One student made the correlation of movement to speaking English. He observed that WALK, RUN, STOP was similar to using VOLUME, PITCH and SPEED to tell a story! Hallelujah for EMBODYING the LANGUAGE!

5. Students are shown ways to perform one-hand dance with the entire class.

6. Students do a hand dance with a partner.

7. Then expand the one-hand-dance with their partner using the entire classroom.

8. Noticing.

Thus, implementing incremental steps from improvisation, laughter yoga (We acknowledge breaks between incremental steps with a brisk clapping of the hands twice while saying "Very good, Very good, Yeah," concluding with our hands raised overhead.), and InterPlay, we are ready for the Improvisational activity, "Yes, and..."

Here is the "Yes, and..." activity that was adapted for this leadership class:
PRACTICING YES AND...! The incrementality has culminated in this improvisation exercise of "Yes, and..." First, students practice a script so they see how to use intonation, hand gestures, to agree with their partner's suggestions, and to add an idea. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)

Yes! And…
Function: This is a way to practice intonation, gestures, and making things up (which we need to do all the time!) while making a conversation. It is also a positive way of showing your agreement to a suggestion and making your partner look good.

·      Use rising/falling intonation to show enthusiasm.
·      Use hand gestures, head bobs, and your whole body to punctuate your intonation, thus showing your agreement.
·      Use imagination to build the dialogue and contribute


ACTOR 1: Let’s have a fund raiser for our club!
ACTOR 2: Great Idea! We could have a pie eating contest!
ACTOR 1: Yes! And we could bake our favorite pies!
ACTOR 2: Perfect! And we could buy lots of Coke and Sprite.
ACTOR 1: You are so smart! Let’s do that and find a band to play exciting music!
ACTOR 2: Yes! And we can ask our friends to come and dance!
ACTOR 1: Yes! Maybe we could also have a dance contest too!
ACTOR 2: Yes! And we can ask the faculty to dance!
ACTOR 1: Great idea! And we can be the judges!
ACTOR 2: Yes! And the losers can have a pie in the face!
ACTOR 2: Absolutely! And we can ask everyone for 5 dollars!
ACTOR 1: Yes! We are going to raise a lot of money for our club!

End Scene/Change Roles
Now, it is your turn to make up your own conversation saying “yes.”
Possible Topics:
1.  Let’s have a party for our club!
2.  Let’s take our club on a road trip!
3.  Let’s increase our club membership!
4.  Let’s have a social with regular GT students!
5.  Let’s go to Las Vegas!
6.  Let’s have a recognition awards party!
Expanding the “yes” exercise by adding “but.”

Yes! The students enjoyed this "Yes, and..." activity and were quite well warmed up and prepared for it! The 65-minute class period really wasn't long enough for this kind of incremental tip-toeing. However, that is where my teaching went with implementing InterPlay in such depth for the first time. I had wanted to introduce another improvisation activity, "High Status, Low Status" but that will have to wait for another invitation for a guest lecture.

I will leave you with "noticings" from students and my response to them. One student expressed a discomfort with using her voice in such a new way and using such "loud" hand gestures. "It felt unnatural," she said. Another student said she can talk, "that way with my husband" but not other people. Still another student had felt liberated by the exercise; it had brought him some comfort and ease.

"Great noticings," I told them. "What we did in this class today was an opportunity, an invitation to experiment with speaking English in and outside of the classroom. Take what you want from this class today and try it out in the big laboratory of life. See what happens. Notice. Try something else! Have fun! And listen to your BODY WISDOM."
EMBODIED STUDENTS WITH HALLELUJAH (first row, center)! (photo by Karen Peterson)

Hallelujah for BODY WISDOM as these internationals learn how to navigate another language in a different culture! They are so brave! 

That's Coffee with Hallelujah! SOUL BLOG with me! I am so interested in boundary crossings. What boundaries have you crossed recently? Why did you traverse? What aided you in your journey? And how did you fair?


  1. This is one of your most interesting blogs yet...will be back when I have a bit more time to re read and study it...

  2. Darlene! Thank you for stepping into the international English classroom with me.