Do you know how to make fufu, soya or cassava bread? Can you catch a fish the traditional way with a spear and basket? What’s the best way to make a fire for cooking or traditional wine for a wedding ceremony? The recent writing assignment in my EFL class was an explanatory essay, telling in narrative form how to do one of the things Burundians do every day but an ex-pat, like me, probably wouldn’t know where to start. (Can I google that?)
The example from the textbook was a description of how to make crescent rolls which was embedded within the story of a childhood memory. We read it together picking out all the key time and linking words. Then to show them that if something is well-written you can follow it and reproduce it, I tested it by making the crescent rolls and brought them to share with the class.
Now it was their turn. I challenged them with all the things I see people doing here which are not part of my experience of learning–like carrying things on one’s head. They were to explain narratively, how to do something, as if they were teaching me, using English, of course. I didn’t even know if there were English words for some of these traditions.
To my delight, most of the students found this task was within their reach as far as their English skill level and they did a good job of explaining what must be nearly second nature to them. But their was also an added benefit as they came to realize that what is easy for them is not a given for someone else. It gave them the chance to remember what they can do easily and well during a time they are often experiencing being off- balance, since as students they are always in the position of learners not experts.
While I might be able to start a fire with charcoal, catch some fish, make cassava flour, rice “pilau”and banana beer, no one explained to me how to carry things on my head. That is an explanation I am still waiting on.