That balloon burst….

No I didn’t do a  risk assessment in advance, but honestly, I’m not experienced in the use of balloons in teaching situations so it just never really occurred to me to do so.  I’ll know better next time of course, but that doesn’t really remedy yesterday evening’s shenanigans!

So we are still going over Cambodian athletes, and this session was on female athletes in particular.  To pep things up and reinforce the learning from the day before I wanted another competition. The plan was (genius I thought at the time, but hey ho Captain Hindsight, you were nowhere around to help at the time) to create situations where lots of them would get awarded medals, so we could practise vocabulary around ‘wow!  Isn’t she amazing/ great/ wonderful!’   Rather than have them compliment random sporting professionals, I thought it would be way more fun to get the to compliment one another.  What could possibly go wrong?

So, the paper plane throwing was great, but too soon to repeat that.  Instead, I bought some balloons, because they are intrinsically fun.  The competition would simply be to see who could blow one up and tie a knot in it the fastest.  In the first group this ostensibly worked quite well…. apart from the fact that subsequently delivering an English lesson in a classroom strewn with balloons is way harder than you might think.  Who knew a multitude of colourful (and squeaky) balloons would be distracting?

In the second session, no sooner had one of the students walked in than he went almost ashen.   ‘I really don’t like balloons‘ he said, using one of the phrases gleaned from an earlier session so that was good.  And he really doesn’t.  He was borderline phobic, looking deeply uncomfortable just being in the room with them in case one should burst.  I was a bit flummoxed.  I mean I get not everyone likes balloons, and when they burst it can make you jump.  However, I didn’t anticipate a scenario where one of the students might effectively be excluded from a whole session because of being in the same room with some.    The compromise was, he could stay the other end of the room during this ice-breaker and be a judge rather than a participant in the contest.  That sort of worked.  The competition took place and medals were duly awarded.


We then got into the session which was a ‘good in parts’ one to be honest.  Didn’t really flow, but not too bad either. When, suddenly, one of the balloons did indeed burst in spectacular fashion.  Now the interesting point here, is that the person who was most afraid of just this scenario seemed to remain outwardly calm. The more outgoing, brazen even, student prone to good-natured macho posturing literally leapt up and ran away to the other side of the room. It was hilarious, and really quite something to behold.  It was as if a bomb had gone off.  The room collapsed into post-shock guffawing.  The next part of the session was a massive distraction as we went through vocabulary associated with the experience of the shock.  When the balloon burst I screamed!  I was so scared I couldn’t breathe and my heart was racing.  It made me jump!  It was a an amusing interlude (as was teaching them the word for shuttlecock, just because I wanted to really).  Thankfully, we had a nurse amongst us to attend to any medical needs.  The new student is a nurse, and he said we needed to remain seated and calm.  He has integrated really, really well.

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So, I’m not really sure about this session. We moved on to doing some model dialogues about various female Cambodian athletes.  In the first group after reading out one of the bits of introductory text about a famous female wrestler, Chov Sotheara, pronounced that he knew her.  Apparently he goes to the school she is a PE teacher at.  I was suitably impressed. As my student has also one a gold medal in class – for paper plan throwing – I suggested he took his gold medal in to show her and tried to get her to show off her gold medal in return!  I’m not hopeful, but it added a certain relevance and interest to the discussion.


With the second group, once we moved onto getting them to create their own dialogues around the athletes featured, there was some confusion over the gender of those being discussed.  I do concede some of those pictured do look somewhat butch, particularly in the black and white poor-quality photocopied text books we work from.  Even so, I had hoped that the heading ‘Famous Female Athletes’ might have offered up a small clue, and maybe even the names – though to be fair I have no idea if Khmer names are gender specific or not.  Is it wrong that when they were acting them out I did end up literally, not metaphorically banging my head against a wall at one point.  It made them laugh though.

They seem to quite like it when I give an exaggerated response to a mistake.  To be clear, I’d never use such a technique to humiliate a student who wasn’t getting something or didn’t understand.  But I do sort of radar in on people who make common but avoidable ‘known’ errors.  So an example is missing off the end of words in pronunciation.  There is a tendency to skip end consonants so ‘rice’ becomes ‘ri’ or ‘province’ becomes ‘provin’. If they make these mistakes whilst speaking aloud, or reading text we have already been through, I won’t let them continue.  I do a sort of ‘eh’ and stare into space waiting for them to repeat correctly. This usually results in much laughter, much correction by the rest of the group who realise the mistake that’s been made, and the reader/ speaker saying the word or phrase again correctly. It is very simple but an effective technique. Though I spend so much time rolling my eyes in some sessions it’s a wonder they are not now permanently lodged in the back of my head.

Here is a gratuitous, aren’t my students lovely shot. They are the medal winners, being worshipped by those who did not win (I prefer not to call those others losers, it seems rather harsh)

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In other news.  One of my students, back from the province, brought me in some Toddy Palm to try.  It was one of the (many) fruit and vegetables that I didn’t know.  I think his mum had cooked it, certainly they had grown it.  It is weird stuff.  You sort of snap it so you reveal the inner root, peeling away the fibrous outside.  It tastes like a sort of mild corn flavour, but is like a starchy hard potato type texture inside.  It’s not unpleasant as such, but not something I’d rush to buy again.  I was extremely chuffed that he’d brought it in for me.  A whole bag.  I offered it around to the volunteer teachers after the session to mixed reactions which were along the lines of ‘hmm, interesting‘ and ‘I’d happily eat if I was starving but it wouldn’t be a choice.’  I also offered it to the Cambodian staff who were similarly not altogether keen.  I was surprised they’d not had them before.  Maybe it’s more a rural snack.  On the intrepid tour our guide got some for us, and I had one on the coach. I didn’t take a photo of this student’s offering, but did of that earlier eating experiment, maybe I’ll track down that photo at some point.  The Khmer guy on reception rejected the palm shoots out of hand, but did take on the spare balloons, which he subsequently hung up around the reception area.  They look most festive!

So now, it’s the morning after the night before. I’m supposed to be lesson planning. I woke with a headache and raging sore throat which is not good.  I didn’t go to the gym, and would happily have stayed in my flat all day but for the fact that the internet is down, I have no food in, it is way too hot to be there without air-con and there is noisy construction work going on outside.  Oh dear. The runes are not good. I had to venture out to a coffee bar for cool, relative calm and internet.  I’m currently procrastinating. The topic for tonight is famous singers.  Unfortunately, when I was having my lesson planning binge at the weekend I didn’t get this far, so it’s a bad day to have a thudding head and no access to creativity.  Oh well.  I suppose I’ll just have to muddle through as best I can.  I am so ready for a break though. I hope I’m not ill for that.  Next week we have a mid-term week’s holiday.  I am off exploring the Mekong, which will be fun, but also not compatible with being ill.  Oh well, that’s a few days way yet.  Lessons to plan and deliver in the meantime.  Eek.

So have a nice day.  And, if you are working with people and balloons yourself in future, learn from my mistakes.  Balloons are not everyone’s friends.  Forewarned is forearmed.  Keep safe out there!




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