I’m six foot one (about 1.85m) and left-handed. But only partly. I write left-handed, eat left-handed, but throw a ball and play tennis right-handed. I also have erratic sleep patterns, which mean I’m sometimes awake from about 2am to 3.30am, and I’m a glass half-full sort of person. Until quite recently, I didn’t think that any of this was particularly noteworthy.
But it is. And I will tell you why. But some more information first…
I get my email via British Telecom. For some peculiar reason, BT have an arrangement whereby your trash mail is only accessible if you go to Yahoo. So I go to Yahoo two or three times a week, because in amongst the detritus of Viagra advertisements and offers to share millions of dollars with the widows of African dictators, there lurk genuine emails, which otherwise I would miss.
When I go through this convoluted process to check the trash, I could skip the Yahoo home page, and go straight to Yahoo mail, but I don’t. I’m addicted to the home page, with its illustrated main ‘news’ stories.
Yahoo’s idea of ‘news’ is standard tabloid red-top. Disasters like earthquakes, floods or plane crashes will always be their lead photo-story, but in the absence of something like that, they lead with celebrity stories and other similar lowest common denominator stuff, some of which I can only describe as medical scare stories.
Thanks to the Yahoo home page, I now know that I’m lucky to be alive. Because left-handed people die younger than right-handed people, and partly left-handed people like me die even younger than the totally left-handed. So do people whose sleep patterns are disturbed. What is more, as a tall guy, I am much more likely to get testicular cancer.
Leaving aside the possible dangers to your sanity and anxiety levels of reading this kind of stuff, there ARE things about the Yahoo home page that may be useful in class, the main thing being the brilliant way they tease you into reading the lead story. Here are three examples to show you what I mean.
In each case, I opened up the article to read more.
When I do this, I’m always reminded of a meeting I had a few years ago with a publishing team. We were discussing content for a course book series.
At the beginning of a project, publishers are enthusiastic and ebullient.
“We need something new, something GROUND-BREAKING and DIFFERENT!” they say, waving a sandwich in the air (yes, all we get is sandwiches these days. Oh, how I miss the lunches in restaurants we poor underfed writers used to be invited to.)
Once I had an idea that I thought was, well, if not GROUND-BREAKING, then at least DIFFERENT.
ELT books are usually divided into units. And the units usually start with a double-page spread, so they start on the left-hand page, what is known as the verso page. Once I suggested that we could start the unit on the recto page, and use the first page as a teaser for the contents of the main unit.
There was general puzzlement at this idea. Sandwiches were not being waved in delight.
“What’s the point of that?” asked one of the editorial team.
“Well,” I stumbled on, convinced that the idea was dying on its feet. “Let’s say the unit is about geography, and there are photos of famous rivers, mountains. Let’s have a small detail of the photos on the first page, the recto page, and a caption saying ‘Do you know where this is?’
“And we could also take a sentence out of a reading text, and ask if the reader can guess the context. And put an example of the key grammar, or vocabulary – in a way to make the students want to hunt around and find the answer.”
“But you can do this anyway, just by looking at the picture, or before you read the article. Why do you need an extra page for it?” asked the commissioning editor.
“And don’t forget you have to pay more if you use a photographic image twice,” said the production manager. “Anyway, it’s a waste of a page,” she added, having calculated how much this brainless idea would cost in extra paper.
So it didn’t happen. And I got the distinct impression that the team were worried about my tabloid mentality.
I do have a tabloid mentality. Although I find celebrity stuff a bit dull, I like the kind of teaser campaign that makes you want to find out more. Tabloid newspapers and most glossy magazines use their front pages the way Yahoo uses the home page. The front page headline and information about the inside contents is one big tease.
No one did this better in the old days than the American publication National Enquirer.
I remember my first introduction to the Enquirer. It was at a supermarket check-out in the suburban town on Long Island NY, where my wife Dede grew up. I picked it up as we were waiting to pay, and was so taken with it that I added it to our basket of goodies.
In the old days, you could find the most wonderful and totally bonkers stories in the Enquirer and a similar publication called the Weekly World News. I mean, who WOULDN’T want to read a story like this?
I once found a story about a two-headed Polish singer, who could sing harmony with himself. According to the story, it was only a matter of time before his doctors and family agreed to let him become an international star. I used the story at a Polish conference once. The teachers were a bit stunned by it, but read every word avidly.
Nowadays the Enquirer is much less interesting. It’s just another celebrity magazine, and looks like this.
So – what is the message of this garbled post? Firstly, tabloid rubbish can make interesting reading. More importantly, more ‘serious’ content can be made more palatable to your tabloid-minded students (and I reckon there are lots of them around), if you can work out a way to tease the students into engaging with it.
I found these references to back up two of the Yahoo scare stories.
Left-handers die younger – http://bit.ly/2HhRKB
Tall men and testicular cancer – http://bit.ly/aclNkH
I couldn’t find anything to back up the story about disturbed sleep patterns being fatal, but this Daily Mail shock-horror story (You can get cancer if you turn on the bathroom light at night) isn’t bad – http://bit.ly/9Pst6A Thanks to Emma Herrod for giving me the link.
And why is being a glass-half-full kind of person important in all of this? Because my nature is to be optimistic about things and after all this scare-mongering, I’m just really enjoying still being alive. 😛
PS Many thanks to Cecilia Coelho for reminding me of this excellent article ‘The News Can Kill You’ – http://bit.ly/92dn2n
Coming soon – the theory of the adjacent possible and how it can revolutionise your teaching.