A designerlessons lesson plan by Neil McMillan

DJs Complaining is a Twitter account that retweets messages of complaint from famous DJs. It has become so successful that some DJs seem to have stopped complaining for fear of being exposed as the whinging divas they really are. Others, meanwhile, have started complaining more in the hope of simply being exposed …. to DJs Complaining’s 30 000 followers. Anyway, what better way to introduce students to some authentic exponents of the magical function of MOANING, I thought. So …

Lesson: DJs Complaining

Level: Upper Intermediate, Advanced, Proficiency

Age: Young adults and above

Aim: To introduce authentic complaint language in context and provide practice using it

Time: 45 mins to 90 mins

Materials: Tweets from DJs Complaining (see gallery below; you can right-click and download the images for printing); blue-tac. You might wish to use other tweets from the site, which is constantly being updated.

Preparation: Print the tweets (one copy of each for a class of up to 12 Ss) large enough to be stuck on the board, visible and legible to all. However, black out the ‘DJs Complaining’ part at the bottom of each tweet – if you don’t, one of the first activities will not provide much of a challenge! You may also wish to provide Ss with an additional photocopy containing all the complaints, or simply direct them to the site.

Procedure:

1. Tell the class they are going to enter a zone of negativity. Tell them you hope the ride will actually be enjoyable and useful, but that they should prepare themselves for a look at the dark side of life.  They are going to spend some time with people much less fortunate than themselves. But first, they should focus on their own privileged lives.

2. Ask your students to reflect on their current job or a recent job they’ve had. If they’re jobless, ask them to think about their last job or the job of someone they know. What kind of things do they find difficult, annoying or stressful about these situations? They should tell a small group about it.

3. Monitor for their topics of complaint, and note down how they frame their complaints for later. During feedback, prompt Ss to think of the general topic their complaints fit into, and write these on the board. Leave space underneath each for sticking up tweets, and leave half the board clear for additional categories. The categories might include:

  • relationships with management
  • relationships with colleagues
  • working hours
  • pay & conditions
  • type of work (boring, repetitive, hard, dangerous)
  • travel to and from work
  • physical work environment

4. Now tell the Ss they are going to read some complaints written by people in a highly difficult, stressful job. Emphasise that all the texts they are about to read are from people with the same job, which will probably be quite different from their jobs. They need to read the texts and stick them up on the board under the correct category of complaint. If they need to write new categories up (they will), they should do so. At the same time, they should try to decide what the job is.

Distribute the tweets amongst the Ss and let them get on with it. Where possible, avoid assisting with vocab at the moment, but encourage collaboration and peer-teaching. Once on the wall, Ss can question the placement of a tweet and replace it if necessary.

[Click the gallery below to open up the slideshow & view the tweets]:

5. The final categories required will be something like:

  • Travel to and from work (Diplo, Hudson Mohawke, Judge Jules, Toddla T)
  • Technical problems (Nightwave)
  • Fashion or clothing problems (Nightwave, Yoda, Clockwork) (This and the above category could be classed as ‘work environment’ problems)
  • Hotel accommodation (Cookie Monsta, Amirali)
  • Bad food (Chase & Status, Zomboy)
  • Not getting free gifts (Max Graham)
  • Badly spelt publicity material (Camo & Krooked)

Make sure you elicit and/or check the meaning of the key vocab that would lead to these categories. In the travel section, for example, you might want to dwell on: to oversell, to get upgraded/downgraded, business class

Assuming that you remembered to black out the ‘DJs Complaining’ part on each tweet, you can now ask the Ss which profession these complainers belong to. It should by now have dawned on most of your them that they are not dealing with anyone particuarly unfortunate. Most will get that it’s a job in the entertainment industry; if no one gets ‘DJ’, direct attention to the Nightwave tweet and elicit or illustrate the meaning of ‘needles’ and ‘headphones’. Also refer to any mentions of clubs. Elicit a definition of a DJ:

A DJ is someone who is paid large sums of money to travel around the world and play other people’s music for people to dance to.

Ask if anyone feels sorry for these DJs. At this point I explain a bit of my murky DJing past. I assure them that for most DJs, the main problem is people asking you for records you don’t have or don’t want to play. Aside from that, most DJs I know are vinyl-obsessed types who spend every last penny they earn on more music, and rarely DJ outside of their own city.

6) Now get the Ss to think about how the various complaints have been made. Very advanced or proficiency groups may be able to get on with this without much assistance; otherwise, you might want to go about it like this:

6.1) Draw attention to the use of ellipsis in the following tweets:

Elicit that ‘It’s’ and ‘I have’/’I’ve got’ could be inserted to make these statements grammatically complete, but that ellipsis is typical not only of short informal texts like tweets, but of informal spoken English as well. It often happens when the subject or even main verb of the statement are obvious from the context, e.g.

(I) saw this DJs Complaining twitter account.

(I) thought it’d be good for a lesson.

(You only need) 13 tweets and that’s it.

6.2) Move on to highlight how these complaints have been made, e.g.

Negative description:

(It’s) + so + neg. adjective + gerund

(It’s) so difficult being a DJ!

OR

Being a DJ is so difficult!

 Other, differently structured examples from the other tweets include

and

See if the Ss can spot Amirali’s spelling mistake.

Back to the Max Graham tweet. This complains by

Mentioning some advantage or asset then highlighting some problem which contradicts it

pos present simple X and neg present simple Y!

I’m a world famous DJ and my life is terrible!

Students may wonder why ‘and’ is used instead of ‘but’.I feel that the complaint carries more resignation than outrage with the ‘and’.

6.3) Ask the Ss to go back to the other tweets and look for different ways of complaining. You can put these categories on the board:

  • Sarcasm (saying the opposite of what you mean)
  • Understatement (saying something in a less extreme way than you really feel)
  • Overstatement/exaggeration (saying something is more extreme than it really is or seems to be)
  • Making a threat to do something if the thing happens again
  • Negation (using a one-word negative response to highlight something bad)
  • Contrast (with something good)
  • Comparison (with something bad)
  • Listing negative facts

6.4) As the Ss are doing this, monitor for any problems they come up against with vocab. You can clarify these during feedback, along with the following:

Sarcasm 

Toddla T, Chase & Status, Diplo: focus on ‘Cheers’/’Well done’/’So much fun’ and elicit other statements of gratitude/pleasure that might be given sarcastically. Practice appropriate intonation on these

Understatement 

Judge Jules: focus on “X isn’t the highlight of (my) day” – the implication is that it is much worse than that…

Overstatement/exaggeration

Camo & Krooked: “There is nothing more X than  ….” OR “There’s nothing worse than …” You can point out that when people use this phrase, you can usually think of many things that are a lot worse than what they’ve mentioned.

Making a threat

Clockwork: highlight “I swear, if X happens again, [I’ll] ….” and note that Clockwork does not make his threat explicit. Invite the class to imagine how he might continue it …

Negation

Cookie Monster: ‘FAIL’ … point out that this is common in Internet posts but perhaps not used as frequently in spoken English. It’s a short, brutal way of describing something that doesn’t work or has gone wrong

Contrast

Hudson Mohawke: ‘It’s no British Airways’. I would point out that this structure could also be used of Hudson Mohawke: He’s no Flying Lotus / Marshall Jefferson / David Guetta [insert DJ name your students would recognise]

Comparison

Chase & Status: “…the worst, toughest piece of rubber that’s masqueraded as a sirloin steak” – the phrase seems to lack an ‘ever’. You could highlight “That’s the worst X that’s ever masqueraded as a Y” , or simplify the comparison to “That Y is like X”, where Y is the thing that should be good and X is the bad thing it seems like.

Listing

Nightwave; draw attention to the use of negative adjectives in his list. If you work in a bit of a shabby environment, you could easily elicit a quick variation of this from the students, e.g. Our classroom: crappy decor, dodgy projector, slow internet connection, worrying smell

7. Practice activities for this could go in a few different directions. Here are some suggestions:

i) Remind Ss of the complaints they made at the beginning. Highlight how they made these complaints. Ask them if they can reframe any of the complaints in a different way, based on what they’ve just looked at. Partners could listen and decide which DJ’s complaints they were adapting.

ii) Take one or two of the DJs’ complaints and write/perform a role-play continuing the conversation. The challenge will be to fit in as many of the different complaint structures as possible.

iii) Give the Ss cards with other showbiz (or normal) professions and ask them to come up with as many different complaints as possible relating to them. Other groups have to listen and guess the profession being complained about.

8. In the interests of intercultural understanding, a nice way to round off this lesson might be to indulge a quick discussion on complaining in general. Some prompts:

  • Do people in privileged positions have the same right to complain as everyone else?
  • Should these complaints be public?
  • Is complaining common in the Ss’ countries? If yes, about what? If not, why not?
  • Does anyone in the class just complain for the sake of it or can complaining achieve anything?
  • Is complaining necessary in any society?

PS To prove I have nothing against Hudson Mohawke – knowing he’s a bit of whiner doesn’t stop me liking his music:

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