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April 3, 2003 - Lida Baker: War and English Teaching - 2003-04-03

Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": April 3, 2003

AA: I'm Avi Arditti and this week on Wordmaster -- it's time for our monthly visit with English teacher Lida Baker. She writes textbooks and she teaches in the American Language Center at the University of California at Los Angeles. Today Lida offers some advice for English teachers who are looking for ways to use the war in Iraq as a teaching opportunity.

LIDA BAKER: "Now, in a reading class, of course you could have students reading the news each night or do it in class. The articles could be used for the purpose of learning vocabulary, summarizing. Actually, stories about disasters and wars -- news events that carry on for a period of days or in this case weeks and hopefully not months -- are wonderful for learning vocabulary because in order to learn new words, we have to repeat them a lot, we have to see them in a variety of contexts. So reading the news about the war would be an excellent way for students to improve their vocabulary."

AA: Lida Baker says there's also a variety of activities that students could do in a writing class.

LIDA BAKER: "If students are doing journals, they could write in their journals their feelings and their responses to what they're hearing in the news. By the way, this is an excellent way of channeling students' feelings into something that enhances their language learning. Have them write down these strong feelings that they're having about what they're seeing on television and reading about in the newspaper. So students can do journals about the war, they can write essays where they're presenting their point of view and supporting their point of view with facts and examples and other kinds of evidence.

"In a speaking class, you have the opportunity to set up debates where students are presenting both sides, both points of view -- for the war and against the war.

AA: "And in which case the teacher would serve sort of as what -- "

BAKER: "As a moderator."

AA: "A neutral person, without a position?"

BAKER: "Absolutely. I really do not think it is appropriate for a teacher to present her point of view about the war -- especially not at the beginning of a lesson. It's OK, I think, to do it at the very, very end, after students have written or said whatever they want about the topic. But for a teacher -- especially in an English as a second language situation, where students generally come from cultures where it's unthinkable for a student to disagree with a teacher or contradict a teacher -- it wouldn't be right for a teacher to present her point of view up front. Because then students would feel intimidated about saying how they feel. So it would be, I think, a wrong way for a teacher to use her power or her authority to do that.

" I suppose I would not hesitate at the very end of the activity to politely say how I feel, but I wouldn't do it at the beginning. I wouldn't want to impinge on students’ freedom of expression in the classroom, or for them to think that because I'm their teacher that they're obligated to agree with me."

AA: Lida Baker says formal debates are just one of the options if teachers or students want to bring up the war in class. Students could also form small discussion groups in the classroom. Lida Baker says in a situation like that, she would walk around to serve not just as a moderator but also as a language consultant.

LIDA BAKER: "If students are sitting in small groups, talking about their views, and they need a word or they don't know how to say something, then I'm right there to help them form their thoughts, express their feelings, find the words that they need in order to continue their discussion."

AA: Author and English teacher Lida Baker from the American Language Center at the University of California at Los Angeles. And that's Wordmaster for this week. Our postal address is VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA. Our e-mail address is And our programs are on the Internet at

Rosanne Skirble is back with me next week. I'm Avi Arditti.