Prize fighter

Ladies and gentleman. Welcome to tonight’s T.E.F.L Dogme lightweight regional title fight. It’s a packed crowd here in Santander, where we are expecting to see a closely contested fight between a relative newcomer and one of the sport’s veteran fighters.

In the red corner, we have Adam ‘el gordito’ Beale. A new face to the Dogme scene, who is looking to establish himself in the ranks. After a relatively successful start to his short career, his last two fights ended in T.K.Os, so he’s looking to get back on track tonight. His style is explosive and full of energy, but his lack of experience is his undoing and he tends to fade in the latter rounds.

In the blue corner, is the no-nonsense, straight punching English, ‘CEF B1’ learner. A cornerstone of the Dogme scene who has seen his fair share of fights. A stubborn fighter, who very rarely opens up, preferring to wear his opponent down and deliver the killer punch when their defences are well and truly down.

Tonight looks like it’s going to be an interesting fight. The fighters have touched gloves, the bell goes……

Round 1 – I had my positive head on tonight. I had a brief plan of attack and went for it. I opened up by telling the student’s that we would start by reading a story. I asked them to read the story, not to worry about any unknown vocabulary and when they had finished they had to discuss, in groups, the gist question clearly displayed on the board. Simple.

Beale comes out swinging and the English learner is immediately on the back foot. Beale means business tonight!

I had found a nice simple story in Global intermediate which contained a simple moral about how you should be grateful for what you have and if you work hard, things will work out. I had blown the story up to A3 size and I had also used tippex to blank out the words and, so, but, and when. I told the students to ignore the blanks as they would be used for the next activity.

The initial energy from the first minute seems to have faded and the opponents seem to be working each other out as they move around the ring cautiously eyeing each other up and down.

After about 4 or 5 minutes I was expecting the students to start talking about the gist question as instructed. I checked to see if the two groups had finished. A few had, but some were still going. I reminded them about the gist question. I checked again two minutes later, still no talking but everyone had finished. I encouraged them to start talking about the question. I turned to write something on the board and as I did one of the students asked, “sorry, but what do we have to do?”

‘The English learner throws a heavy body blow that stops Beale in his tracks. A little winded I think, he’s in trouble’

Deep breath. I explained the gist question again and motioned towards the board where I had written it, large and clearly visible for the whole class to see. My explanation was slow, deliberate and full of gesturing. “oh, okay”, and then finally they began to speak, a word here, a sentence there and then a brief discussion broke out in each group. Amen.

Beale seems to have recovered quickly and uses this second wind to go on the attack

I got feedback from the groups about the gist question. They understood the question. I asked if they needed to know all the words to understand the text. They replied no, but I could clearly see a list of words they had written down that they wanted to ask about. We boarded the vocabulary. I gave examples, checked for meaning and did a little bit of drilling for the more difficult words. I didn’t want to spend too long on this section.

The bell goes and both fighters look relived to hear it. Beale did well to recover from the body blow, while the English learner looks to be searching for that weak spot.

Round 2 – I now asked the students to read back through the story and fill in the gaps that I had created in the text. Lots of discussion, some laughter even, they seemed to be enjoying themselves and I was a lot more relaxed. They finished off and we went through the answers. They noticed that the same words kept coming up and after some corrections everyone was happy. We discussed the job of these particular words, how they connected the sentences to allow the story to flow. We looked at the adjectives and talked about how they make the story more interesting to read and create a better mental picture for the reader. Quickly we discussed the use of pronouns and then the overall structure of the story, the beginning to set the scene, the middle to deliver the main part of the story and the end to conclude and bring the story to a close. All simple stuff, yet after the last couple of lessons I wanted to make sure they had the basics and the support to carry out the main task. We also talked about the ways that we could start and end a story. We boarded the phrases, ‘once upon a time’ and ‘they lived happily ever after’.

Beale picks up the pace in this round and fires in two or three quick jabs that seem to bring the English learner to his senses. This fight has suddenly come to life.

Round 3 – I cleared the story away and put a large black and white picture on the table in front of the students. The picture was from ‘The mind’s eye’ by A.Maley, A Duff and F Grellet. A great book for interesting visuals. The picture was of a person bent over a park bench, with their head in a bucket. Around him/her is an old trolley and some shopping bags. I sat back and simply asked the students what they thought. “Crazy”, “an artist”, “she’s homeless!”. Perfect. I told the students I wanted them to write the story of this picture. They had all the tools to do it. I asked them to start the story with ‘once upon a time’, and to finish with ‘they lived happily ever after’. I asked for a volunteer to become the scribe and walked out of the classroom.

Beale lands a great right hook that seems to have caught his opponent unaware. The English learner looks dazed and a little confused.

This activity is from Teaching unplugged (Thornbury&Meddings, 2009) pg63, Every picture tells a story. The aim was for the students to produce a story using the visual as a stimulus, I would go back in and reformulate and correct then hide that version. The students would then have to reconstruct the new version in pairs, from memory. The students were slow to start but soon got into the swing of things. I popped into the room a couple of times just to let them know I was still about. Each time, I was met with a question or two about this verb and that, how to spell this and which preposition went where. It was going well, but we were running out of time. I needed a new strategy as I wouldn’t have time to do what I wanted.

The English learner has rallied and seems to be back in this fight, giving as good as he gets. Looks like this one is going to the wire. The bell goes and the fighters go to their corners. Beale is in deep discussion with his trainer. They seem to be developing some sort of plan to finish this fight in the last round.

Final round – I spoke to my DOS about what to do next as she was originally going to come in and observe the last part of the lesson. I was tempted to rush through and get it done or simply carry it over into the next lesson. Her words of wisdom convinced me otherwise. A bank holiday next week meant a long gap between lessons, the flow of the lesson would have been lost. She suggested that I save the story, make corrections and add notes to it and then email it back to the students at the weekend. They could then re-write the story for homework using the corrections and suggestions.

The final round begins and Beale is looking to end this fight now. He strides out with purpose and a new-found confidence. 

I went back into the class with 20 minutes to go. The students had called me back to let me know that they had finished. I glanced at the board and smiled. They had clearly put in a lot of effort and produced a really good piece of work. I praised them and asked if they had enjoyed the exercise. The smiles said it all. I explained the homework and, to use the remaining time of the lesson, I asked the students to fill out the learner diaries, so that I could collect them in. We finished by reviewing the lesson and then it was time to go.

The final bell goes. That was close. I wouldn’t like to call it, but I would say Beale might have just edged it on points. Both fighters embrace. They seem to have found some respect for each other during this fight and part into their respective corners on good terms. The judge’s cards have come in…………Beale wins! A close call by the judges. It wasn’t pretty at times but he did the hard work and got stuck in. He has work to do, but the future is bright.

Post fight interview – I was pleased with this class. After the dejection of the previous lesson I knew I needed to get this one right. I had looked at the blog and the comments people had made and simply went back to basics. I felt more comfortable and the students seemed to enjoy themselves. I gave them the support they needed by doing some very basic activities and then let them use it to create a really good piece of work. It was by no means a perfect lesson. I have along way to go yet, but it was important for me to get back on track and feel more positive about the whole experience.

I am hoping to add the story to the blog over the weekend. In my haste to get out of work and write this all up, I forgot to take a photo of the board. Secondly I am hoping to add comments from the learner diaries at the weekend, so watch this space.


2 thoughts on “Prize fighter

  1. WOOHOO!!!! Go Adam!

    As I write this, I am sitting having my morning cuppa with the sky getting slowly brighter outside my kitchen window. And the smile that has appeared on my face whilst reading your post is definitely strong competition for that morning sun!

    It’s really great to read about your lessons in such detail (and with such brilliant metaphors…Anthony will be after you soon with a whole range of Rocky and Karate Kid quotes if you aren’t careful…believe me..!!) and with such honesty. If we only had the “ups” in teaching, they would only serve to boost our confidence and ensure us everything was fine and we needn’t do any reflection. It’s the “downs” that let us turn our focus inward, consider what we are doing and how it could be improved/adjusted to suit the situation we are in. Then, and only then, can we truly appreciate the “up” moments and know that they have come from our hard work and determination. Be grateful for both sides, as they are what propels us forward and make us stronger, both in the classroom and outside of it.

    What a bold step, to walk out of the room! Talk about “letting go of the reins”!! You’ve done exactly what most teachers would’t do in your position, you’ve let go and given them space, rather than tightly controlling the whole lesson. Good work!

    The learner diaries you mention – I might be forgetting something here – are they to get feedback on your lessons as part of this project? How are they going? It would be interesting to hear, as we (Anthony and I) are trialling journals on our next Celta that starts on Monday.

    I hope you have a successful day today, Adam. And thanks for sharing your work with me. I really do feel grateful for it.


  2. Hi Jem,

    Glad you liked the post.

    The learner diaries are to get feedback on the lesson. I have them all here with me on my desk, and I’m about to read through them. I will create a separate page for them and type them up. The students have all given me their consent to put them on my blog. Hopefully, that will be up tonight or tomorrow afternoon.
    I would like to hear your comments on them.


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