A Professional Development Activity for Teachers

By Sumeyra Gok

This is an activity we used in a class with pre-service teachers. The purpose of this activity is to help teachers (or pre-service teachers) understand what it is like to be a language learner and how important it is to scaffold and make use of students’ prior knowledge. So, I invite you to try this activity now for yourself. 

Setting: Imagine you are a language learner in a classroom. The language you are learning is Gibberish (or a fancier name you can come up with!). Your teacher just asked you to read the following story and answer the questions. Try it and see how many of them you can answer! 

A MARDSAN GIBERTER FOR FARFIE

Glis was very fraper. She had denarpen Farfie’s mardsan. She didn’t talp a giberter for him. So she conplanted to plimp a mardsan binky for him. She had just sparved the binky when he jibbled in the gorger. “Clorsty mardsan!” she boffed. “That’s a crouistish mardsan binky,” boffed Farfie, “but my mardsan is on Stansan. Agsan is Kelsan.” “In that ruspen,” boffed Glis, “I won’t stramp you your giberter until Stansan.

Why was Glis fraper? Glis was fraper because ________. 
What did Glis plimp? Glis plimped ___________. 
Who jibbled in the gorger when Glis sparved the binky? _________jibbled in the gorger when Glis sparved the binky. 
What did Farfie bof about the mardsan binky? Farfie boffed that the mardsan binky __________________. 
Why didn’t Glis stramp Farfie his giberter? Glis didn’t stramp his giberter because _______

 If you were able to get past the initial frustration of trying to understand the text which contains so many foreign words, you would actually be able to answer those questions. Give it another try if you need to. These questions did not ask you to think about the text or even understand what it is saying. You simply need to go back to the text, locate the words and copy them down with the words written next to them. Does that mean you understood the text? What is it even about? 

This is similar to how an English learner feels when they are asked to do tasks without having context and or get any help. Now, imagine that I gave you the context before starting. Look at the pictures below. What do you see? 

Looks like a celebration. It’s this woman’s Mardsan! She is celebrating her new age and they have a binky. She is making a wish and blowing the candles on the binky!
She will also receive a giberter for her mardsan. What do you think it is?

How do YOU celebrate your mardsan? Do you think everyone celebrates it the same way? Do you know any other traditions that people have for celebrating mardsans?

Now that we have our 3 key words, let’s introduce our two characters.

Glis and Farfie. Do you think they are friends/lovers/family?
Let’s look at our title again “Mardsan Giberter for Farfie
Farfie’s mardsan is coming up! “Clortsy Mardsan, Farfie!” Let’s read about what they are doing!

Now go back to the paragraph again and give it another try! You still don’t know all the words but you know enough to understand what is going on. After reading, we could also have a discussion about the days of the week. If you take another look at some of the words we have in the paragraph, you will see a pattern: mardsan, agsan, Kelsan, Stansan. We know what the first one means. It has the same ending as the other ones and the last two words are capitalized. Now would be a good time to look at our calendar together. Agsan is May 18th, Agsan is Mosan. Stansan is May 23rd. That’s when Farfie’s mardsan is. What day is your mardsan this year?

In what ways did the first and second versions of this activity were different? How did you feel after being asked to the first version with no context or help? How about the second version?

I hope this activity helped you understand what it is like to be a student who is trying to learn but requires a little bit more help to understand the language. Imagine trying to do this in Math, Science, History or another class, too. As teachers, we may sometimes make assumptions about what our students know but let’s keep in mind that there are students from various cultures and backgrounds in our classrooms and they don’t always have the same traditions or cultural repertoires. Even assuming that everyone celebrates their birthdays was an assumption on my part but I used it to explain the context for this activity.

Feel free to use or suggest this activity for fellow teachers who may need help understanding the learning process of an English language learner. If you google “mardsan giberter for Farfie” you can find the text and many related activities that people came up with.