Saturday, April 15, 2006

Kids Learn the Strangest Things From Maps

One thing that I like to incorporate into my classes as much as I can is map work. While I am no cartographer, I find they make for good visual aids for the kids. Often it is easier to make a point using a map than a boardnote. Students also take away interesting facts from the maps and frequently ask questions about what they see which adds to their learning experience. Sometimes, as second language learners, their young minds don't quite take away from the map what the map-maker (or the teacher)intended.

I was teaching a grade 6 class in northern Saskatchewan and since we were doing a social studies unit on Spain I had a very colourful historical map of the country on my classroom wall. One afternoon I was working with a group of students while a second group had gathered by my map.

Ah, the perfect classroom environment - everyone was on task and the noise level was conducive to a production lesson. Its the type of moment that, as a young teacher, you hope your principal pops his head in the door.

As we were all working away, I overheard a fit of giggling coming from my students by the map. At first I ignored them. It wasn't particularly disruptive. After several more minutes of this however, my curiosity got the better of me. What could possibly be so entertaining about a map of Spain?

I went over to the map and one boy started pointing at it. "No, no that little green country is called Portugal," I explained. "Its a different country from Spain." I thought I had perhaps cleared up some questions. Ah what a perfect lesson.

No sooner had I said this then he started chanting "Lesbian, lesbian." Oh grief, I thought, praying a parent (or my principal for that matter) didn't happen to pass by my open classroom door. Bewildered, I looked to where he was pointing. He had found the capital of Portugal. Underneath the word "Lisbon" was the Portuguese translation of the city - Lisboa.

"See teacher? Look - lesbian."

Well not quite. In addition to knowing the capital city of Spain, the students had no problem remembering the capital of Portugal after that lesson.