In my Advanced Writing class this morning, I experienced one of those rare moments that teachers live for. The class is small, only 6 students. This being Japan, the 3 young men sit on one side of the aisle and the 3 young women on the other. The students are busy with the final stages of the research papers they've been working on all semester.
One of the students was using a quotation, and I noticed that there was a quote within a quote. In my usual serious way of teaching, I said to him in a stage whisper, "I'm going to teach you a secret about using quotation marks, but don't let any of the other students know, OK?"
Naturally all the ears in the room perked up, and everyone listened in as I explained the usage of single quotation marks for a quote within a quote. As soon as I had finished, they all dashed over to his desk to find out the "secret" information. Peering over his shoulder, those who understood the usage were explaining it to others in Japanese.
I wish I had captured the moment on camera - students crowded around a desk, excited about learning and cooperating to help each other understand. If I had simply "taught" the usage by lecturing about it, about half of them would have been listening, and fewer than that would probably have gotten it right. As it is, I think they'll all do it correctly if their paper happens to include a quote within a quote.
The "secret information" technique is not one I use every day, but it certainly was successful this time, and I'll keep it in my bag of teaching tricks. The success of getting the information across was not, however, due only to a teaching trick. It also took a class that was comfortable with me and students who had bonded. That together with an unusually enthusiastic group is what made the moment.
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