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[The importance of lesson-opening rituals]

You know how when you visit some posh restaurants, they sometimes give you an acidic sorbet to ‘cleanse your palate’ – the better to appreciate the food later? OK – just keep this in mind.

Now imagine you have just walked into Denis Martin’s modernist restaurant in Switzerland. You sit at your table and the first thing you notice is a small cylinder with a cow on top of it. What is this?

Denis Martin had noticed that diners (businessmen for the most part) often failed to appreciate the dishes he so lovingly prepared because they were too preoccupied with work or other thoughts. Could there be a way of ‘cleansing their minds’ before the first course arrived?

So he came up with this strange object and placed one on every table. People just don’t know what to make of it – is it some kind of salt-cellar perhaps? At some point, someone picks up the object to look underneath, whereupon the cow lets out a doleful ‘Mooooo’. Before long, everybody else does the same and the room is full of giggling diners. And this is the cue for the staff – out come the hors d’ oeuvres. The cow is in fact a ‘mind-cleanser’! What a brilliant idea! (Charles Spence ‘Gastrophysics’ – pp. xiv-xv)

So, could we not learn something from Denis Martin? Do our students really appreciate the texts we find, the activities we organise, the time and effort we invest into putting together our lesson plans? Why not start the lesson by clearing their minds with a little story? Or an interesting ad? Or a joke?

The Moral: Start by cleansing your students’ mental palate.