Building steam with a grain of salt

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;

People watchers

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


10 thoughts on “Building steam with a grain of salt

  1. Brilliant, Adam. I was going to say it, but you did it yourself. What’s in a name…? For me, giving a name to what we do is for the purists, the researchers, the whatever… Who cares if it’s dogme, Principled Eclecticism, TBL…? If it works, lie back and enjoy it 😉
    Not sure if you did it, but I’d hand the class the baton after the first or second question, and asked them to come up with the subsequent questions. Well done, old chap!

    • Thanks Chiew. Really appreciate your comment. The weight of a label can hang heavy sometimes, so it was good to just throw caution to the wind and as you say, ´lie back and enjoy it´. I hope this rich vein of form continues.


  2. Thanks for sharing Adam, this sounds like a great lesson. And I think you might just have helped me out with something to do in my lesson tomorrow!

    I agree with Chiew above – don’t worry about names. I think, as long as you are still receptive to the people in the room, the energy and where it wants to go, and the interest, you are being the best teacher you can be. I think we have all got a different way of employing the same approaches anyway. One person’s Silent Way isn’t the same as the next, my Dogme is different to yours. That doesn’t any of them any less “good”, it makes them more personal and interesing.

    I really enjoy reading about this project and the ups and downs that come with it. It sounds like you and your students are enjoying it too!


    • Thanks Jem. I know you are busy with your course, so I appreciate you taking the time out to comment. Did you manage to get round to trying the lesson out? Would be great to get some feedback on how it went.

      Yes, as I mentioned in the reply to Chiew, the labeling of something can at times make us feel that we must stay true to that method regardless of what´s happening in the class. It felt good to shake of the restrictions that I had somewhat placed upon myself.

      This was definitely one of the ups of the course.


  3. Nice imaginative twist on what I guess was probably a not-so-inspiring chapter from the textbook. Is that why you came up with this ‘off-book’ idea, or was it just a flash of brilliance?
    As you said, the learners were rocking, the language & talk was flying, so I would say that you don’t have to agonize about sticking the correct label on it, dogme, or not.
    In an unplugged high-level conversation class last I had last week, we turned to the conditionals as repeated errors crept in. This idea of yours is going to be an excellent way for me to start this week’s lesson and see if that knowledge can be recalled accurately. So, thanks very much for posting! Look forward to the next one 🙂

  4. Hi Bren,

    Thanks for checking out the blog and commenting.

    After researching the programme a little bit and seeing the clips on YouTube, it just seemed to fall into place. Wouldn ´t quite call it brilliance, but it seemed to be a far better way of doing the lesson than the book offered. I always get a nice satisfaction from using an exercise I find in a coursebook, and then making it into something new and more exciting, that the students engage with.
    I would be interested to hear how your lesson went, and get some feedback on how you used it.


    • HI Adam,
      Yes, you definitely improved on whatever the textbook was offering. It’s just that I’ve obviously taught the 2nd Conditional lots of times and never come up with that scenario. It’s a good ‘un.
      I will get back to you about my use of your idea after Thursday.

      In the meantime, inspired by your giving out ideas, I wrote a blog about how I expanded a very low-level listening exercise, mainly for newbie teachers to give them a helping hand.

      I have to say that newbies who get tech-wise and involved with Twitter etc have got a severe, idea-rich advantage over their colleagues from just a few years ago, haven’t they?

  5. Hi Adam,

    Coming to this post rather late, but was reading back through some of your posts to look for ideas for a talk I’m doing on Dogme-stylie teaching on Thursday and something in my brain went off when I read your comment:

    ‘I hope this rich vein of form continues.’

    It’s never occurred to me before that as teachers we might suffer from drop-offs in form or rich veins of the same. Whether it was just a throw away comment or not, do you think we do? And if so, any ideas what might cause them and how we can get ourselves out of a slump?

    • Hi Neil,

      So sorry for the late reply. This hasn’t been the best week for me in terms of finding time to do other things. Big apology.

      An interesting question. I think the ‘rich vein’ comment was referring more to my ability to create a lesson from minimal materials and turn it into a useful and memorable experience for the class. Although, I do think it is also relevant to teaching as a whole. I believe, especially as an inexperienced teacher, that we do suffer from dips in form that are countered by periods of creativity and success. This can be due to a myriad of things. Tiredness, problems in our personal lives, admin, marking and so on. These can all have an effect on the lessons we teach and the planning of them. Establishing a style of teaching may also have an effect. There are so many approaches and methods to try and experiment with. Some go well, some don’t, but each have an affect on our confidence in different ways. Obviously, as the teacher matures and gets more and more experience the ‘rich vein of form’ becomes more consistent and the slumps shorter.

      In terms of ways to combat these fluctuations in form, I guess reflection would be at the top of my list. The analysing of each lesson and the reasons why it was good or bad. Making sure these are dealt with in the next class and not next week. Reading and building up background knowledge would be another one. Attending webinars, such as your feedback fiesta from which I have already applied several of the ways you suggested, and all have been successful! Finally, creating a balance between life and work is vital. Having that ability to disconnect from work allows the brain simply to relax and when you do go back to work you actually feel as though you have had a break and it doesn’t feel like one long hard slog.

      I hope that has gone some way to answering your question. Even if it is too late for your talk. It would be interesting to hear/read your talk about Dogme-style teaching. My own thoughts on the matter have been changing recently.


      • Hi Adam,
        Many thanks for the reply, really interesting and helpful reading (as always here on 5against1!). I share your feelings about everything you say about maintaining good or getting out of bad form. I wonder how many DoSes and Directors worry about the possible loss of form they are risking when asking teachers to do lots of admin or marking around exam time?
        And it would be great to get lots of teachers who do minimal reflection to read your comments there – inspiring stuff.
        Your last paragraph is teasingly intriguing – I imagine there’s a blog post about it in the pipeline? Looking forward to another stimulating read.

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