It been nearly a year since Emily Bell and I presented at IATEFL 2012. I have managed to get all the videos working on the Prezi presentation that we did, so I thought it would be nice to get it on here, what with IATEFL 2013 just around the corner. Enjoy.
(image taken from google images)
It’s been nearly 2 and a half months since my unplugged project came to an end. I would like to say I have been on a long, sun drenched, relaxing holiday and completely disconnected my overworked brain, but instead I threw myself into summer work and have only just come up for air.
Throughout that time, my reflection of the last teaching year has been on slow burn and after a recent conversation about what ‘emergent language’ was, I felt it time to bring an end to this chapter of my teaching life.
For those of you who have followed this blog from the beginning, skip to the next paragraph. For those that are new, a very quick recap of the project. One intermediate class, one fairly inexperienced teacher, a blog to record everything that happened in the class and the chance to teach in the unplugged approach for an entire academic year. There were ups and downs, crisis’ of confidence, euphoria, breakthroughs and blogging block.
All that’s left to do now is summarise my thoughts on the whole thing. Which is easier said than done.
I will start with the good news. The four students that took the PET exam and were part of the project group from the beginning, all passed. You wouldn’t believe how happy this made me. The class was never really exam orientated, although with the exam fast approaching toward the end of the year I did base lessons around the PET exam and the final classes were devoted to exam technique and making sure the students were aware of the format.
Looking back at the year, I realise how incredibly lucky I was to carry out such a project. This couldn’t have been done without the support of my D.o.S, Emily Bell (@emilyvbell), my fellow teachers at IH Santander and my ever-expanding and awesome PLN. The magnitude of what I was actually attempting didn’t hit me until people like Anthony Gaughn, Jemma Gardner, Chiew Pang, Mike Harrison and Scott Thornbury, and many others, began to take an interest in what I was trying to do. In all honesty, it was completely bonkers. A second year teacher, with a hare-brained idea of teaching without a coursebook, with minimum materials and then taking on the added pressure of blogging about it and then presenting at two conferences. Madness. But you know what, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I took a journey that many people would never even have imagined, a journey that many other teachers would have shied away from, teachers with years of experience that have continued to follow the same well trodden path and never ventured from their comfort zone. I proved to myself that I could teach and that I was making a difference and I hope that people who have followed this blog, have been inspired or provoked to look at their own teaching and what happens in their classroom.
I also feel honored to have championed teaching unplugged as a legitimate teaching practice. While I am well aware that there needs to be a lot more research and debate rages as to whether it is ‘just good teaching’. I genuinely feel that it is an authentic way of teaching and can help a teacher to strip down everything around them and get back to basics.
I feel like a more rounded teacher, a more confident teacher and more importantly I am unafraid to experiment in my classes and push the boundaries. I’m convinced that this can only benefit my students and help to push English language teaching into the 21st century. Even if I don’t get it right the first time, the amount of reflection and learning that happens is unprecedented, which I think project unplugged demonstrates.
To finish, I just want to add my thoughts on emergent language. Which I think is the cause of much debate and is quite hard to define and even harder to extract and then work with. I think emergent language exists. It is an indicator that the students are pushing themselves to experiment and produce an utterance that they are not quite sure of or perhaps haven’t studied properly but is appropriate to say at that moment. The slightly garbled and mixed up second conditional, which is then pounced upon by the teacher, exploited, clarified, practised and reinforced so that it become a part of that students language armory.
Just as important as emergent language is the language gaps our students have. The things they aren’t saying. The structures they aren’t using, when in fact the situation is screaming out for it. Some people might argue that the coursebook caters for this. Ploughing through from unit 1 to unit 12 will cover all the bases and fill those gaps, but unless we actually listen to our students and allow ourselves the opportunity to notice these gaps through conversation driven activities, we may just end up papering over those gaps and not filling them correctly.
Output (emergent language) + Input (filling the gaps) = Results
On that note, I will draw a line under my unplugged experience. It’s been emotional and my Dogme days are not over. I have ideas and motivation for future projects but they will have to wait.
From listening to records I just knew what to do I mainly taught myself And you know I did pretty well Except there were a few mistakes But um that I made uh That I’ve just recently cleared up And I’d like to just continue To be able to express myself As best as I can with this instrument And I feel like I have a lot of work to do Still I’m a student of the drums And I’m also a teacher of the drums too
I came across this sentence last weekend and instantly knew I wanted to base a lesson around it, or even use it as a warmer/conversation starter;
If you had 2 minutes to talk to the whole world, what would you say?
I tried out a few formats with my early morning classes. They were a bit rough around the edges but produced some interesting results. One class produced a mini speech about what they would talk about if they had those two minutes, and the other class became a simple discussion class, after I changed the structure various times to allow the students to produce different answers and therefore different discussion points.
I decided to use it for my project to introduce, revise and work with the 2nd conditional.
I told the class I had found a really interesting question, but I couldn’t remember all of it. I wrote this on the board;
What would you say if you had 2 minutes……….
I passed out some slips of paper and asked the students to complete the question with whatever ending they wanted, and then they should swap the question with their partner and answer each others question. Immediately the class was alive with discussion and questions. I walked around helping with the construction of the sentences and vocabulary. I listened in to the answers and helped with pronunciation and corrected where necessary.
‘What would you say if you had 2 minutes with Obama?’
‘What would you say if you had 2 minutes to talk about your whole life?’
‘What would you say if you had 2 minutes to talk in front of Spain’s prime time TV audience?’
Once the discussion had died down, I changed the initial question and asked the students to do the same as before;
What would you do if you had 2 minutes………
The class erupted into even more noise, they seemed to really be enjoying this activity. The questions became more inventive and random, yet produced even more talking and language.
‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes to spend 10,000 euros?’
‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes to eat 3 pizzas?’
‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes to tell the woman of your life you loved her and you saw her in the street?’
‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes before some really important to you died?’
I went to the board and discussed all the points that had come up. I asked if they knew what grammar we were using in the lesson. Instantly the 2nd conditional was shouted out. We put the construction on the board, talked about swapping the clauses around, the position of the comma and why we use the 2nd conditional.
By now 30 minutes had gone by. It was surprising and satisfying that one simple sentence had produced so much already. I told the class we were going to read a text about a BBC programme, and put the title on the board;
I asked them to discuss in their pairs what they thought the programme would be about and what they thought people watchers did. After some feedback and the mixing together of several ideas, we eventually came up with a suggestion. I asked the class to read the article to find out if they were right. They weren’t far off. Next I asked them to complete the five comprehension questions for the text. We did feedback and boarded the answers. We talked about unknown vocabulary and I asked them to pick out the 2nd conditionals. We were running out of time.
I told the class we were going to watch two clips from the BBC programme. Their attention immediately picked up. I wrote the question below, on the board. I asked the class to discuss it in pairs.
If you could steal something from a shop without paying for it, would you?
We did a quick show of hands to see who would and who wouldn’t. Some people were very honest. I asked them to watch a clip of the show to see what the outcome of an experiment was that investigated this question. They had to simply tell me how many people paid for a paper. (4.50mins for the first question and 7mins for the second question)
We did the same for another question;
If a stranger came up to you in the street and asked to use your mobile phone, would you let them?
They watched the related clip and had to tell me whether the man or the woman was successful in getting people to lend them a mobile.
The end of the class was upon us. I asked them to write three 2nd conditional questions for homework and I intend to use them as a review and warm up in the next lesson.
I really enjoyed this lesson. Planning it, teaching it and being able to watch the students enjoy it too. I think this was by far the best lesson we have had together. The amount of talking and language that came out was unbelievable. And it was clear from the students faces that they were having a good time and engaging with the material. I had taken the text from the coursebook that we should be using from the class and also used the same comprehension questions included in the book. The actual planning of the lesson didn’t take long at all, and seemed to come together naturally. The question is, was it Dogme at all? I had planned the lesson and had a clear language point I wanted to cover. I was more than prepared to go off in another direction if necessary. The first half an hour was great, I anticipated maybe 10mins or, at the most, 15 mins for this, but allowed it to flow and continue as the students continued to discuss the questions. The rest of the lesson was straightforward and controlled by me, the teacher, yet highly productive and enjoyable. I could agonize over this, but I’m not going to. The students enjoyed the lesson, participated fully and left the class happy. At the end of the day, Dogme or not, this is what counts.
From watching other teachers I just knew what to do I mainly taught myself And you know I did pretty well Except there were a few mistakes But um that I made uh That I’ve just recently cleared up And I’d like to just continue To be able to express myself As best as I can with teaching And I feel like I have a lot of work to do Still I’m a student of English And I’m also a teacher of English too
Now that the term is well under way, and I have settled into a nice routine, I feel as though I can concentrate on other things. I have decided to start Spanish lessons again, beginning on Monday. Nothing earth shattering I know, but after getting published in the Guardian, did I mention that by the way http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/education/2011/oct/11/class-report-native-speaker-woes, the Spanish teacher at my school started asking questions about teaching unplugged and has taken it upon herself to try to read ‘teaching unplugged’. (Thornbury&meddings, 2009)
A couple of days later, I asked if she would like to practice teaching unplugged with me. Two, hour lessons a week, no more photocopies, adapting activities from the book and generally making it up as we go. She seem’s very excited about the venture, as do I. A great chance for me to be on the other side of things, more importantly, I’m helping another teacher to try something new and develop, as well as perhaps helping to spread the unplugged gospel, in the Spanish teaching world.
I was wondering if perhaps I was being a bit too hasty in asking my Spanish teacher to go unplugged, until I read this blog from Ben Naismith, http://eltstew.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/random-spanish-vocab-at-its-finest/ He talks about learners learning what they want to and not what is prescribed by the teacher, emergent language and the dullness of set material. I know that I hate being handed a stack full of photocopies, filling in endless gap fills and listening to conversations between Pedro and Jose in a cafe. I know, that if I went back to Spanish lessons such as these, like Steve, I would probably lose interest and drop out. Therefore subjecting my girlfriend to listen to my painfully bad Spanish for another 6 months, before deciding to try again. I suppose it must sound a little selfish too. Expecting my teacher to learn and deliver a brand new way of teaching after only just learning about it. But, I think we are both aware of the possibilities and difficulties that we face and I see it as more of a partnership than a normal teacher, student relationship.
So on Monday a new chapter to my unplugged adventures starts. I would love to know if anyone else has tried a foreign language in this way. I would hate to think I was the first and only. I will post some feedback as the weeks go by and hopefully get some comments from my teacher too.
“I cannot stop the thought, running in the dark, coming up a which way sign, all good ‘teachers‘ must decide” (E.Vedder)
I don’t normally write about my lessons until Sunday night, when I have had the weekend to wind down and put my reflection/blogging head on. But tonight I feel the need to blog here and now. There are too many thoughts running around my little brain to sleep. So here goes.
I felt confident about tonight’s lesson. After a weekend of reflection and some positive comments on the blog, I felt ready to go back into class with a new determined vigor and energy. Going back to basics I think was how I put it in the last post.
I opened up with a simple activity. In pairs, I asked the students to talk to each other about their weekends and tell their partner about the best and the worst thing about their weekend. We were off. Some nice conversations started, they were enjoying it, some vocabulary came and went up on the board. A good 5 minutes passed. I asked each student to report back what their partner had said. We listened, I asked a few questions, probed a little deeper. We had a little conversation about sleep, lying in on a Sunday, and then a student revealed that he didn’t like sleeping. He only slept for 5 hours a night because he liked to be active and was simply too busy for it. ‘Teachable moment’ flashed before my eyes, yet I resisted the urge. Very unlike me.
We wrapped up the activity and talked briefly about the last lesson. I checked that everyone had prepared their ‘family’ presentation and gave them a couple of minutes to check their notes. I split them into two groups and asked them to give their presentations. While they were talking, I wanted the other students to think of questions to ask them at the end. Simple enough and off they went. The presentations were actually quite good. Despite my reservations about the last lesson, the majority of them had taken on board the idea of the presentation having a simple structure and also some of the vocabulary from the last lesson came up too. I sat and listened, making notes to talk about at the end. One group was doing well, asking questions and continuing the conversation. Meanwhile the other group seemed to be struggling with follow-up questions. I resisted the temptation to throw in my own questions, then suddenly one of them blurted out a perfectly well constructed question. Excellent I thought, “anymore questions” I asked. Blank faces and the shaking of heads followed. The next person started to give their presentation, this was followed by another silent period and no questions and then again for the following presentation. One of the students had said she shared the same temper as her father and got angry occasionally. I decided to ask her about it to encourage the students to join in. ( it went something like this)
” So you get angry like your father then?” (me)
” angry?” (student)
” yes, you said you have a temper like your father” (me)
” I don’t understand” (student)
” A temper? You said your father gets angry sometimes. What does he do when he gets angry?” ( Me. By this time I have really slowed down my speaking voice and I’m now making gestures to signify anger)
“Does he shout, or sometimes bang things loudly?” (Me, know gesturing wildly)
A period of about 30 seconds passed. I was determined to get her to talk about this.
“Go on you can do it, take your time” (Me. At this point I was doing a gesture as though I was coaxing a cat out of a tree)
She looked left and right, shrugged her shoulders and laughed out loud.
“I don’t know” (student)
I gripped the side of the chair and closed my eyes. A big breath and then I launched into the feedback, highlighting certain things on the board.
- Struggling with saying dates, such as 1994 etc
- I have 18 yrs instead of I was/am 18yrs
- Questions to ask about how long or often things happened in the past
- The pronunciation of words ending in -ed
- The excellent use of the word ‘rebellious’ one of the students used to describe his brother.
I moved onto the next activity. I had brought a newspaper and cut out pairs of photos that had a common theme. Unemployment, celebration, work, weather, disaster. I asked the students to walk around in their pairs and choose the pictures they would most like to talk about. Once they had done this I asked them to discuss what they thought the pictures had in common and to write one word on the paper next to the pictures to describe this. Celebration came up straight away, and with some encouragement so did work and unemployment. Next I asked the students to describe to each other what they could see in the picture. Lots of vocab again. I then supplied the groups with one question about each set of pictures that they had to discuss and give an opinion about. Before doing so I elicited different language we could use to give our opinion. We had a good list;
- I think….
- I believe…..
- In my opinion…..
- From my point of view……..
- As far as I’m concerned……..
- My view is….
Okay we were off. It started well, some of the expressions were used. A little forced but nonetheless being used. I walked around listening and if the conversation dropped I wrote another question down to try to re-ignite it. It was hard going, to say the least. I encouraged them to talk about the question and discuss why, instead of just giving a short and extremely brief answer. We swapped pictures, the same thing happened, we swapped again. Well you get the picture. Blood out of a stone, springs to mind. The class dwindled to an end.
I asked the class to bring in their own picture for the next lesson. I think we need to try again with this one and maybe their own images will prompt some better discussion.
I felt very low at the end of this lesson, the lowest yet. Tonight was difficult, it taxed my patience and even made me a little angry. (see conversation) I’m becoming a little frustrated and perhaps even a little stressed. Feeling the pressure somewhat, I guess. I have never felt comfortable with this class and never feel relaxed enough to simply enjoy the lesson without worrying about what’s happening next. The complete opposite of what I knew Dogme/ teaching unplugged to be before I started this project. Before, in the unplugged lessons I had done previously, things were much more laid back and easy-going. Because of this the lessons were far more productive, I had more energy and excitement and the students fed of this positiveness. Now I feel as though I am only transmitting negativity and this is perhaps affecting the students. I mentioned earlier about the possible ‘teachable moment’ that came up at the beginning of the lesson. Normally I would have dived head first into it, instead I was more worried about what I had planned. I worry about covering what’s on the ‘can do list’ and student generated syllabus or what the book should be covering at this stage. I know that my DOS, who has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, is watching me closely and will be the first to tell me that it’s just not working and perhaps it’s time to call it a day.
Am I expecting to much, planning too hard, pushing too hard or simply not good enough?
“I wish I was a neutron bomb, for once I could go off!” (E.Vedder)
With the relative success of the previous lesson I wanted to try to continue with the same topic of family and introduce the other two skills we hadn’t really concentrated on, listening and writing.
The start of the lesson was based around discussing the relationships with our families, whether they had a big family or not and would they like to have a family in the future. Not much came up in the discussion and it proved to be hard work to get the students to open up. I moved on and told the class that I was going to tell them about my own family and I wanted them to answer some questions after I had finished. I did the live listening with an initial gist question and then repeated it again with the same information, but this time with four questions looking for specific information. This all went smoothly enough and the students asked me some questions about my family and home town.
Next I explained that I wanted the students to give their own short presentation about their family. Before doing this, I split the class into three groups and asked them to brainstorm as much vocabulary related to families. I monitored the groups. At first it was simply names for different members of the family, so I talked with the groups about how they could describe people in their family. A list of adjectives started to grow but apart from that nothing else seemed to come up. Noticing that the groups were struggling I talked about how I had staged the listening. First some general background information to set the scene, a chronological order of how the family was formed. (where and when my mum and dad met, the years my brother and I were born etc) Some specific information about similar characteristics and family traits and then a general summary to finish. The students looked a little lost at this point. I boarded the different stages and asked them to start making notes for their presentation.
The atmosphere of the lesson seemed to take a massive dive at this point. I tried my hardest to circulate between the students and offer some support. I had to reiterate several times that they were writing notes and not a script to read from. There were some blank faces, and empty pages. One of the students started to speak in Spanish across the room, then another then another. The lesson was becoming something of a ‘black hole’ as my D.O.S kindly put it. I could feel the black cloud of doubt drifting in. The class came to an end and I was thankful, yet disappointed and left pondering where and why it had gone wrong.
I had a long chat with my D.O.S the next day about what had happened. The feedback was immensely helpful and helped me to really analyse the lesson. Below is my post-mortem.
I think the main problem was the topic. The previous lesson about family had gone well, but only after some pushing from me and a lucky break. In reality I should have moved onto something else and moved in another direction. There had been a general reluctance to discuss any off the open class questions at the beginning of the lesson and I should have noted this and taken it on board.
Secondly, I wasn’t comfortable about doing the live listening. I don’t quite know why, I’ve done it before, I just think I could have found an authentic recording or video to use. I would have liked to have a written record of it to give to the students to help with the structuring of their own presentation. Something to refer back to and to also see the staging clearly.
The group brainstorming partially worked. Some new vocabulary came up but I think it could have been far more useful and interactive. I could have created a class mind map on the board, a culmination of the groups and really built upon what they already knew, eliciting and probing for new words and language. Opportunity missed.
Finally asking the students to take notes in class really should have been done for homework. What better place to get information about your family than in your family home. Stupid really. If I had done that we could have perhaps moved onto some vocabulary recycling activities and perhaps picked up the tempo of the lesson. Rookie mistake.
A lot didn’t go right and it was by far my most disappointing teaching experience with the project so far. The best thing about the lesson was the feedback the next day and writing this blog. The perfect way to take a step back and really reflect on what happened in the lesson. To late to save the lesson but I have learnt a lot just from this one reflection.
My D.O.S asked me if this experience had discouraged me from carrying on. I instantly replied, no. I was disappointed with the lesson, angry even, that I had let the students down and delivered a below par lesson. But I would say I am more determined than discouraged. I think that at times I am trying to control the lesson too much and over plan. Going against the unplugged principles and taking away the emphasis from the students. I think that knowing I have to try to deliver what is on the course syllabus is dictating how I approach the lesson. Rather than a natural emergence, it’s more like forcing something out that I know needs to be covered.
So for the next lessons I think it’s time to go back to basics. Don’t think, just do. Keep it simple and allow the language to emerge. Build it and they will come!
At the beginning of the week I found myself flicking through the course book that I should be using with the class. Lo and behold the first chapter opened up on an interesting reading about the BBC programme ‘Who do you think you are’. Interest stirred, I picked up ‘Teaching unplugged’ and flicked to an activity called ‘What’s in a name’. Perfect. I had my lesson.
I started the lesson by asking each student to write their name on the board. I then asked the class if they liked their name, if not, would they like to change it. Most people said they were happy enough, except one student. She said that most people always shortened her name or they couldn’t spell it properly and this annoyed her. With this flicker of interest I revealed the three questions I wanted the students to discuss.
Does your name have a meaning?
Does anyone else in your family have that name?
Is it a popular name here in Cantabria/Spain?
(Thornbury&Meddings, Teaching Unplugged, 2009)
The noise level increased, the students started talking away, I picked up my pen and pad to take notes and all of a sudden the talking stopped. This was new. Normally they enjoy talking in pairs and it gives me time to perhaps feed in other questions to stimulate the conversation. Clearly not this time, so I decided to get some feedback. Out of a class of ten, two people knew the meaning behind their name, apart from those two, everyone else in the class had someone else in their family with the same name. Unsurprisingly the names of the students were all fairly common to Spain so not much came from that. Okay, don’t panic I thought. I went back to the two people who knew the meaning behind their names. One was named after a flower, but didn’t know why. She didn’t really want to say much else on the subject. I went to my last option. It turns out the student’s name is Greek in origin and means messenger. I probed a little further.
“Do you know much about your family history?” (me)
“Yes, I study History in University”
”Have you done any research or looked into your families past?” (me)
“Yes, I……..(lots of back and forth between her and her friend in Spanish to find the right word) …. a coat of arms.
You beauty. I couldn’t believe my luck. I drew an outline of a shield on the board and asked if this was what she meant. She nodded enthusiastically and, with some encouragement, told us about her family coat of arms and it’s significance. Despite this, the class didn’t seem fully engaged yet, so I decided to bring the reading into play.
I asked the class if they knew what ‘Family tree’ meant. A few mumbles and then the Spanish version was shouted out. We talked about what a ‘family tree’ could tell us and whether anyone had one or would like to have one made. The interest level seemed to be rising. I told the class that I wanted to show them pictures of six different people. (Colin Jackson, Matthew Pinsent, Nigella Lawson, Davina McCall, Jodie Kidd and Kim Cattrel) In pairs I asked them to discuss who these people were and where they came from. They only knew the woman from ‘Sex and the city’ but guessed they were all from Britain. I explained that these people had taken part in a popular T.V programme on the B.B.C. I wrote the programme title on the board, ‘Who do you think you are?’. I asked the students to discuss with their partner what they thought the programme was about. After a few wild guesses, I explained what the show was all about and that I had an article about the show for them to read. The article was all jumbled up and they needed to work together to put it back in order. Once this was done I wanted them to highlight any unknown vocabulary and answer the gist question I had put on the board. This was the first reading we had done in class so far and the students seemed to enjoy the task. Once the texts were put in the right order we discussed what clues had led them to putting it into that order. Then we discussed all of the new vocabulary that they had highlighted. This lead to me, finally, to doing some good standard pronunciation work, individual and choral drilling, which had been missing in the previous lessons. The white board was filling up, parts of speech were discussed and, a breakthrough for me, phonetics were included.
Next I talked about the fact that in a normal class I would set five or six other questions based around the text for the students to get specific information for. I told them that now they would become the teacher and it was their job to write the five questions for the other groups. But also I mentioned that the other groups would be from another class and that I would be getting feedback from them about their questions. This seemed to spur the students on and they worked really hard on the questions and finished them before the end of the class.
I was pleased with this lesson. After a quiet start the students become engaged in the subject and enjoyed the activities. Lots of new vocabulary came up and I finally did some pronunciation and improved my board work. I think the most important thing to take away from this lesson is that it is important to ask the right questions and perhaps probe a little deeper to find the right point at which to spring into the next part of the lesson. I got lucky this time, but it could have been very different. The class was language light and not for the first time. This is becoming a worry, yet the students are enjoying the classes and seem to be gaining in confidence when speaking and working together in groups.
I decided that for this lesson I would get the class moving about a bit and try to make the class a little more dynamic. I had come across this lesson from Sandy Millin, http://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/a-twitter-activity/#comment-638, and thought it would be a really interesting and thought-provoking lesson for the students.
I started the class by showing four large pictures of the Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and Tuenti (Spanish version of facebook) and eliciting the names and ‘social networking’ from the students. I asked who used what and it seemed the whole class used at least one if not more of them. All except one. “I don’t have the time” he said. Perfect. In pairs I asked them to write down the three main reasons why they use social networking sites, and for the student who didn’t use them, three reasons why not.
Sharing photos, catching up with old friends, talking for free and gossiping were some of the main points, while simply not having the time and preferring to talk on the phone were reason enough to not use the sites. I went back to the gossiping point and asked if the students thought this was a good or bad thing. Surprisingly some of them thought it was one of the best things. I asked them to list three good and bad things about social networking. More floating about, providing vocabulary and checking spelling. The pairs then compared with another group and we did class feedback. One of the good points that came up, was that we could follow famous people by using Twitter. Now was the perfect time to use Sandy’s lesson. I mentioned that I used Twitter frequently, but not to follow famous people. I talked about how I used it to help me solve problems such as grammar points, technology in the classroom or simply asking for advice on certain issues. I quickly showed them what Twitter looked like and how the feed worked.
The idea of the lesson was to create our own twitter feed to give advice or suggestions for problems or situations. I decided to demo the idea with my own problem, which was that I keep forgetting the names of my students. I wrote this on a small piece of paper and placed it on the floor. The students could now take a piece of paper and add their suggestions. I could throw in a response to their suggestions in order to keep the feed moving and to promote further suggestions. The students loved it! Some great suggestions came up;
I can never remember the names of everyone in class. Help! (me)
You can take photos and you can put it in the wall.
I don’t have a camera (me)
You can borrow a camera from a friend.
Before class you can write in the forehead of people in class his name.
I don’t think my boss will let me. (me)
You’re right (my boss)
Everyone could be named about something who describe him/her.
My name is like a flower, so it’s easy to remember. (Rosa)
It was going great. I picked up on the use of modals for giving advice and suggestions and boarded a small list, half elicited from the students and half supplied by me, that we could use in the next activity. I didn’t want to lose the pace of the lesson so I launched back into it and mentioned the wishes that the class had made in the previous lesson. We chose one of each and I asked them if they could supply suggestions to make these wishes come true. A selection of some of the best ones are below.
I wish that Santander had the AVE station.
The politicians should meet to try and find money from the banks.
Maybe it will get done if ‘Revilla’ (local politician) get chosen again.
We can’t build the AVE station, but we could invent teleporter.
I wish that the economic crisis would end.
We could steal money from other countries
Politicians could reduce their salary,
I think it should be legal to photocopy the paper money.
Lot’s of new vocabulary had come up, we had practised giving suggestions and advice and more importantly the students had really enjoyed the class. The class was a little language light and I could really have built on that, but I guess I was enjoying the flow of the lesson too much to want to break up the momentum. Something to add to the growing list of things to work on. On a more positive side I now have a stack of about 30 sentences to use for some sort of error correction exercise later in the term.
The project was well and truly under way, so I decided that it might be a good time to dip into ‘Teaching unplugged’ (Thornbury&Meddings, 2009). I picked out two activities. As a warm up, ‘something we did’ (pg36), and as a main activity Three wishes (pg46).
I decided to use ‘something we did’ as an alternative way of finding out about each others weekend, rather than the open class discussion which is the norm in some of my classes. I wrote out the three sentences I wanted the students to use and split the group down into pairs. The idea was to use the sentence to talk about something they did since the last class and their partner would then quiz them further to get as much information as possible. This way they could revise the Q&A session from the previous lesson.
Something you did with someone else
Something you did that you don’t usually do
Something you didn’t manage to do.
The last sentence immediately throw up the question “What does manage mean?” On the board I re-wrote the question to help with the explanation. Something you didn’t get done, something you didn’t do that you wanted to do and something that you didn’t get to do. This seemed to do the trick and we went back to it. After the first session I boarded one of the things I heard from one of the pairs.
“What have you done on Saturday?”
We talked about the difference in using the past simple and present perfect. As a class we changed the initial question into the past simple. I asked what the original answer was and boarded that too. I then asked how we could follow-up the answer with a question in the present perfect, instantly the answer came. We talked about the difference and why now was a good time to use the present perfect and then we repeated the exercise this time swapping partners and choosing another sentence.
“What did you do on Saturday?”
“I played football”
“How long have you been playing football?”
After the second round one other major point came up. I should point out that during the exercise I am correcting on the spot supplying and writing down new vocabulary. The major point was again related to one of the original sentences. A mixing up of the meaning between ‘usually’ and ‘used to’. Again to the board, using a mixture of example sentences and asking the students to offer their own interpretation of the differences, we managed to highlight the difference and iron out the problem.
I felt that the activity had run its course and worked well as a warm up, so I moved onto the main activity. On the board I had drawn 5 concentric circles and labelled them me, family, work/study, town and world. The idea was that the students had to come up with one wish for the first three labels (me, family, work/study). I demonstrated what I wanted them to do by simply reading out my own wishes and then the students started on their own. The main points that came up were;
Using ‘I want’ instead of ‘I wish’ or ‘I would like’ etc.
This for some reason was difficult for one of my students to comprehend. We talked about what it meant to make a wish and the possibility of it happening and this then lead onto the student asking,
” what about saying ‘I wish to………?”
Again further discussion about it being a more formal way of saying that you want something. The student seemed perplexed so I wrote up the wishes I had read out at the beginning of the activity and highlighted the language I had used to formulate my wishes. After this he seemed content and set about rewriting his sentences.
“I wish that I is pay better”
Some of the students weren’t back shifting the tense. I put the above sentence on the board and changed it so that it was correct. I highlighted the past simple tense. I asked for some examples from the other students who had used it correctly, wrote up their sentences and again highlighted the use of the past simple.
With all of these points covered, I wanted to consolidate the language, so I put the class into three groups and asked them to work together to write out a wish each for both their town and the world. The students managed to write the wishes and the idea was to vote for the best wish of the three for each town and world. Unfortunately we didn’t get to the final part. Below are the wishes.
I wish there were more activities in Santander. I wish the economy was better.
I wish that Santander had the AVE station I wish that the economic crisis would end.
I wish that there were more concerts here. I would like people in the world to not be poor.
I enjoyed the class and the students seem to be settling into the idea of the project and a different way of teaching. I’m feeling more confident and less nervous than before and I think this showed in the lesson. Both activities worked well and I will be using them again in other classes. I hope that breaking the lesson down this way and actually including the language used in class is useful. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to include everything but as time goes by I hope to get as much in as possible.
So the first lesson had come and gone. The seed had been planted and now it was time to get down to basics and begin teaching. The first lesson was dominated by me and delivering the idea of the project. Now it was time for the students to get to know each other and their teacher.
For this lesson and some future lessons my D.o.S, Emily Bell, (https://twitter.com/#!/emilyvbell) joined me in the classroom, to observe, teach and generally oversee the project.
The aim of the lesson was simply for the students to get to know each other through a simple Q&A session and to gather enough information to write a profile on their partner. To warm up, the students would interview Emily and myself. Their aim was to write five questions that would prompt the teacher to give the most interesting answer. The group with the most interesting answer would win.
We split the groups in half and monitored the question writing stage. Offering suggestions, helping with question construction, error correction and pron work. Thinking that the students would write their questions with the teacher who was helping their group in mind, I decided to swap with Emily so that we would get questions from the opposite group. Below are some of the questions;
What do you think about climate change?
How many tattoos do you have?
What has been/is your biggest challenge?
What was your most embarrassing moment?
The students wrote down our answers and when the two groups were finished we shared the questions as a whole class and boarded the answers in two lists. The eventual winner was my answer to the most embarrassing moment question, which saw me describing the day I managed to knock my self unconscious, while trying to climb through a window after locking myself out of my house.(worthy of a blog post in itself)
Now it was the students turn to interview each other. Again five questions and again writing down the answers of their partner. We monitored as before, noting errors and using the board to highlight language points. The interviews began and we encouraged the students to follow-up their initial questions with others to try to find out even more information to build a better picture of their partner. With the lesson nearing an end we did a whole class feedback asking each group to tell the class the most interesting thing they found out from their partner. Their homework was to use their questions and answers to write a small description of their partner.
A livelier lesson with a lot more talking from the students. A very simple idea lasted for a full hour and a half and produced a lot of language points for future lessons. Below are the main points that Emily and I noticed would need further work and that caused the students problems throughout the lesson.
- Pronunciation (this area requires a lot of attention)
- Tense endings and confusion between simple past and present perfect.
- Wishes and regrets
- Reported speech
I enjoyed this lesson and really appreciated having Emily in the classroom to help out. It added another dynamic to the class and allowed me to spend some time to really work with the students on a more one to one basis. More importantly it gave me the opportunity to get immediate feedback on the lesson and see where things could be improved and also to hear what I was getting right or wrong.
I’m looking forward to teaching the class on my own and sitting back to try and tune into the whole class rather than working with one half of the students at a time. I think this will give me a more balanced idea of the areas to correct and work on.
Early days but some positive comments. Lots of areas to improve and work on.