The Rinvolucri Principle

Teacher development and resource books fall into three general categories: A4 sized photocopiable books, slightly larger than regular sized paper backs with very few, if any, photocopiable bits, and then a weird sort of 10″ by 8″ sized book which is almost but not quite entirely impossible to photocopy from.

It is one of these latter that inspired this blog post: Grammar Games by Mario Rinvoluvcri. You see, I have a memory of an activity in that book, or possibly the sequel, which involved a fairly laborious photocopying of page X back to back with page Y and then cutting this up into domino type pieces. One for each pair of students in your class. In terms of leg work, this took about an hour to set up. The amount of classroom time? About a third of that.

I should add, however, that this is very possibly an inaccurate memory, and, most importantly, that those books, the first of which was published when I was nine, have got some very very good ideas in. Very good indeed. But like great albums, ELT books have got duff bits in them. Yes, even Penny Ur’s Grammar Practice Activities, the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band of ELT books.

However, in memory of my memory, if not of the actual book, I long ago devised a basic principle for resource preparation, which I named, with respect, the Rinvolucri Ratio.

The Ratio is fairly straightforward. In its earliest, simplest expression, it was the ratio between the amount of preparation time and the amount of time spent in the classroom. Half an hour of copying and cutting for a five minute activity? Scores bad on the Ratio, and thus is not worth the effort. Grabbing a newspaper on the way to work and getting a whole lesson out of it with no further materials? Scores well on the ratio, and therefore is a good thing.

I have refined and revised this slightly as I have grown more experienced. In fact, it has become more of a Principle than a Ratio.

Here it is:

Preparation time should never be longer than the time in the classroom

Unless

The type of learning is going to be very valuable

Or

The resource can be easily and multiply reused within the three months after making said resource, and without taking up significant file/cupboard/shelf space.

Or

The high preparation time of the short activity can be offset by the low preparation time of a long activity.

I think that about covers it. This isn’t laziness (much) but rather a recognition that I and many teachers like me, can get bogged down with devising and preparing resources for a class. It’s practical. If you spend forty minutes typing, cutting, sorting and copying faffy bits of paper which are going to end up in the bin after five flimsy minutes of classroom time, you do have to ask yourself if this is a good use of your life? It’s different when you are training, of course. On CELTA and the like it is normal to spend twenty hours on your forty minute teaching practice, if nothing else, to realise how futile this is. My first ever lesson was based on about six weeks of evenings and weekends, and was, of course, littered with cut up cards, fluorescent slips of paper, and all the rest. Needless to say that whole thing is in the bin now.

This reminds me of a resource I used to love, and probably still would, if I hadn’t thrown it in the bin. It was a board game I devised, monopoly style, which involved students moving round the board collecting words (sorted into parts of speech) and then forming them into sentences. There were various bonus and loss squares and depending on the level, I would award points for number of sentences and sentence complexity. It took me ages to design, probably a weekend’s work, plus refining over a few months of play and practice in class.. Alas, in a move of house and job, it got damaged and bits got lost, and it never really recovered. Given that I would now have to make about three or four sets to be able to use them in my current setting, I’m not sure I would do it.

I used it lots, probably three or four times a term for about three years. The ratio was low because the time invested was paid off massively with the amount of classroom time and opportunities for learning it created. The game itself would take an hour, but there would be follow up, questions, arguments and negotiations which could set off further hours of lessons. Paper based materials and cut up bits of paper are not essentially bad, but they need to be viewed with a bit of common sense. As I said above, is it really necessary to spend all that time at a desk with a bunch of copies and a pair of scissors

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4 comments

  1. A colleague and I spent a long wine-enhanced evening 20 years ago writing a Blockbuster-style quiz. I still use it. Now that scores high on the Ratio!

  2. just used a cut up mingle activity on ‘used to’ this morning!! the reason the activity worked was it made people ask a greater variety of Qs and use are you still in a natural way .. more teaching error correction afterwards …

    haven’t used it for a couple of years but was very careful to collect my cards back in for 2016 lesson!!

    im going to be a storage hoarder candidate!!

  3. This resonates with me. When I first started teaching, I would spend hours a) trying to think of a ‘fun’ activity and then b) devising it, only for it to be used for 5 minutes in the lesson. I remember devising a very silly ‘compound noun’ rummy card type game which was actually pretty rubbish.

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