This particular class contains Simone, who had a fabled near-brush with death a few years ago. Had he not had ants in his pants, he’d be dead now, crushed when a school ceiling fell down onto the desk from which he’d danced away just seconds before. As it is, he’s still around and either livening up my lessons (on a good day) or driving me mad with his inability to concentrate (on a bad one). Apparently he’s less wriggly than he was as a small child, but he’s still irrepressible. As I turn off the lights a moment too soon, before the OHP has fully warmed up, the classroom is plunged into semi-darkness. With a joyful yell, Simone is straight underneath the desk. I’ve never understood this game, but my teens in Salento used to play it too. The lights go out: they hide under the desk and scream. I’m utterly confused, but they all find it hilarious.
Back to the poker game. The idea behind it is simple: I show them a sentence which may or may not contain one or more errors. They correct it and place bets according to how confident they are in their corrections. Chivvying Simone out from underneath the desk, I quieten the group down in preparation for the first sentence. ‘Place your bets now …’ They confidently hand out a couple of hundred fake euro notes each. They’ve all noticed that the adverb is in the wrong position, but not one of them has remembered that the English don’t talk about going to ‘the sea’, but to ‘the beach’. With an evil laugh, the banker (me) collects up their money. There are disappointed cries all round, and they all try to say that they had, in fact, written that. It’s almost touching how they think they can bamboozle me. Before revealing the correct sentence I had, of course, read what they’d written down. Frantic scribbling while my back was turned, post-reveal, is not going to cut any ice.
I move on to the next sentence. Some pairs get this one right, and there are raucous cheers. Simone is up on his feet, holding court and shouting how much money he’s going to bet on the next sentence. He’s so busy talking that he isn’t even looking at the board to see what the sentence is. I place the acetate on the OHP and the group start to quieten down as they consider it. Simone, however, is still wittering at full volume. Mara tugs urgently on his sleeve to grab his attention and bring him back to the group. He turns his head to the board, still gabbing nineteen to the dozen. ‘200 euros! No, 250 euros! Maybe three hund – oh, cazzo.‘ He’s seen the sentence, and, in a moment of utterly sublime comic timing, dropped the final expletive into a split second of silence in the room. I can’t help it: I start to giggle. Mara looks up, concentrating hard on the problem on the board. I try to stifle my laughter, but she’s spotted me. A grin spreads across her face as she realises what’s caused it. Simone, next to her, is muttering as he tries to work out the correct sentence formation. She digs an elbow into his ribs and points at me; I am, by now, in theatrical parlance, corpsing. It’s infectious. One by one heads pop up as the students realise what’s going on, and the giggles pass around the class like a mexican wave.
When I dismiss the class 10 minutes later, for the first time there is banter and chat with the teacher as they leave the room. Laughter, it seems, really is the best medicine.
Image by Arnett Gill on Flickr