Mini Communication Project: Colored Clothespins

Problem-solving with clothespins.

They’re really small–about 1.5″ or 3.5 cm.

Lately, I was feeling bad about not doing enough outside of class to communicate in English with my students. I felt like, while I get to talk to the other teachers a lot, I’m mostly in the staff room not talking with the students. I’ve visited some of their other classes before (such as cooking class), but even though that can be fun, it’s also another teacher’s class, and I don’t want to go into other teachers’ classes and use it as English practice time for the students, although I know the other teachers wouldn’t take it that way.

I’ve been reading a book called “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20” by Tina Seelig (a Stanford University professor), which has inspired me to find new ways to think creatively. At one point in the book, she recalls a time when she told her students to identify a problem around them, and then find a way to solve it using some item in their near vicinity. I decided to try it, and used the problem of not being able to talk with my students as often as I liked. As I looked around, I noticed the small Daiso clothespins that I’d used to hang up pictures on my wall for decoration. I still had some left over, so I brought them to the middle school that week, along with some markers and stickers that I had, and decorated the rest of them.

If you can’t tell, those cat stickers are really, really tiny–probably like .75 cm or .25 in.

Since I decided I wanted to give students a chance to talk to me outside of any classroom, I went out to talk to them at lunch and briefly after school. I took out the clothespin and stuck it on a student, and then would start asking them questions suddenly in English (“What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you like to do?”) for a while, and then stop at the end and just say “あげる” (“You can keep it”). Of course, if I approached a student with a clothespin and they obviously didn’t want to be clothespinned, then I just stuck it to their friend. I gave some to the teachers in the staff room, too.

I gave the clothespins out at random, and after giving one girl an American flag-colored one, I gave her friend the red one in the middle, and the first girl was like, “Aw, lucky…”

Of course, I could have just asked them questions in English and had a normal conversation, but I like to have something to show for it, and to give the students. Using “props” like this to talk to students is nothing new–I’ve seen that kind of advice on the JET forums–but I hadn’t tried finding a commonplace, unrelated object in my vicinity and using it to solve a problem before.

When I was in high school, I was really into visual kei, and would sometimes wear crazy styles to school (I had a Captain Hook hat that I got from the Disney Store, and I’d wear that to school sometimes, for example). I went to a school with a lot of art students, so it wasn’t as weird as you might think. I noticed a big difference between the days where I wore striped socks, star earrings, and my Captain Hook hat, as opposed to the days where I wore jeans and a sweatshirt. On Captain Hook days, I was more outgoing because I knew I couldn’t blend into the background even if I wanted to; on the jeans-and-sweatshirt days, I felt much more reserved, and didn’t really feel obligated to talk to anyone.

Nyaaaaaa. (Japanese cat sound)

The clothespins kind of do the same thing as my Captain Hook hat. They’re cute, and also unusual, so when I’m holding a bag of them and clothespinning them to students to practice English, I think there’s a change in my attitude and in the way I approach our conversation, as opposed to my just standing there and trying to start a conversation about something. The clothespins add “value” to the conversation somehow. They’re fun and they get me excited to go around and find students to talk to in English.

It’s funny, because part of what I was reading in the “What I Wish” book was about creating different kinds of value from basically nothing. Does this mean I succeeded?

The Piano Guys, “Frozen”/Vivaldi’s Winter piano mashup

6 thoughts on “Mini Communication Project: Colored Clothespins

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