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How Can I Effectively Teach ‘Ways of Seeing’ (staring, peering, gawking, etc.)?

Maureen St. George

Oftentimes, synonyms get lost in the teaching shuffle and words in the same family that are not quite synonyms may suffer an even worse fate. These words, however, add to the richness of the student’s lexicon and help increase their fluency. Just saying “He looked at me” means very little, and even with an adverb, the sentence can still lack the pizzazz, danger or strangeness that the context warrants. Luckily, there are tons of fun ways to teach word families, especially ways of seeing, with a bit of effort.

Recalling Past Situations
Asking students how people look at them in certain situations allows them to recall memories and put a definitive face to the word. One of the easiest examples is to ask the women in the class what look they get every time they pass a construction site. Once they give you that same look, announce, “That’s leering,” and more than likely, it’ll be cemented now that leering is associated with that construction worker’s face in their memories. Other leading questions to ask are what look their significant other gives them when he/she says “I love you,” gets angry, is shocked, etc.

Using Soap Operas and Television Programs
In a similar vein, watching over-the-top soap operas is a great, and hilarious, way to search for particular looks. Teachers can find assorted clips on YouTube and students can shout out what specific type of stare the actor is emoting. Of course, well-done programs can be used too, but soaps will generally get a lot of laughs and the grand gestures and expressions are a lot more memorable. In fact, to make sure the students focus on the looks and not the dialogue, showing them a show spoken in a different language could be beneficial.


Rebus letters and Madlibs
A rebus letter (that is, a letter with pictures substituting some of the words) focusing around ways of seeing would definitely be time-consuming, but also beneficial. By using the context of the sentence and having the picture as a big clue, students can have visual and textual help to figure out which gaze suits the sentence.

A fun addition to the rebus letter is madlibs. Teachers can make up just one for the whole class, or a different one for each pair or group. The madlib blanks can solely be for ways of seeing, or those plus corresponding adverbs, or other general terms. In order to make this kinetic, one group member can read the madlib aloud while another acts it out. If students are too shy to do this, another way to get them to act at least a little bit is to assign a seeing verb to each student. They must give this face in front of the class while others guess what it is.

Oftentimes, synonyms get lost in the teaching shuffle and words in the same family that are not quite synonyms may suffer an even worse fate.

Of course, speaking and using these terms correctly is the true test of what students have learned. Give examples of short anecdotes that revolve around a certain look, and have students think of their own. This may be best to give as homework, as many tend to blank out as soon as they’re asked to speak freely, although with a base of several examples, this is less likely to happen.

How do you teach ways of seeing?

About the author

Maureen is a US-born, Hong Kong-based freelance editor and writer who has taught ESL all over the world. Traveling is her main hobby, and there's nothing she enjoys more than having a carefully planned trip go completely awry.