In English class in Tlacochahuaya, we play games to practice spontaneous use of phrases and questions to prepare for the impromptu nature of conversations.

This week, to practice the questions: Do I have two legs? Am I brown?  Do I have wings? Do I live in Oaxaca? we played Headbandz (without the headband and with Post Its stuck to our foreheads).

We reviewed interrogative words and the key vocabulary–related to animals and colors and numbers and body parts–before getting started. Though they have the “answers” and questions written in their notebooks, I encourage them to try to play without their notes.

To keep things fun and light, if someone seems to be struggling, we will offer hints. But the hints are only allowed in English; no mooing or barking or clucking–and no Spanish–allowed.

Sometimes, despite the hints and our notes and some more hints, the answer evades us, and the group’s impatience leads to a sense of nervousness that quickly cascades t0 hilarity.

The word for zebra is cebra in Spanish; they sound similar. When one student knew the animal on his forehead had four legs and a mane (melena) and was black and white, all he could conclude was horse and horse several additional times.

After the hint of stripes was hooted out, he conjured: horse. He reiterated horse as a chorus of his peers insisted: the animal lives in Africa.

He insisted horse even as a frustrated peer desperately whispered cebra and another suggested he scan his notes.

We all laughed as he, at last, snatched the blue note from his head and giggled out: zebra.

From Don’t Think About a Zebra

–Kenn Nesbitt

Don’t think about a zebra
no matter what you do,
for, if you ever think of one,
then soon you’ll think of two.

And, after that, you’ll think of three.
And then you’ll think of four.
Then five or six or seven zebras.
Maybe even more.

And then you’ll think of zebra herds
stampeding down the street,
and zebras wearing tutus,
disco-dancing to a beat.

Read the rest at:

  • Richard Hugo, in The Triggering Town (, uses the description of a silo “filled with chorus girls and grain.” Hugo emphasizes the need for knowns and unknowns to both ground us and stimulate the imagination. The zebra is a chorus girl as are so many of the other elements of the language learning experience. Inject some zebras into your writing.

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