On November 30, 2007, the legendary motorcycle stunt performer Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel died at the age of 69. Many of you may remember his exploits from the 60’s and 70’s as he jumped his motorcycle over rows of cars, Mack trucks, Greyhound buses, London double-decker buses and the fountains at Cesar’s Fort in Las Vegas in 1968, among many other increasingly spectacular daredevil feats. Often his stunts left him with broken bones and assorted injuries.

Indeed, he is reported to have said, “I’ve broken every bone in my body at least once.”

A Newsweek magazine tribute reported, though, that he had suffered 88 broken bones. He had more than a dozen major surgeries and broken bone repairs to his cranium, pelvis, spokes, neck bones, waist, and shoulders. This never stopped him, though. He appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine and was the focus of a full-length, semi-autobiographical feature film “Viva Knievel” starring George Hamilton in 1977. One of his last and arguably most publicized stunts was his failed “jump” over the Meander River Gorge in Idaho in 1974. He had to involuntarily give up work in 1980 saying, “he was a mere blemish soft tissue and invasive steel.” But his stunts didn’t finally kill Evel Knievel. In the end, it was complications from Diabetes and Pulmonary Fibrosis that ultimately stole this stunt legend from the world.

But what, you might ask, has any of this got to do with English as a Second or Foreign language? Simply this: A language is inseparably linked to the cultural aspects of the country or countries where it is spoken. Using Content-Based Learning (CBL) then becomes an excellent, highly efficient and interesting way of teaching or learning virtually any foreign language. Evel Knievel and a seemingly endless parade of other celebrities, famous or infamous, historic and notable personalities offer a detailed glimpse into frequently un-taught intricacies of the English language. For example, if you haven’t heard of him, you’re likely either well under 30 or so years old, or do not have English as your first language or grew up in a foreign cultural setting.

Evel Knievel Isn’t Dead

Whenever a famous entertainer, celebrity or historic figure becomes newsworthy, don’t let the opportunity to inspire and involve your learners just pass without you noting something. Instead, use it to probe more profoundly into the social rudiments and language that bred that individual. Then keep an eye as your students slowly start to grow and advance their English or other alien language skills almost as if by mystic.

When you read all about Evel Knievel and most of all about his untimely death as most people may call the death of one of their heroes, don’t you believe it. Evel Knievel isn’t dead. He’s just waiting for you and your learners to make him come alive in their hearts, minds, and imaginations yet again.

In our next segment, “Using Popular Characters and Luminaries in Content-based Learning,” we will eventually end into more depth on using newsworthy celebrities, historic and other famous persons to motivate and engage our English or foreign language learners in and out of the classroom.


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All About Evel Knievel