Which techniques do we use?
Thought you’d never ask!
Since I intend to use this as a demonstration for students I will try to list them briefly:
- Ambiguous / fluid
- Contextual (de-contextualized)
To be concrete: We started with the first 15; took turns telling each other what we came to think of when we heard a specific country - pictures, famous people and landmarks, geographical peculiarities, word puns... (We spent a lot of time on this, took our time, and had fun. Emil is fantastic when it comes to imaginative associations - partly because he doesn't always have any background knowledge to go on. So, Romania is represented by Dracula's fangs hiding in the navel; Laos is a louse's house.); settled on a redundant set for each; "placed" it on our head, ears, eyes, nose etc. down to the ground; gave this set a coherent feel, a number, a color; and then started anew with the next fifteen countries from head to toe.
Each day we started by repeating (performing) the list so far to each other and showing off to others; then we started with a brand new set. As we got further, we shortened each new batch to ten, then only five new countries per day. We set an ambitious goal from the start: Be able to name 100 countries, their capitals and their place on the map, and make a movie. Show off. Learn for life about how we learn, individually and in general.
So, for example, in the first round of 15, on the head there is a bear for Russia. The next "head" (#16) is a marble statue of a "black pharao" (like the one we saw at the Glyptotheque in Copenhagen a few years ago) for Sudan. The third head is a tooth from a saber-toothed tiger, since the Swedish "tand" sounds like the beginning of Tanzania... These cross-sections, every head, every ear, every eye... we used to buffer up the narrative structure of head-to-toe, (1) 1-15, (2) 16-30... adding redundancy.
We have secured six rounds of fifteen countries each. The most crucial part has turned out to be adjusting the "feel" of each consecutive round: When we practiced the third round for the first few times it felt "distant" but as we added further rounds it began to move "closer" which at first threw us since we began to feel insecure and unsure of, e.g. whether it was really "time" for Zambia (the groin) as early as round three which by now felt closer to the beginning of the list than to the end. (Zambia is a bee-hive; bees together; in Swedish: sam-bi-a.)
Gestures, emergent categories and family resemblances. For example: On the second round, we place our index finger, vertically, over our nipple, as if it were our mouth and we were motioning someone to keep quiet, ”shhh”, for Tchad. On the fourth round, we place or index finger horizontally over the nipple to symbolize an airplane going to Thailand. On the fifth round, that finger makes a downward cutting motion - a Finnish knife-wielding hooligan (and we know Finland is #66 since 4x15 + 6 = 66). On round six, that knife turns into an axe (a karate blow to the nipple, little finger landing horizontally) symbolizing a chop, a Swedish ”hugg” for Ug-anda.
So, similar gestures turn into similar implements/symbols. Each ankle (#12, 27, 42, 57, 72, 87) sports a bracelet. The first is a braid of white and red marbles (like the ones Emil always made in kindergarten), for Denmark; the second is a pale yellow-brown leather strap (like the one I wore as a teenager), for Ethiopia’s droughts; the third is a vulture’s (”gam”) neck rapping itself around the ankle, for Af-ghan-istan; the fourth is a USB-stick tied to a string, for Uzbekistan; the fifth is is a bejewelled ankle bracelet in a perfect circle, or ” O”, for Oman; the sixth is a bottle decoration for the Danish licqour ”Kir”, for Kirgizistan.
The ankle symbols are also prompted by their narrative predecessors, so after the first round’s knee, Kongo-Kinshasa (a gorilla), follows a bracelet for Denmark; after the second round’s knee, Colombia (I forgot its symbol; that happens when it gets hooked up to other things, like the fact that it also starts with a K sound), follows a leather strap for Ethiopia, etc.