Using Anecdotes Cautiously
Anecdotes are stories, usually from personal experience that people tell to make a point or entertain others during a conversation. Inserting anecdotes in presentations is a good strategy to attract and hold students’ attention. The English language teachers can use anecdotes form various sources. ‘Using anecdotes is a good technique to arouse students’ interest and establish a meaningful and memorable context for learning’ (Salli-Copur, 2008:34). The benefits of using anecdotes in EFL/ESL class are as follows:
· Attention grabbing anecdotes may wake up sleepy students, engage unmotivated ones with the task and reinforce a context so it is not easily forgotten
· Anecdotes reinforce the friendly relationship between teachers and students
· Anecdotes provide cultural experience if they are about experiences in English speaking countries
· Anecdotes contain natural language and therefore develop learners’ conversational skills
· Most importantly, short anecdotes can be used to motivate the students or to make the classroom more vibrant ( for effective classroom management)
Some considerations while using anecdotes
· Be honest, do not fabricate an anecdote on your own-students may understand it
· Be careful about local and national culture-students should not feel ashamed
· Make sure that anecdote is relevant to students’ cognitive and intellectual development
· Point out its worth and objective
· Use short anecdotes which do not take more than five minutes
· Use anecdotes reciprocally-let students also sometime share their anecdotes (ibid.:38)
An anecdote in my anecdote
“I Can Make It Happen”
History abounds with tales of experts who were convinced that the ideas, plans, and projects of others could never be achieved. However, accomplishment came to those who said, “I can make it happen.” Something similar happened to me as well about a decade ago. I had taken the examinations of M.Ed. and was quite optimistic about excellent result. I was teaching at an English medium school (better not to tell) in Kathmandu but was tremendously disappointed as the return did not correspond to the time and energy I had to spend. It was my fourth school in two years of time (shows the bitter reality of private schools) and I was still endeavoring to get even a better one (that pays more and assigns less work). I had applied in a few schools but negotiations had not been so encouraging. Once I was enjoying my siesta in the afternoon as it was Saturday and therefore, I did not have to make visits of schools for the application. The telephone bell rang (cell phone had not made life so upsetting). I saw the number with a big curiosity thinking it to be from a school that I had applied in. I thought some boarding school owner might have called to negotiate the perks. Contrarily, it was a call from my Guru and my thesis guide Mr. Ram Ekwal Singh, a faculty in the central department of English Education. Presently, he is doing PhD student in the University of Delhi. He had been my internal supervisor too in M.Ed. practicum. He had observed a couple of classes of mine. I think he had seen some potentiality in me. He along with the campus chief (Mr. Kedar Pd. Sah) and head of department of English education (Mr. Jai Prakash Singh) of Thakur Ram Multiple Campus Birgunj wanted to meet me in person. They arrived at my quarter and they offered me a job that I had not expected at all. They were looking for a teacher for the M. Ed. Program that they were going to launch. My heart leaped up with a great joy thinking that I would get rid of working in boarding school. However, I was at sixes and sevens. In other words, I was in a big state of dilemma whether I will be able to teach the people of M. Ed. I myself had not completed my M.Ed., my thesis was still going on. After a week, I arrived at Birgunj for a demo class. I was quite nervous to see the students with white hair and long moustache. Some of them were of my father’s age. Many of them were teachers who had been teaching English for 20-25 years in different schools. I did not know what to do. My heart started beating faster. My demo was scheduled at 3 pm. I had carried a couple of books, lecture cards and some flash cards in my bag. Unintentionally, I had happened to keep a magazine in it. I just glanced over its contents and found an interesting topic-‘I can make it happen’. The anecdote read as:
The Italian sculptor Agostino d’Antonio worked diligently on a large piece of marble. Unable to produce his desired masterpiece, he lamented, “I can do nothing with it.” Other sculptors also worked this difficult piece of marble, but to no avail. Michelangelo discovered the stone and visualized the possibilities in it. His “I-can-make-it-happen” attitude resulted in one of the world’s masterpieces – David.
The experts of Spain concluded that Columbus’s plans to discover a new and shorter route to the West Indies was virtually impossible. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand ignored the report of the experts. “I can make it happen,” Columbus persisted. And he did. Everyone knew the world was flat, but not Columbus. The Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria, along with Columbus and his small band of followers, sailed to “impossible” new lands and thriving resources.
Even the great Thomas Alva Edison discouraged his friend, Henry Ford, from pursuing his fledgling idea of a motorcar. Convinced of the worthlessness of the idea, Edison invited Ford to come and work for him. Ford remained committed and tirelessly pursued his dream. Although his first attempt resulted in a vehicle without reverse gear, Henry Ford knew he could make it happen. And, of course, he did.
“Forget it,” the experts advised Madame Curie. They agreed radium was a scientifically impossible idea. However, Marie Curie insisted, “I can make it happen.”
Let’s not forget our friends Orville and Wilbur Wright. Journalists, friends, armed forces specialists, and even their father laughed at the idea of an airplane. “What a silly and insane way to spend money. Leave flying to the birds,” they jeered. “Sorry,” the Wright brothers responded. “We have a dream, and we can make it happen.” As a result, a place called Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, became the setting for the launching of their “ridiculous” idea.
Finally, as you read these accounts under the magnificent lighting of your environment, consider the plight of Benjamin Franklin. He was admonished to stop the foolish experimenting with lighting. What an absurdity and waste of time! Why, nothing could outdo the fabulous oil lamp. Thank goodness Franklin knew he could make it happen. You too can make it happen!
The anecdote energized me; all my nervousness and fear vanished in a moment. I felt as if I could climb up Everest, I could get a mandrake root; I could catch a falling star. Altogether, I felt as if I could do everything, lest teaching. I became audacious adequately. I stepped into the campus premises with bold and dashing temperament. I was supposed to teach psycholinguistics. After I had addressed the class of 25 college teachers (who were the judges) for about 25 minutes, the campus chief stood up and congratulated me saying: ‘Thank you very much, you are selected’. This magnified my happiness. Today, I have been teaching there satisfactorily and effectively (I believe and my students often say) for the last six years,. Today I remember the same “I can make it happen” whenever I have to face any challenge in my personal as well as academic life”
Salli-Copur, D. 2008. Using Anecdotes in Language Classes. In English Teaching Forum. Vol.46.No.1. http://www.liraz.com/Anecdote.htm