13 thoughts on “Lessons

  1. Okay so here goes. This is the first time I have really written about what happened in one of my unplugged classes so bare with me.
    I have been teaching for an hour every morning at the Centro Oceanografico de Santander since the beginning of September. Two different classes, one mixed with Upper intermediate and advanced students and the other a strong intermediate class. All of my classes are generally unplugged to an extent and I am using the classes as a kind of experimental testing ground before the new term starts in October.
    I started this morning’s class of with a simple exercise. I wanted them to tell their partner about what happened at the weekend and then report back to me with a simple summary of the main points of the chat. Simple, but from the beginning very effective, lots of talking and all the while I was moving back and forth between the groups helping with vocab and a tiny bit of pronunciation (still need to start some serious reading in this area). It was going well and the students seemed to enjoy telling each other about their weekend and importantly listening to their partner’s weekend.
    As the noise died down I nominated individuals to report back to me, a little correction here and there, but nothing to disrupt the flow as it was still early in the class. After a couple of reports one of the students started to tell us that her partner spent most of the weekend cleaning because of the bad weather. I asked if she liked cleaning and she responded that she didn’t mind it but got really angry when her neighbour upstairs shook her ‘carpet’ out of the window and all the dust came in through her window. I asked if she meant ‘rug’ and not ‘carpet’ and set about explaining the difference. “Ah yes, I mean rug, it really gets me angry. It’s illegal in Santander to do that you know” As soon as she said this sentence an alarm bell went off. I knew I had several directions in which to take the lesson.

    1. Keep the direction of the lesson on the straight and narrow and stick to my original idea.
    2. Concentrate on the fact that it made the student angry and work that angle.
    3. Explore the fact that such a law exists in Santander and whether the students knew of any other quirky or strange laws that were similar.

    I went for number two and my main reason was that I had recently been reading a blog by Oli Beddall (http://olibeddall.wordpress.com/). In lesson 2 of his blog he mentions how he talked about the London rioting and the discussion led to him getting his students to tell each other about the last time they were angry and then concentrated on the language that came from this.
    I got my students to do the same, discuss the last time you were really angry and report back to me. I monitored and helped with vocab and correction. When everyone was finished the students reported back to me and some great stuff came out. I was running out of time, so I went to the board and tried to elicit other ways in which the students could say they were angry. They came up with ‘furious’ to begin with and after some help we slowly added to the list. Below are some of the examples from the lesson.

    “I get really angry/annoyed when my neighbour shakes her rug out of the window”
    “It drives me crazy when people don’t use their indicators”
    “I get furious when people don’t clear up after their dogs”
    “The people at the Apple call centre really wound me up”
    “I go nuts when people park wherever they want in the city”

    9.30am and the lesson was finished. The students left happy and still chatting away in English. I left with a big smile but also with thoughts of how I could follow the lesson up and perhaps recycle the language that came up. I’m thinking of some sort of dictogloss followed by a group text construction. I’m not quite sure yet but I know that this morning’s lesson was the best unplugged experience I have had yet and that like any good thing I want more.
    I’ll get back to you on the follow up lesson.

    (Thank you to Oli Beddell for writing about your lessons and giving me the idea. Hope I can do the same one day)

  2. What a great lesson.. That’s the stuff! Three things come to mind.

    1: in that lesson of mine that you mention, the part where I asked them to talk about the last time they were angry, I chose to do it because I felt the conversation was dwindling a bit, and needed a push. If there was any juice left in the topic I might have been tempted to continue with it.

    2: those crossroad moments where you could go in any direction are great aren’t they! I think it’s very hard to know which to take. Maybe a good way to think about it is that as soon as you intervene and lead Ss into a more contrived exercise, it can be difficult to get the conversational energy back afterwards. Having said that, if you have limited time and want to get into some language work, you have to intervene at some point. Maybe we can try to keep a record of those ‘decision points’ and see how they effect our lessons.

    3: you hit on a key issue: recycling/reviewing language in the next class. I’d love to hear how other people go about it. Is the start of the lesson the best time to review language? You’d think so. But if you do that, you are inevitably damaging your chances of getting any naturally emerging conversation driven subject matter later in lesson.
    I like your idea of including the language in a dictogloss or something (I experimented with a prepared text in my last lesson). I wonder what other ways people have found to do this?

    Good stuff!

    • I try to explain/recycle/review/ in a blog (The Dogme Diaries) and hope the students read about it at home. Sometimes, I touch upon it at the beginning of the following class. However, my classes are F2F or very small groups at the moment, so I don’t really know how it’d work when I have bigger groups. Of course, much depends on the type of students one has. I don’t think it’ll work with kids, who are homework-phobic more often than not!

      • Welcome to the blog Chiew.

        Chia Suan Chong Wrote an excellent article about recycling language in a Dogme classroom here – http://chiasuanchong.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/recycling-language-in-a-dogme-classroom/.
        I think all of the activities mentioned here would work for the majority of levels and I have tried a few out myself with great success.
        As you mention I think it is important to touch on and and revisit previous lessons and also to keep some sort of continuity with your lessons. This really helps with the recycling process.

        I’m interested in your final point about ‘homework-phobic’ students. I have recently being asking my groups of adults to do little bits of writing homework for me and I have been happily surprised by the reaction and quality of work they have come back with. I think it’s important to take into account these students are full time working adults, who have no obligation to come to the class. The main idea of the homework is that the tasks are about their own lives and is really personalised and tied in with the previous lessons language point or aim.
        I’m looking forward to introducing homework a bit more in my new term and seeing the results.


  3. So on Wednesday I followed up on Mondays lesson as mentioned above. I decided to go for the dictogloss and below is a copy of what I made.

    “Do you know what really winds me up? People who don’t park in the right places, or who simply park wherever they feel like!”
    It drives me crazy when someone doesn’t park properly and ends up parking in two spaces and not one. It means I have to drive around the car park ten more times before I can park, and by that time I’m furious.
    I don’t know why I get so angry and I drive my girlfriend nuts with all my complaining. Sometimes I think she is more annoyed with me, than I am with people who park badly.”

    It includes the five expressions used to express anger/annoyance from the previous lesson.

    I explained that I was going to read the text all the way through at normal speed and that I didn’t want them to take notes. The second time I repeated the text in three chunks with a gap in-between each, I did this twice and allowed notes to be taken throughout. I finished with another full reading.
    I put the students in pairs and asked them to reconstruct the text as best as they could using there notes. I re-enforced the fact that the reconstruction didn’t need to be perfect and monitored throughout. It was really interesting to see the reconstruction process taking place between the pairs and thankfully all in English. Lots of self correction and good team work.
    Once the pairs were finished, I asked one person from each pair to come up to the board and write up their final draft. Some more correction occurred here as the final drafts went up. Next as a class we went through each reconstruction, highlighting errors such as word order and word choice, making corrections as we went until both drafts were now complete. We checked the original version to the two on the board and the students enjoyed seeing how close they actually got to the real thing. (note to self must take camera to capture white board. Sorry)
    To finish I set them some homework, which involved them using the same five expressions as they heard in the listening, to write about there own experience of being angry.

    I think this activity worked really well and the students were engaged throughout the lesson. It was an enjoyable way to recycle some previous language, incorporate other skills and to lead into a personalised homework activity.

  4. Just to try something new I have decided to talk rather than write about my latest lesson. It’s more me playing around with some new tech than anything. If you like it please say so, if not likewise.

    http://screencast.com/t/vU4fEZV6 – Lesson 1 (please click or paste the link)

    http://screencast.com/t/N98046ckB – lesson 2 (please click or paste the link)



    • Nice to see (or hear) you experimenting with Jing; it can be a very useful tool for using with students, too.
      An interesting comment about this lesson being suitable for FCE students – I think it would make a nice change for students in exam prep classes. It could also be exploited for reading strategies: looking at how context and co-text can guide students to better comprehension.

      • Thanks Emily.

        Jing is a really excellent piece of software and very easy to use. The only problem is that you can only capture 5 mins at a time but, on the other hand, this forces you to really think about what you want to say and to limit your explanations so that they are clear and concise. I think that this would be a great tool for the students making mini projects. A time limit would make them really think about what they think needs to be included or left out of their presentation. Involving a drafting process and endless speaking practice to get it right.

        I think the lesson is a great idea and I’m really looking forward to trying it out with other groups.

  5. Excellent reflection here, Adam. I really enjoyed reading about how you used the idea and adapted it and moved on with it. I think the idea of taking questions based on a real text (the questions I originally used were just off the top of my head, with a little thought before the lesson) is great, as it allows for some comparison once the students have written their versions. It’s funny you mentioned it might work better with a more exam focused group, or with teens, since I did similar ‘imagination-demanding’ activities in a workshop weekend before last in Zug. Some of the comments I got there were similar – ‘I think this would be great for children, but for my banker students…’. I really think, however, that such activities are a lot richer, since they require a little more of the students apart from just using their linguistic resources – they have to think, imagine, create – something I think is far more important that being able to fill in a gap with the correct word!

    I’m really enjoying reading these reflections on your lessons, so look forward to the next posts!

    Additionally, the reverse reading was a minor hit in my blogging catalogue – a number of other people wrote their own takes, which you may be interested to read:

    Naomi Epstein, in Israel: http://goo.gl/vknX6
    Walter, in Kazakhstan: http://goo.gl/VqIpi
    Anna, in the UK: http://goo.gl/aAH0J

    • Thanks for the comment and the links Mike. More importantly thanks for the lesson idea.
      I think the one thing I forgot to mention in the reflection was how incredibly close the student’s story was to the original. So in that respect yes I think that lessons like this one, ‘imagination demanding’, should be used for all types of levels and groups.

  6. Hi Adam. I think it’s a great Idea that you’ve made a screencast of your post-lesson reflection. Well done for having the courage to do it! I’m going to start using Jing myself. Maybe my next blogpost will be a video post, inspired by the people on my PLN doing the same.

    This reverse reading activity is going into my book of ideas for the coming term Mike, it looks like a real imagination-activator. I think students benefit, at whichever level, from being pushed into their creative zone, above all because in real life they’ll need to use it when speaking English. Creating a concept then putting a word to it.

    I’ll let you know how it goes and try it with my FCE class.


    • Thanks for the comment Dale.

      I enjoyed using Jing and I think that I will probably use it a bit more now that the new term is about to start. It does save time and is useful if you want to save space on the blog or show a wide range of examples or links in one go.
      I do admit that I actually prefer typing up my thoughts and reflections than screencasts. I guess it’s more the process of writing,editing and using the English language in its written(typed) form, which I have never really had the cause to do in my life until now, that I enjoy the most.

      Looking forward to hearing about your FCE class.


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