10 minute wonders (or what manspreading and bookshelfies have in common)

A surgeon once said to me: “I could never be a teacher.”

Of course, I asked her why.

She said “When I’ve finished an operation, I can go home. I don’t need to fart around in the patient’s innards for 10 more minutes, killing time before the bell rings.”


Of course, this surgeon was absolutely right. How often does a teaching activity come to a natural conclusion which does not coincide with the official lesson end time? We all have our favourite “filler” activities, but to tell you the truth some of mine are beginning to seem just a little tired and predictable.

With this is mind, I am going to begin taking a note of any new and successful short “filler” activities I use in class and share them here.

Here’s one I used last week.

10 Minute Activity: Newly minted words

  • I wrote O.E.D. on the board and asked learners to tell me what this stood for (Oxford English Dictionary).
  • I then wrote down the following recent additions to the OED:

Mx (title)

Manspreading (noun)

Mansplain (verb)

Bookshelfie (noun)

Brainfart (noun)

  • I explained that the above words were all new additions to the OED. I then gave learners a minute or so to work in pairs to see if they could guess the meanings of these words. Listening in as I did this, I could hear one or two pretty good guesses! Overall though, learners were barking up the wrong tree.
  • After a minute, I dictated the following sentences for learners to write down.

Why are there only spaces for Mr, Mrs and Ms on this form? I’m Mx.

There’s a real issue with manspreading on the tube. I think these guys should pay for two tickets.

The mechanic helpfully mansplained the problem with my car.

Have you seen her latest profile pic? Nice bookshelfie!

Doh! I’ve just had a brainfart. What was your phone number again?

  • Learners then got back into pairs and used these sentences to help them refine their earlier guesses. This time they got a lot closer to defining the words accurately.
  • We then went through the sentences one by one, checking learners’ definitions against the definitions I’d found online. Many of these words yielded more than a little discussion and generated ever more language, e.g.: Did any of the learners have first-hand experience of having to deal with the issue of manspreading? (At this point I noticed a few of my male learners shuffle in their seats (they may have been discreetly closing their legs) while one learner remembered seeing posters on the New York subway advising men to “stop the spread”.  We also discussed what kind of people might take a bookshelfie. Academics? Writers? Posers? People who owned (but hadn’t necessarily read) the complete works of Proust?


At this stage in the proceedings, the clock struck eight. Home time. If it hadn’t, I might have asked my learners to  devise a simple story using as as many of these words as possible. I may then have asked them to mime their stories while the rest of the class watched, calling out the words as they occurred.

Watch this space over the coming weeks for more 10 minute wonders. And do feel free to share any of your own!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/42191644@N00/6776964934″>Maggie The Dentist ::: Tender little care</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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