Proficiency class idea (CPE exam revised for 2013)

I just wanted to quickly write about a class I did on Monday with my proficiency group.

We are currently in-between books, so I am trying to use authentic texts and other supplementary material before we crack on with the exam preparation.

In the previous lesson, I introduced my students to TED talks – and showed them one of my favourite talks –  Birth of a word by Deb Roy. A must for anyone who is interested in linguistics or general language learning/acquisition.

I went through the website and its functions and also pointed out the subtitle feature and generally praised it as a very useful learning tool.

I left them with a piece of homework. They had to explore the site, find a video of interest and then plan a 2 minute introduction and summary of the talk itself. This would work as good practice for part 3 of the CPE speaking exam. I asked the students to email the videos before the class so I could watch them and be prepared with any related materials and follow-up questions.

Of the three students present (class of four) one of them emailed me their chosen video. It was a short presentation on how You Tube works together with copyright holders to create a win win situation for all involved.

After watching the video I searched for some articles that were related to the same theme or in a similar vein. I got lucky and found an article in the Guardian newspaper that pretty much went hand in hand with what the video was talking about but further extended the example of music videos. –

I then went on to find another article in the Guardian related to Youtube, but this article went in an altogether different direction. It spoke about the dangers facing children who used Youtube and how they were just “3 clicks from explicit material.”

I went into the class with just the video, two articles and a vague idea of where I wanted the class to go. Luckily, one of the other students had found a TED talk he wanted to watch and by chance it was loosely related to the You Tube talk. It was entitled, Tracking the trackers.

I asked the student to introduce the video and we then spoke briefly about internet security and how one search on the internet can lead to a multitude of advertisements for related websites and offers popping up on your websites.

We watched the video and spoke about what was said, whether the programme was a good idea and the pros and cons of the internet as a whole. This built up some nice vocabulary and worked well as a warmer, getting the students focused on thinking about the internet and so on.

I asked the next student to introduce her video. She did this by practising part 3 of the CPE speaking exam. A two-minute talk to introduce and summarise what we were about to watch. I asked a few questions about YouTube, how often they use it, what do they normally watch and we spoke about how videos can go viral and I showed them the latest craze, the Harlem shake.

After the video, we discussed some of the language that came up and talked about the general theme of the video and who was affected by it. We then moved on to the first text.

Before the class, I took the first article and cut the paragraphs out and made a simple text jumble exercise. This simulated part 6 of the new Reading and Use of English exam for the CPE. If I had had time, I would have written an extra paragraph that didn´t fit into the text, but seeing as the text was quite long anyway, I focussed on getting the students to concentrate on the reference words and ordering the information.

This proved to be quite difficult but it got the students working and they were pointing out why each paragraph went where and giving reasons, and it proved to be a good workout for them. I gave them the original article and they checked their work and then I asked them to read the article, highlighting collocations and any language they wanted to ask about. At the end of the reading I asked them to discuss who they thought really benefitted from the copyright agreement.

After feedback we moved onto the next text. I had written the title of the text on the board and left out the last two words and asked the students to discuss what they thought the article might be referring to. Eventually they worked it out and we talked about the dangers of the internet and who was most at risk and how this could be prevented.

Before the class, I had gone through the text and tippexed out some of the phrasal verbs and important collocations (part 2 of the Reading and U of E exam) and asked the students to read through, complete the gaps and then discuss who was responsible for what children can and cannot see on the internet.

We now had two texts, which were kind of connected. I split the class into pairs and gave each pair one of the texts. I asked them to look for the main points of each article, no more than three, and then to summarise the article into one paragraph. The results are below;

With the arrival of the internet and websites such as YouTube, the music business has changed. Streaming accounts for a bigger slice of the cake than buying records through downloading . Therefore, labels and musicians need to rely on advertising. This is a new relationship between the music industry, advertising agencies and streaming providers. the ultimate aim is to generate revenue for all the stakeholders involved.

Children surfing on the internet are surprisingly close to explicit material. For instance, on YouTube a child can easily end up watching pornographic or violent content from the innocent act of watching a sesame street video due to the “suggested videos” feature. Even though these platforms have their own systems to prevent these baleful consequences they admit they´re defenceless against this situation.

However, the bright side of the story is that great strides have been taken during the last year in order to provide children with a safer internet experience.

We now had two summary paragraphs and all we needed was a question to tie them both together and complete the writing task and the students homework.

I asked them to look in a copy of the new course book and see how the authors had written out the part 3 speaking exam questions and then to work together to come up with their own question. After some debate as to what the focus of the question and corresponding exam response should be, they finally came up with this;

“Which is more important? Our children’s safety or the interests of the You Tube stakeholders?”

I was really happy with this lesson and the way that it developed, as well as the way the students responded to working without the course book. I made sure that they were aware we were still working towards the exam and continuously referred to the part of the exam that each task was testing or going to test.

If I had the chance, I think I would exploit both of the texts more and perhaps have a few more structured speaking activities to really milk the topic, but the lesson flowed well and it was very natural. The timing worked well too, as the 3hr class finished just after the exam question was put on the board.

Now I’m just waiting for the student’s responses and I will be interested to see if the fact that they themselves created the task will have any bearing on the quality of their writing and the answer they provide in their essay’s.


Learner Diaries; A summary

As the academic year draws to a close, its time to summarise the two projects that I was running this year, at IH Santander.

If you’re new to the blog and Learner diaries, please read through the posts entitled Learner diaries 1,2 and 3 for the lowdown and extracts from the learner’s diaries themselves. If you have been following these posts from the beginning, thank you and I hope that you have gained something from these posts and maybe even been spurred on to try it yourself.

So, what exactly did I get from this project? Well, I think it is more important to focus on what the students got from this experience. After all, they were the main reason for starting this and without them participating I wouldn’t be writing this now.

Due to various reasons, I was unable to get specific feedback on the diaries themselves which is something I regret. So I have read back through the diary extracts and will be basing my summary around these. Firstly, I like to think that the diaries empowered the learners and was in keep with the theme of the unplugged project from which this off-shoot project formed. By giving them an outlet to express their feelings about the class and what happened in it, I effectively had an ongoing needs analysis that was honest and true and was prompted by questions the students were asking themselves, rather than a two page formal needs analysis that they are required to answer at the beginning of the course, which is normally rushed and completed with the same old answers. Anthony Gaughan recently mentioned the need for more frequent needs analysis in his talk about what makes a lesson great.

Well, needs change, and – if complexity theory really has any relevance to language acquisition – they do so unpredictably, so how often can/should needs be reassessed? Every month? Every week? Every lesson? Before or after the lesson? During it? (Anthony Gaughan, 2012)

I think that learner diaries can go some way to combat this and provide the teacher and learner with valuable feedback in which to proceed with further lessons.

This nicely links into the next point. By responding to what is written in the diaries and building lessons around these needs, the learners can see that what they are writing is important and that you the teacher are listening to what they have to say. The knock on effect is to create a greater rapport with the learners, encouraging them to write more and strengthen the cycle of feedback/needs analysis.

The diaries are also a valuable resource for lesson ideas. What’s great about the diaries is that the learners are constantly producing work. From this the teacher can use what has been written for a writing skills based class, maybe pick up on a topic that a learner has mentioned in one of their entries, something they like/dislike, what they did at the weekend and so on. The teacher can also prompt different responses and probe for more information with the responses they leave in the learner diaries, be it in the form of a direct question or perhaps a personal response to something the learner has written. Again, it pushes the learner to write more, further strengthens the rapport and provides the class with a wealth of material.

The learner diaries were also trialed with various other classes within the school and I was fortunate enough to share the project with Noreen Lam (@Noreen_Lam), a teacher at IH Santander, and we also presented our project at TESOL Spain, Bilbao. Recently, Noreen presented the same talk as part of the International house on-line conference and you can see the recording here;

Here is what Noreen has to say about the project;

Looking back at a year of learner diaries, I think that what I have felt most satisfied with is the insight that the journals have given into the lives of students.  Sure, it’s true that with the young learners, there isn’t much meat in the responses, and it’s often limited to “I like games and I hate homework/tests” etc, but once in a while, you get something that surprises you.  The students see it as a way to speak to you when maybe they aren’t able to do so during class time, and you can come up with something like “I hate be (sic) alone and get angry” which isn’t perhaps relevant to English class, but does tug at a more personal response and willingness to express feelings.
With the adults, it has been the same, but on a more complex level, which is what we were aiming for from the start.  I was lucky in that my adults are very enthusiastic and intrinsically motivated individuals, and they really poured their hearts out and were completely honest.  Entries began with a mixture of uncertainty, worry and lack of self-confidence, and towards the end of the year, became more and more positive with noticeable pride in their accomplishments.  They recognise their strengths and weaknesses and have taken it upon themselves to work hard.  It has been very rewarding reading their entries, especially when they share their secrets like how one “play[s] a game” where she mentally translates conversations she has with colleagues into English, thereby creating an internal dialogue in L2 and reinforcing the importance of it in her life!  Something like that just makes you go “wow!” and think, all that hard work throughout the year has paid off, and maybe I have done my bit as a teacher.

I think Noreen has summed up the experience very nicely and I can only echo her feelings. The chance to see into the lives of the learner is not only a privilege but also a very rare chance to get such personal feedback. To be able to allow the learners to do this is what teaching is all about. Empowering the learner.

Despite all the positives, not everything was plain sailing with the project. Initially, the learners took to the idea of the diaries enthusiastically and the responses offered lots of material to work with. As time went by and other things took priority, exams, holidays etc, the entries became fewer and fewer. The fact that we had the diaries spread across six or seven different classes also meant it was difficult to keep up with the responses and to put in the required time in order to get the most out of them. Some learners simply didn’t want to give up their time to fill out the diaries and for some ages it is more difficult to implement than others. I tried to deliver the diaries electronically with a group of teenagers after the initial paper based way failed and even that proved to be futile.

In conclusion, the project has been extremely enjoyable, thought-provoking and useful for both the learner and the teacher. Both Noreen and I plan to continue the learner diaries next year and another teacher at IH Santander is also looking to start the diaries with a class. I would encourage any teacher to give learner diaries a go and it would be great to hear from anyone that has tried or is even thinking of trying this kind of project with their learners to share experiences and thoughts. If anyone has any further questions about the project or the diaries, please feel free to comment here or contact me or Noreen via twitter. (@bealer81 and @Noreen_Lam)

Many thanks to Noreen Lam, Emily Bell and the students of IH Santander for supporting, participating and genuinely being cool people.

Move, Eat and Learn

So I had ticked off listening from my to do list and the students want list. Now, it was time to move onto the video clips. Luckily for me, I already had something tucked away from a previously trialed lesson, late last year. So, it was just a matter of dusting off the old note pad and seeing what happened.

I asked the students to discuss this question:

If you could move anywhere in the world where would you go?

I wrote it on the board and asked if they recognised the structure. With some eliciting they got it and they began to discuss it with their partners. I listened in and noticed that the majority of the students had immediately reverted to using the word ‘go’ instead of ‘move’. I let it run and then we did pair feedback as a whole class. Error correction and some on the spot pronunciation. I then went to the board and pointed to the word ‘move’ and asked what the difference was between moving somewhere and going somewhere. There were lots of ‘aahs’ and nodding of heads, so I asked if this would change where they said they wanted to go.Instead of changing their answers they justified them by using some interesting bits of language;

“If I moved there I could find a job that links to my degree”

“I would move there because it has a better quality of life”

Now it was time for the video. I explained that they would see a man moving from country to country and I dictated two questions for them to answer while watch.

How does the man scare the pigeons?

What does the man jump over in the middle of the road? 

They checked the questions in pairs and we watched the video.

We watched twice and checked the answers. It was surprising that most of the students didn’t know the word ‘clap’. We talked about the video and the places that they saw in the video. At the bottom of the video is some information about why the video was made and what it involved. I asked if anyone in the class would like to do the same and there was a resounding, yes.

Next questions:

When was the last time you learnt anything and what was it? 

If you had the chance to learn anything, what would it be?

These questions produced some really interesting answers. A lot of the students are at University, so they simply said what ever they had learnt in class that day. One student said that he learnt the word clap and another said he had learnt to change the oil in his car. I pointed out that the majority of things they had learnt was information and that only one person had actually learnt a skill, something that required them to use their hands. This led into a small discussion about whether or not what we learnt was really useful or not and led nicely into the second question.

Second video. Again two dictated questions, pair check and watch the video.

Again, we talked about the video. The students picked out the things they would like to learn and we discussed them. We then moved onto the third and last question.

When was the last time you tried something new to eat?

Unfortunately, due to time running out we didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to discuss this part. Two more questions, pair check and the final video.

It was safe to say that everybody left the lesson hungry, but more importantly everyone seemed to enjoy the lesson. Talking, listening and video, exactly what they wanted. I think it would be great to re watch the last video in the next lesson and launch into a food based lesson. It would be great to know what other people think of these videos and what you would do with them in class. Enjoy.

A little less conversation….?

After the disappointment of my last lesson with the class. I really wanted to prove to myself and the class that we could have a class based entirely around conversation, that is student centered and with minimum input from myself.

Recently, I have been following the #eltbites minimum materials challenge . The idea is in the title, but click the link to find out more, a great challenge from Richard Gresswell. (@inglishteacher)

Jason Renshaw, a.k.a @englishraven, posted a very simple but intriguing idea about handing the board pen over to the students and allowing them to, in effect, dictate the class proceedings. Along with this, I had received a comment from @jemjemgardner regarding my last post, in which she suggests that simply writing something on the board and using gestures to get the students talking, without actually talking yourself, is a great way of making things more student centered. I had nothing to lose!

The class was half-full as I entered. I didn’t say anything. I simply picked up the I.W.B pen and handed it to the nearest student. I smiled and gestured to the board. I sat down and began filling out the register, making sure not to look as though I was going to assist in any way. There were a lot of strange looks, shoulder shrugging and general confusion. The first student wrote hello on the board, it was a start, he then clicked on and started to ask the class how their weekend was. After they had finished, I motioned for someone else to take over, and instead of writing on the board they asked another question for the group, “what are you doing for the holiday, next week?” Some more people came in to the classroom and the others told them what was happening. The speaker changed, and this time the question immediately caught my attention, “what do you want to talk about today?” I quickly noted down the answers:

  • The passive (I know, I couldn’t believe it either)
  • Everything and nothing.
  • Can we watch a film?
  • Grammar
  • Can we do some listening and just talk?
I stood up and asked for the pen back. The class looked a little bit relieved that I had decided to join in. I was pleased that they had taken the initiative and got the ball rolling, now it was time to keep it going. I paired up the students. I gave them all something to talk about, two students were on the same course at university so I asked them to talk about their course and what they had learned so far that week. The other group contained the student who asked to watch a film. I told him to tell the group about the last film he watched, the other student had to talk about why he wasn’t in the last lesson and the third had to talk about a conversation he and I had before the class started. The final pair, included the student who wanted to talk about grammar. I asked her to tell her partner why she wanted to do that and then I noticed that her partner had come straight from the gym, so I asked her to talk about what she did at the gym. The class room was full of conversation. I sat in the corner of the room listening in to the various conversations, writing down some notes and errors.
When the conversation naturally died down, I got each pair to report back. From this I would decide the next topic for conversation, depending on how the other students reacted to what they heard. Sometimes I got the groups to report back to other groups, I swapped the pairs around, if I heard a group reverting back to Spanish, I got them to tell me what had been said and found another question from that to get them started again. The board started to fill up, vocab, phrases, words marked for pronunciation at the end of class. I started to write down errors on post-it notes and hand them to the students, who would immediately repeat the sentence but this time with the correction. These were the topics we talked about:
  • Reasons we go to the gym and what exercise we enjoy
  • Reasons why we don’t have time to go to the gym
  • What we would do if we weren’t all so busy
  • When was the last time you had a bad nights sleep and why?
  • When you can’t sleep, what do you do to get to sleep?
I barely had to do anything, bar deciding what the next topic would be, and that was generated by the students themselves. I finished the lesson by reviewing what had come up in the class. Vocabulary, phrases, ‘used to’ and why we use it, drilling of some particularly difficult words and finishing with some praise relating to the way some of the students were responding correctly and accurately to some 2nd conditional questions.
In the end we had talked about everything and nothing, just like one of the students had wanted, they listened and talked a lot, just like another had asked to do, we had dealt with some grammar, although not the passive, as another student had suggested. The students left the class happy and content. I should have been feeling the same. I was happy with the amount of talking we had done and the fact that it was all student centered and generated, yet what had they really learned from this lesson, and what had I actually taught them.
For me the class was nothing more than a glorified conversation class. At least I achieved my aim, but what about the emerging language? This is something I have struggled to deal with and identify from day one. Trying to listen to 4 different conversations at once, writing errors, good language use and also trying to figure out what the learners need to work on or what language they are lacking is extremely difficult. Especially for someone who is lacking in experience, such as myself. While I understand that from teaching in an unplugged/dogme style a lot of the planning comes after the lesson, via reflection and what emerged in the lesson, should I not be seizing on these teachable moments there and then?  Are my students missing out on something, that perhaps a more experienced teacher could give them? My process of post planning has been extremely useful. It has allowed me to reflect on my lessons with my D.o.S and then plan for the next lesson. Yet, this planning has become more about teaching a particular language point in the next lesson and planning a range of activities that will achieve that aim. Taking away the control of the lesson from the student and becoming a teacher centered lesson. Although, very useful for the student, it isn’t really teaching in the true dogme sense. Also, it is much more comfortable for someone of my experience to feel as though I have slightly more control of the lesson and that I am actually teaching them something. A lot to ponder over the winter break.
The project will be changing slightly after the Christmas holidays. A large amount of students want to take the Cambridge PET exam, so the dogme teaching will be week on week off with exam prep classes taking place in-between. It will be interesting to see if this has any effect on how I teach my future dogme classes and also how the students react in the classes, especially after going back to a more structured exam class.
Happy Christmas. See you in the new year.

The parting of the sensory

A tale of two lessons:

It was the best of lessons, it was the worst of lessons. (but not in that order)

I bought myself a dicta-phone a couple of weeks ago, in part to prevent me having to lug my laptop and speakers around when ever I wanted to record some speaking, but also so I could go all ‘Alan Partridge’ and record thoughts and even sounds to help put together lessons. Monkey tennis?

Over the weekend I decided to record five sounds that would be of interest to my students, including my favourite sound of all time, to become the opening listening activity for this weeks lesson.

  1. The sound of a busy bar/restaurant
  2. Me buying some new clothes in Zara (clothes shop)
  3. Me and my girlfriend walking down the three flights of stairs in my apartment building
  4. Me catching the bus
  5. A cup of tea being poured (the best sound in the world)

From the very beginning of the class, things were different. I only had five students. No big deal, but normally I never have any less than seven or eight. We started of by doing ‘Up and Down’ pg 40 from teaching unplugged (Thornbury&Meddings, 2009). It’s a different way to get them talking about their weekend, than the usual talk to your partner and report back. It stuttered along, and never really got going, but we found out that one of the students had a car accident, so this became the focal point of the activity, producing accident and car related vocabulary. I put the slow start down to the new and untested activity, as well as the lack of some of the students who would normally help to, perhaps, drive the activity on.

We moved on. I told the class that they were going to listen to five sounds from my weekend. They had to simply listen to the sounds and write down where they think I was and what I was doing at the time. I played the sounds through once and then in pairs they discussed what they had put down. We then listened to each sound and I asked for their answers, helping to structure their responses as we went and confirming if they were correct or not. They did pretty well, and at the end I asked them to guess which sound they thought was my favourite. Eventually they guessed that tea being poured was indeed my favourite and I explained to them in a little anecdote, why.

When I was younger, I used to live at home with my parents. Our house was quite small, and you could hear what was going on in any room of the house if it was quiet enough. When I woke up on a Sunday morning, with a small hangover, I loved to hear the sound of my mum pouring tea into a cup. This was because I knew a minute later she would come upstairs and give it to me.

This story seemed to go down well. I asked the students if they could do the same. Think of their favourite sound and then tell their partner why. The room went quiet and I could see that they were deep in thought. The silence continued, so I moved around the room hoping to encourage some thoughts. Slowly they started to scribble something down, and after checking everyone had a sound, I asked them to tell their partner and explain why. Normally they would begin straight away, and the room would fill with the satisfying sounds of students engaging in conversation.Sadly this wasn’t the case. There was some blank stares and shrugging of shoulders, I was sure my instructions were simple and clear enough, so I asked one of the students to tell me his favourite sound and once he began to tell me, hinted for the others to ask him more questions about it. I turned and did the same with the other group. I turned back to the first group only to be met with silence. I engaged them again, cajoling, encouraging and trying to elicit some sort of response. Eventually some interesting things came out, but it was hard work. The sound of a Harley Davidson engine, waves crashing on the beach and so on. We moved onto the sound they liked to hear the least. More of the same, me asking and doing most of the talking. Still some interesting answers came out and we talked about the resulting vocabulary.

The next stage involved the other senses of the body and an activity from ‘Teaching unplugged’ (Thornbury&Meddings, 2009) called ‘Memory stars’ pg44. I elicited the senses from the students and then revealed a large five point star on the IWB with the five senses written on each point. I asked them to do the previous activity with the other senses. They needed to write a word or sentence that related to their favourite smell, sight, touch, and taste. I gave examples of my favourite things and then let the students write down their own thoughts. While they were writing I put some language chunks, sentence starters and expressions on the board  that I wanted them to use in the coming speaking activity. Once they were finished, I mentioned the language on the board and then I asked them to stand up and mingle, showing each other their stars and asking questions about how, when and why. They seemed hesitant from the beginning, perhaps unsure or even lacking in confidence. I panicked a little, instead of waiting and allowing them the time to start speaking, I leapt into the middle and started asking questions to try to get things moving. Suddenly I was the centre of attention. No-one was talking, they were waiting for me to ask them questions. I had hi-jacked the lesson, it was now teacher centred. In fact the whole lesson had been pretty much teacher centred. Disaster! We finished up the activity and I recapped what we had discussed in the lesson. The lesson came to an end, the students left, somewhat despondent and maybe disappointed. They mirrored my own thoughts. I went out for a few drinks and put the lesson to the back of my mind. You can’t win them all I thought, reflect on it tomorrow after a good nights sleep.

The next morning 

It was 5am. I was lying awake and I was angry. Pissed off at my inadequacies as a teacher, and replaying the lesson in my head. I managed to fall asleep again. Over breakfast I decided to do the lesson again. I walked to the Oceanographico in the morning sunshine, with a couple of motivational songs playing in my earphones. The last thing I said to myself before the lesson started was, sit back, don’t interfere and let them do the work.

The students were responsive, enthusiastic and interested from the word go. I barely said anything other than corrections and some basic instructions for each activity. There were only four people but when I asked them to talk in their pairs they actually turned to face their partner and forgot I was there. I simply listened and made notes, pronunciation, good language use, areas for improvement. The board was full, I drilled some of the troublesome words and even wrote out one in phonetic script (My DOS is going to fall of her chair when she reads this). This particular group is only one level higher than my project group but the language they produced was worlds apart.

One of the students was talking about her favourite sight and sound, the sea crashing on to the beach.

“I like to contemplate the strength of nature”

“I feel very insignificant in the world”

One of the student’s started talking about how she can hear everything her neighbours do and this lead to her talking about her least favourite sound.

“The sound of the T.V is the most annoying”

“I’m concerned that my neighbours can hear me”

I left the lesson on a high. It was a completely different feeling from the previous night, almost euphoric. What a wonderful profession this teaching business is. I spent an hour or so, later that day, getting feedback from my DOS about the lesson and then comparing it with the morning’s success.

What went wrong (first lesson)

  • Teacher centered
  • No pronunciation work
  • Lesson too structured
  • No space for flexibility
  • No real work on emergent language
  • I didn’t embrace the silence. I didn’t give the students time to talk among themselves.
  • I kept interfering, I panicked
  • The lesson idea required some quite abstract thinking. Making it difficult for the students to convey exactly what they wanted to say or talk about. It needed more scaffolding and the students more support from me.

What went right (second lesson)

  • See above and reverse.
This lesson has created a lot of discussion between me and my DOS, about various issues to do with teaching unplugged and implementing it over a long period of time. There are countless variables to take into account, too many to write about in this particular post. I will save that for later. I think I have rambled on long enough already. Watch this space.

With tired eyes, tired minds, tired souls, we slept.

With the relative success of the last lesson, I wanted to continue with reported speech and concentrate on some written production.

It just so happened that half of the class were in the previous lesson and the other half had missed it. I paired everyone up so they could inform their partner about exactly what happened in the last class. After a couple of minutes I asked the partner who hadn’t been here in the previous lesson to report back to me on what they had been told. Their accuracy was surprising, despite not being in the class. After telling me the general outline of the lesson, I told them I had written a report about the lesson, for my DOS, and that we should check with that to be sure. I showed them the report on the IWB;

‘In the last lesson, we talked about reported speech. The students completed some speaking activities, and afterwards Adam suggested that when the students reported back to him about what their partner had said, they should use – he/she said or he/she told me. Luis said that after ‘said’ and ‘told’ we could use the word ‘that’. Adam replied that Luis was correct and wrote it on the board. Adam advised the students to use reported speech in the next activity. During the activity, Marcos asked Adam about reporting the present simple. Adam told him that if the information he had been told was still true it should stay in the present. After hearing Marco’s example, Adam recommended that he should change the tense.’

I asked if this is what happened in the lesson, and everyone agreed. I then asked them to highlight all the uses of reported speech, in particular the verbs that were used. They highlighted everyone except the very first one in the first sentence ‘ we talked about‘. I highlighted it and I talked about how we can use this to report general topics and not specific details.

We sat back down and I split the class into three groups. I then handed out a stack of small pieces of paper to each paper. I asked the groups to look through the sentences that had been written on the paper and to make corrections where necessary. The pieces of paper were from the twitter lesson we had done a couple of weeks previously. The students recognised them and set about correcting any errors. This part of the lesson went on a bit longer than I had hoped, but I think it was useful for the students. Spelling, tenses, word order and punctuation all came out of the ensuing conversations.

Once we were happy with the corrections I asked the students to convert the sentences into reported speech, once this was done I wanted to link them together to create a similar report to the one I had created on the board. With only forty-five minutes of the lesson left, I knew that we might be pushing it to get finished. And I was right! The conversion process threw up all sorts of questions and became somewhat of a discovery process for both the students and myself. With every rule that they discovered, I wrote it on the board so that everyone was aware. I spent a lot of time going from group to group, checking, correcting, suggesting. At one point I became involved in a discussion about a  sentence that contained a passive, and the student wanted to know why it didn’t change in this particular case. I was stumped and couldn’t explain why. But I did highlight the passive structure on the board for the rest of the class, discussed what it was used for and how it was constructed. I checked my watch and realised we had nearly finished. I was tired, the students were tired and the whole experience had been pretty full on. I did a quick review of what we had covered in the lesson and then it was time to go.

I was happy with the amount of work that we had done in the class. Everyone had worked hard, including myself and we had all learnt a lot. Unfortunately, I think the class was a bit static and the last activity too long. I should have cut down the number of sentences in order to limit the time spent on the conversion process. Allowing for time to either write the report or even to make it a speaking activity between groups, so as to break up the monotony of writing. Nonetheless, lessons were learnt, both during and after the lesson. I enjoyed being able to re-use the sentences from a previous lesson. I think this made it easier for the students to engage with the whole lesson as they were working with material they had produced and not with some de-contextualized sentences from a course book.

Black hole sun

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!