ETM in Theory
TEACHING ENGLISH THROUGH MAGIC
By King Robert
An entertaining approach to teaching English
How it all started and the role of a magician and teacher.
It was about 10 years ago when I was in Spain that I stumbled upon this undiscovered opportunity quite by accident. After a short 10 minute demonstration of my magical ability in a restaurant in Madrid, I was approached by two women who asked me tentatively if I could teach English.
“No, I’m a magician,” I replied. “Yes, that’s what we want.” She maintained. “We want you to do magic for the children so they will enjoy the lesson and maybe learn more English”.
And that’s how it all started. My original intention was to make a scripted “magic/lesson” using balloons to show colours, shapes and sizes and of course animals.
I used coloured sponge balls to show number changes and a 3 rope routine followed by a silk vanish and a simple card trick. The finale was making a balloon rabbit. I submitted this to the head mistress and made 2 lessons. Afterwards I expected the real teachers to consolidate with after show activities.
Several months later I found myself in Paris. Asking my friends if they thought teaching English using magic was a good idea, they were all more than enthusiastic and suggested I go to the British Council with my ideas. I followed my instincts and approached the Head of the Young Learners Centre, Mrs. Gail Ellis. The response was very positive and I started the project under the name ENGLISH THROUGH MAGIC as it still stands today.
I performed my scripted “magic/lessons” and visited many English events, schools, teaching seminars and exhibitions. It was at one of these that I was offered my first part time job as a teacher and magician at the Lennon Bilingual School. Now I was faced with the unnerving task of integrating them.
I had always had the misconception that teaching and being a magician were separate occupations. Quite the contrary. On further study I realized that they have a lot more in common than meets the eye. A teacher nowadays is intrinsically a performer and a magician a story teller who demonstrates the principles of magic. The two combine perfectly.
The visual and auditory attention of the class is maintained by an amusing display of magic. The student’s memory is more likely to retain linguistic content through the pleasure of watching, listening and participating.
Children tend to relate to what they see (the visual props and gestures of the magician/teacher) and are delighted to discover how much they can actually understand. At the same time they become familiar with the sounds and rhythms of the English language. This is why a magician is gifted with a unique teaching aid.
The connections between magic and teaching a language
Before one can begin the task of teaching English Through Magic, one has to be aware of the similarities which connect them. In order to do this one must define the underlying criteria which bind them together. I have discovered 5 important elements:
Communication outside words.
These are non verbal gestures, exaggerated body movement and facial expressions which are used instead of a spoken language to indicate ones intentions. These are used primarily by clowns and mime artists who can clearly put their meaning across to an audience. They are also an important part of Magic as a “mis-direction” and a “true-direction” and of course teaching any subject.
Hieroglyphics, signs and visual aids are used by magicians all the time under the heading “props”. The visual aspect of a language is also enhanced by many thousands of images to explain how things function. This is common in cartoon art and diagrams as well but above all used by teachers.
The tone of voice.
People tend to respect the tone especially as a command more than they realize. The radio announcer uses a highly trained voice to maintain attention in precisely the same way a teacher should. A dog will understand his master not through the meaning of the words but from the tone of his voice, whereas a magician uses very subtle voice changes to create the necessary atmosphere and a teacher uses them to maintain discipline.
The equation, reason + meaning = sense.
Well I am sure you have never heard this one before. Let me explain. In magical theory, there are three stages to any magical effect, be it a simple vanish or a complex colour change. Firstly the explanatory stage where the props used are identified and examined. There must be a reason for having them and a meaning behind the second stage which is where the magician makes his gestures and performance or there will be no sense to the third and final stage which is the magical effect desired. I would like to be so daring as to apply this valuable theory to the classroom as well!
The text book definition of dialectics is the change form quantity to quality. I would like to be more subtle. In the case of a magic illusion, we witness a profound dialectic experience every time magic occurs. It is intrinsically the unpredictable change of state which an object has undergone without the observer having seen the method by which it was conducted. In this case you can imagine the magician as being merely a conductor. In all magic something changes, ie: its size, colour, shape, position, quantity or quality. It is precisely this which can be described as the underlying essence of a language: We use words to explain that something has occurred or changed, be it “I have just got married” or “I will sit on the other chair” We need a language to transfer information about an event which has, does or will happen.
The similarities between a teacher and a magician
In the ten years I have been a magician and a teacher I have often struggled to explain this radical connection. It is now obvious to me that they are so intertwined it’s difficult to separate them! The history of magic deals with soothsayers, alchemists, story tellers and healers.
Who were these early artisans other than teachers in their own right? They were passing on information before the advent of books and videos, selling their wares in the street and performing illusions to attract and convince the audiences.
The teacher stands before the class prepared, not for selling but for passing on knowledge in exactly the same manner a magician does using mystery, imagination, excitement and amazement. All these emotions evoke and stimulate the learning process of the students and the result is quite astonishing. The teacher is a performer and a magician is a teacher! They are both on stage, vulnerable and alone. The lights are on, the fans are turning and the show must go on……
The effect magic creates in the classroom.
Having had quite a few years experience as a close up magician I have been constantly reminded and complimented by my delighted audiences that they had felt like little children again after the wonderful experience of magic. This is the effect “strong magic” has on people of all ages. In the classroom we are in a position of superiority as a teacher but also one has to gain the trust and friendship of the pupils. I come from an English education and was continually humiliated and beaten by the staff who wielded relentless fury and discipline on the boys.
What better way to destroy the hunger for knowledge than to treat your pupils as inferior beings?
I am in favor of destroying that teacher pupil relationship altogether and creating a subtle interplay where the children are allowed to contribute at an equal level with the teacher. This works so well with magic because there is so much participation involved.
I have a large bag of surprises up my metaphoric sleeve. Having a large repertoire of simple tricks is extremely advantageous when needing to gain attention and focus. All my students have now learned how to say, “Teacher, may I see a magic trick?” They tend to get over exited at the prospect and can’t wait to figure out how to do it themselves and some even manage to copy my moves!
Next is even more exiting….using your magical effect to convey a concept and introduce vocabulary and extend listening and speaking skills. The greatest effect the magician creates in the classroom and school is one of genuine bondage with the students which continues outside the school….you are no longer just a teacher…but now a magician!
Some practical aspects of magic in the classroom
This must be the part you have been waiting for…how to apply some simple and effective tricks to your teaching repertoire with absolutely no knowledge of magic. I use simple household objects such as rubber bands, coins, matches, chalk sticks, pens, cards, silk scarves, tissue paper, yoghurt cups, bits of string and some more sophisticated props like sponge balls and Chinese coins.
The difficulty here is to show how to do tricks: The easy bit is which grammatical function they imply. For example, a sponge ball routine is using interrogative pronouns eg: “Where is the ball?” and prepositions: “It’s in my pocket.” Or “It’s on the table.” Another is the imperative. Eg: “Hold this.” or “Blow here.”
I do not announce that I am about to make a magic trick, nor ask the children if they want to see one. The subtlety lies in being able to do “impromptu magic” at first and then wait until they ask you to see more. I keep them hungry and do not give too much away, concentrating on helping them to communicate with me.
I work with step by step stages that reinforce my intentions and they try to catch me out so I rely on my wit to keep them guessing.
There is so much enjoyment and pleasure created, it doesn’t matter if I make mistakes and sometimes they are deliberate! My job is to teach…not to be David Copperfield.
There is so much interaction involved. I give the students simple tasks like say the “magic” words….or whatever concept you are teaching eg: “touch here, blow here, snap your fingers, count 1…2…3” etc.
You can also give them projects like making a magic hat or a magic wand. I particularly like the disobedient arrow (see photos) which they can make themselves and learn how to do. The gimmick can be used to show left and right or go out and come in.
Another possibility is setting homework like collecting product packages (eg: biscuits) which use the words “MAGIC”. You can award points to the student with the most.
My repertoire is vast...numbers, shapes colours, parts of the body, objects etc. The possibilities are endless and only restricted by the limits of your own imagination.
Some usefull tips for teaching English Through Magic.
Start with one trick at a time.
Choose effects wich demonstrate concepts relative to the topic.
Go through each trick slowly and methodically with individuals and groups.
Write down the phrases so they can recite them easily.
Explore the grammar in each sentence and explain thier functions.
Help the students constantly when they make mistakes or forget words.
Never confuse or discourage them.
Teach them how to present a trick in English!