Getting to know you…

23 Sep

I was delighted that 15 different students turned up this term for our class at Henry Cavendish school this term. Not many people in the class knew eachother and since I also didn’t know very many of them either I wanted an activity that would get us all talking. As such, I asked everyone to draw an ‘identity pizza’. An ‘identity pizza’ is basically a circle (or ‘pizza’) divided into segments, each representing different parts of who you are. So often, the first thing teachers ask ESOL students is their name and where they come from. But students may not consider their nationality as something key to their identity or who they really are. Because how students choose to fill their identity pizza is completely open to their own interpretation, they usually end up with a diagram that tells you much more about their interests, dreams and what’s important to them. Learners can write or just draw in each segment so everyone can join in, whatever their level of English.

In the Henry Cavendish class on Thursday, I asked everyone to talk to five new people and, with their identity pizza diagrams to hand, to find out what they had in common. All sorts of similarities were established between members of the class and we discovered things about one another that we might never have known otherwise. I heard, for the first time, that two students who I’d already taught for a couple of months both wanted to start their own business. Another revealed that her favourite film was Alien. Others compared their favourite foods from home.

Our class could easily be grouped together on the basis of the obvious things they share – there are all are migrants in London, most are parents, many work low paid jobs. We will, of course, be talking about the issues that our class members face as parents, migrants and low paid workers in London and how we can take practical action to tackle problems that arise. But it’s also such a pleasure to discover the preferences, experiences and aspirations that both mark us all out as individuals and that connect us with others in unexpected configurations, across differences of nationality, faith, age and language.

There is also a political dimension to this kind of activity. For one thing, it doesn’t assume any understanding of how people self-identify or what they consider integral to ‘who they are’. By involving the teacher and participants as equals (I too made a diagram and shared it with anyone who would listen!) it sends out a signal that everyone, whether teacher, learner or volunteer, is coming to the class with their own diverse interests, experiences and plans. And finally, for those participants who spoke openly about their dreams for the future, this was an exercise in making those aspirations public. Articulating these plans, and seeing that the rest of the class takes them seriously, may help them to begin to think more practically about how to make them happen.

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