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.