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.

I cannot find the comfort in this (Dogme) world.

“I cannot stop the thought, running in the dark, coming up a which way sign, all good ‘teachers‘ must decide” (E.Vedder)

I don’t normally write about my lessons until Sunday night, when I have had the weekend to wind down and put my reflection/blogging head on. But tonight I feel the need to blog here and now. There are too many thoughts running around my little brain to sleep. So here goes.

I felt confident about tonight’s lesson. After a weekend of reflection and some positive comments on the blog, I felt ready to go back into class with a new determined vigor and energy. Going back to basics I think was how I put it in the last post.

I opened up with a simple activity. In pairs, I asked the students to talk to each other about their weekends and tell their partner about the best and the worst thing about their weekend. We were off. Some nice conversations started, they were enjoying it, some vocabulary came and went up on the board. A good 5 minutes passed. I asked each student to report back what their partner had said. We listened, I asked a few questions, probed a little deeper. We had a little conversation about sleep, lying in on a Sunday, and then a student revealed that he didn’t like sleeping. He only slept for 5 hours a night because he liked to be active and was simply too busy for it. ‘Teachable moment’ flashed before my eyes, yet I resisted the urge. Very unlike me.

We wrapped up the activity and talked briefly about the last lesson. I checked that everyone had prepared their ‘family’ presentation and gave them a couple of minutes to check their notes. I split them into two groups and asked them to give their presentations. While they were talking, I wanted the other students to think of questions to ask them at the end. Simple enough and off they went. The presentations were actually quite good. Despite my reservations about the last lesson, the majority of them had taken on board the idea of the presentation having a simple structure and also some of the vocabulary from the last lesson came up too. I sat and listened, making notes to talk about at the end. One group was doing well, asking questions and continuing the conversation. Meanwhile the other group seemed to be struggling with follow-up questions. I resisted the temptation to throw in my own questions, then suddenly one of them blurted out a perfectly well constructed question. Excellent I thought, “anymore questions” I asked. Blank faces and the shaking of heads followed. The next person started to give their presentation, this was followed by another silent period and no questions and then again for the following presentation. One of the students had said she shared the same temper as her father and got angry occasionally. I decided to ask her about it to encourage the students to join in. ( it went something like this)

 ” So you get angry like your father then?” (me)

” angry?” (student)

” yes, you said you have a temper like your father” (me)

” I don’t understand” (student)

” A temper? You said your father gets angry sometimes. What does he do when he gets angry?” ( Me. By this time I have really slowed down my speaking voice and I’m now making gestures to signify anger)

“uhhhh…………..” (student)

“Does he shout, or sometimes bang things loudly?” (Me, know gesturing wildly)

A period of about 30 seconds passed. I was determined to get her to talk about this. 

“Go on you can do it, take your time” (Me. At this point I was doing a gesture as though I was coaxing a cat out of a tree)

She looked left and right, shrugged her shoulders and laughed out loud.

“I don’t know” (student)

I gripped the side of the chair and closed my eyes. A big breath and then I launched into the feedback, highlighting certain things on the board.

  • Struggling with saying dates, such as 1994 etc
  • I have 18 yrs instead of I was/am 18yrs
  • Questions to ask about how long or often things happened in the past
  • The pronunciation of words ending in -ed
  • The excellent use of the word ‘rebellious’ one of the students used to describe his brother.

I moved onto the next activity. I had brought a newspaper and cut out pairs of photos that had a common theme. Unemployment, celebration, work, weather, disaster. I asked the students to walk around in their pairs and choose the pictures they would most like to talk about. Once they had done this I asked them to discuss what they thought the pictures had in common and to write one word on the paper next to the pictures to describe this. Celebration came up straight away,  and with some encouragement so did work and unemployment. Next I asked the students to describe to each other what they could see in the picture. Lots of vocab again. I then supplied the groups with one question about each set of pictures that they had to discuss and give an opinion about. Before doing so I elicited different language we could use to give our opinion.  We had a good list;

  • I think….
  • I believe…..
  • In my opinion…..
  • From my point of view……..
  • As far as I’m concerned……..
  • My view is….

Okay we were off. It started well, some of the expressions were used. A little forced but nonetheless being used. I walked around listening and if the conversation dropped I wrote another question down to try to re-ignite it. It was hard going, to say the least. I encouraged them to talk about the question and discuss why, instead of just giving a short and extremely brief answer. We swapped pictures, the same thing happened, we swapped again. Well you get the picture. Blood out of a stone, springs to mind. The class dwindled to an end.

I asked the class to bring in their own picture for the next lesson. I think we need to try again with this one and maybe their own images will prompt some better discussion.

I felt very low at the end of this lesson, the lowest yet. Tonight was difficult, it taxed my patience and even made me a little angry. (see conversation) I’m becoming a little frustrated and perhaps even a little stressed. Feeling the pressure somewhat, I guess. I have never felt comfortable with this class and never feel relaxed enough to simply enjoy the lesson without worrying about what’s happening next. The complete opposite of what I knew Dogme/ teaching unplugged to be before I started this project. Before, in the unplugged lessons I had done previously, things were much more laid back and easy-going. Because of this the lessons were far more productive, I had more energy and excitement and the students fed of this positiveness. Now I feel as though I am only transmitting negativity and this is perhaps affecting the students. I mentioned earlier about the possible ‘teachable moment’ that came up at the beginning of the lesson. Normally I would have dived head first into it, instead I was more worried about what I had planned. I worry about covering what’s on the ‘can do list’ and student generated syllabus or what the book should be covering at this stage. I know that my DOS, who has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, is watching me closely and will be the first to tell me that it’s just not working and perhaps it’s time to call it a day.

Am I expecting to much, planning too hard, pushing too hard or simply not good enough?

“I wish I was a neutron bomb, for once I could go off!” (E.Vedder)



Up in my (family) tree.

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.

“Really!?” (me)

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.

Do the evolution!

I decided that for this lesson I would get the class moving about a bit and try to make the class a little more dynamic. I had come across this lesson from Sandy Millin,, and thought it would be a really interesting and thought-provoking lesson for the students.

I started the class by showing four large pictures of the Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and Tuenti (Spanish version of facebook) and eliciting the names and ‘social networking’ from the students. I asked who used what and it seemed the whole class used at least one if not more of them. All except one. “I don’t have the time” he said. Perfect. In pairs I asked them to write down the three main reasons why they use social networking sites, and for the student who didn’t use them, three reasons why not.

Sharing photos, catching up with old friends, talking for free and gossiping were some of the main points, while simply not having the time and preferring to talk on the phone were reason enough to not use the sites. I went back to the gossiping point and asked if the students thought this was a good or bad thing. Surprisingly some of them thought it was one of the best things. I asked them to list three good and bad things about social networking. More floating about, providing vocabulary and checking spelling. The pairs then compared with another group and we did class feedback. One of the good points that came up, was that we could follow famous people by using Twitter. Now was the perfect time to use Sandy’s lesson. I mentioned that I used Twitter frequently, but not to follow famous people. I talked about how I used it to help me solve problems such as grammar points, technology in the classroom or simply asking for advice on certain issues. I quickly showed them what Twitter looked like and how the feed worked.

The idea of the lesson was to create our own twitter feed to give advice or suggestions for problems or situations. I decided to demo the idea with my own problem, which was that I keep forgetting the names of my students. I wrote this on a small piece of paper and placed it on the floor. The students could now take a piece of paper and add their suggestions. I could throw in a response to their suggestions in order to keep the feed moving and to promote further suggestions. The students loved it! Some great suggestions came up;

I can never remember the names of everyone in class. Help! (me)

You can take photos and you can put it in the wall.

I don’t have a camera (me)

You can borrow a camera from a friend.

Before class you can write in the forehead of people in class his name.

I don’t think my boss will let me. (me)

You’re right (my boss)

Everyone could be named about something who describe him/her.

My name is like a flower, so it’s easy to remember. (Rosa)

It was going great. I picked up on the use of modals for giving advice and suggestions and boarded a small list, half elicited from the students and half supplied by me, that we could use in the next activity. I didn’t want to lose the pace of the lesson so I launched back into it and mentioned the wishes that the class had made in the previous lesson. We chose one of each and I asked them if they could supply suggestions to make these wishes come true. A selection of some of the best ones are below.

I wish that Santander had the AVE station.

The politicians should meet to try and find money from the banks.

Maybe it will get done if ‘Revilla’ (local politician) get chosen again.

We can’t build the AVE station, but we could invent teleporter.

I wish that the economic crisis would end.

We could steal money from other countries

Politicians could reduce their salary,

I think it should be legal to photocopy the paper money.

Lot’s of new vocabulary had come up, we had practised giving suggestions and advice and more importantly the students had really enjoyed the class. The class was a little language light and I could really have built on that, but I guess I was enjoying the flow of the lesson too much to want to break up the momentum. Something to add to the growing list of things to work on. On a more positive side I now have a stack of about 30 sentences to use for some sort of error correction exercise later in the term.

Lesson bytes.

I just wanted to write a quick post about some of the unplugged lessons and moments that have happened over the last couple of weeks. I will try to keep it brief.

Audio upgrade – I wanted to record my morning group and get them to listen back to an audio extract to practice some error correction and simply to promote some conversation after spending the previous lessons on listening and reading recently.

The students had previously written down some topics they wanted to discuss and some questions they wanted to ask the others. We sat down, took the first topic off the pile and began talking. The audio recorder wasn’t on at this point I just wanted the students to warm up and get into the flow. I fed in whatever vocabulary was necessary and boarded everything, making some small error correction and notes on common errors. Once the conversation came to a natural end I went to the board to highlight some small points. We started again but this time I explained that I would be recording a section of the conversation. We started the next topic and I immediately noticed the effect that having the possibility of being recorded had on the way the students spoke. They concentrated harder and their utterances became clearer and fewer errors occurred. I managed to get a good 4-5 minute chunk of the conversation. (I used audacity). Just before the end of the lesson I played the recording, asking them to pick out what they thought were common errors and we discussed them as a class.

The next lesson was after the weekend which gave me time to type up the chunk of conversation. Each student received a copy in the next lesson and we set about looking at errors and discussing ways that we could upgrade their language. How we could perhaps say what they initially said but better and clearer. The activity lasted the whole lesson and allowed me to practice some board work and led to a lot of new vocabulary and highlighted a lot of language points. A very successful and useful lesson which I think I would like to repeat in the future.

Classic recycle – I wanted to spend some time on looking at the vocabulary bank that we had built up over the last few weeks. I had written down every new word onto small pieces of blank paper. I brought them all to class and gave out five to each pair and asked them to discuss each word with their partner and then use the learner dictionaries to write a definition and the part of speech on the back. There were a lot of words so this lasted quite awhile, but just discussing these words allowed for language to emerge and make the recycling activity more memorable. Once the words had been exhausted I asked the students to try to group the vocabulary into lexical fields. Once this was completed we talked about how certain words could move in and out of different groups and this led into a discussion about collocation. Another lesson I will be repeating.

A teachable moment – I had my lesson idea all ready. I started as I always do by asking how the student’s weekend went. The usual responses followed but then one of my students started talking about her trip to Madrid and how her sister in-law’s kids had been driving her mad all weekend. Waking up early, too much energy and generally getting what they wanted by crying and shouting. I asked her if it had put her off having kids, and she said that perhaps it had made her think about waiting a little bit longer. At this point I knew that my original plan wasn’t going to take place. The conversation progressed naturally about the pros and cons of having children and then it moved onto how children these days are very different form those that we grew up with and that the cause was how parents brought up their children. I put a simple table on the board with two columns, problems of parenting now, suggestions for better parenting. By the end of the lesson the board was full.

I followed the topic up in the next lesson by finding an article in the Guardian about 21st century mothers. A quick title mix and match lead to a very relaxed reading lesson. The article was mined for new vocabulary and ideas from the previous lesson were highlighted in the article and discussed further.

Put your hands in the air, and say yeah! – This was a very simple activity but proved very effective. In my CAE class I had a 30 minute slot to fill after a pre planned activity fell very short. I asked the students to write down topics or questions they wanted to ask in the class on some post-it notes. I explained that the idea was to keep the conversation going for as long as possible and if I heard an error I would simply raise my hand. I wouldn’t correct but the student should verbally highlight their error, correct and carry on with the conversation. I would only step in if they needed help. This worked really well and after a few topics the group was split into two and one of the students became the teacher. A simple but very effective activity.