For a few weeks now, my students have all had a common goal: to get into ClubHouse.
So our English lesson today started there. I explained to them what a clubhouse is according to the Oxford Dictionary (the building used by a club, especially a sports club), and they then told me what that word means to teenagers today.

Clubhouse, I learned, is the latest trend in social media, a virtual place where you enter by invitation and, once you have access, you can listen to millions of chats, opinions, stories.
“Just listening?”, I asked my class in amazement.
“Yes Miss, that’s right: just listening.”
“No pictures or videos?”, I asked them even more incredulously.
“That’s right! Audio only,” they repeated, “That’s so cool!”
“Interesting! Very interesting…” I thought to myself, already imagining how to exploit their new passion.
“Well guys… enough chatting… let’s start our lesson for today”, I then exclaimed changing my tone. “Now everyone close your eyes.”
They looked at each other, a little surprised.
“Come on… come on… eyes closed… woe betide anyone who opens them. Let’s try to get into our personal Clubhouse.”
I activated the audiobook app on my phone and a voice began to narrate.

 

Why, year after year, are we rediscovering the value of storytelling?
What is the irresistible fascination of a story that we can enjoy it by closing our eyes and letting ourselves be carried away just by listening?
I have often tried to answer this question myself.
Perhaps it is because we read all day long, and our eyes are constantly bombarded with words to see, images to look at. We are used to being passive recipients, enjoying contents that have no need for our personal contribution. Listening, on the other hand, gives us the possibility to put our own elements into the story, and to enrich the content with something that fully represents us; without our involvement, something in that story would not exist.
Listening, for example, I can imagine the face of Jo from Little Women or David Copperfield as I like, perhaps using the face of a friend, or a relative; I can decide that Sherlock Holmes has eyes just like mine. I can customise the scenarios, I can decide how to furnish the room I am hearing described, I can choose the colours I like. A story told by voice, in short, leaves room for creativity, and for self-expression that no augmented reality will ever be able to recreate.
Creativity is always listening.

 


ACTIVITY: (work in pairs) listen to the audio playback below with a partner. While listening, each person writes down on a piece of paper some words that physically describe the place and the characters being talked about (colour of hair, eyes, clothes, etc.). At the end of listening, compare what you have written and discuss it.

 

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“And you guys, how many stories do you listen to every day?”, I then asked the class.
Puzzled faces, silence, some rummaging through their folders pretending not to have heard the question.
As always, the students needed a little help to understand that what we were teaching them had a lot to do with their everyday life.
“Amelie, how many stories do you listen to a week?”
“Well… actually… only the ones you make us listen to in class, Mrs Blondett.”
“Are you quite sure about that?”
“Yes…” hesitated Amelie, already sensing that I had a trick up my sleeve.
“And yet no… you listen to dozens and dozens of them every day! Tell me… how many voicemails did you get on your phone yesterday?”
“Well… a lot.”
“That’s right… and what did the friends who sent you those messages tell you? They were telling you what they had done during the day, maybe that they had had a fight with their parents, that they had too much homework, or, who knows? Perhaps they were gossiping about teachers. Isn’t that so?”
“Yes… actually yes,” Amelie admitted.
“Well… and what were those messages if not stories that someone was telling you and that you listened to? And you know what the point is, Amelie? The point is that stories which are very similar to yours have already been told: emotions like yours can be found in the voice of someone who has been able to express them better than most people could. When you listen, the authors put their words in, and you can add everything else.

 


ACTIVITY: Send a voice message in English to anyone you like, summarising a short story you have read or listened to and enjoyed.

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I, for example, had a lot of tea with Michelle Obama during 2020.
No, I didn’t become a fantasist, it’s the simple truth.
All I had to do was sit on the couch in my house, heat up the water, dip the Earl Grey bag in the cup, and access the podcast on my phone through which the former American First Lady would let me sit in her living room and attend her long chats with friends (famous and not) where we would discuss culture, social issues, personal growth, sometimes even sensitive issues on the topic of marriage (and how much she told me about Barack!).
Similarly, I like to encourage my students to sip herbal tea with Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, or, if they prefer something more energetic, to explore the tube station while, in their earphones, young Jim Hawkins is fighting on the island just as they have to fight for their place in the carriage.
The kids are smart and, if stimulated in their desire for creativity, will soon realise that, after all, the mysteries of Moonfleet and those of the city they live in have a lot in common.

 


TO GO FURTHER
Work in groups.
The first group prepares a report on Clubhouse: what services it provides, what it is for, how to join.
The second group writes a list of topics that could be used as themes to create “rooms” on Clubhouse (these could be current affairs, school-related topics or topics relating to the world of children) and proposes them to the first group.
The first and second groups discuss the various proposed topics and choose the one that would create the most interest for a verbal discussion on Clubhouse.
The chosen topic is discussed verbally in class, just as it would be done on Clubhouse (or, perhaps even in a specially created thematic “room” on social media).

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