The breaking of the back was the making of the man.

“To make yourself, it is also necessary to destroy yourself.” (Patrick White, Voss, 1957)

I remember reading the above quote while I was travelling around New Zealand in 2009. I felt an immediate connection with the character in the book, a doomed pioneer who is determined to explore the Australian outback at all costs. I had in effect done exactly what he was talking about. I had called off my wedding, quit my well paid job just as the crisis kicked in, moved out of my flat by the sea and took all the money I had and went travelling to New Zealand and South America. It was the best thing I ever did, I’m sorry to sound heartless but it was. It was this reevaluation of life that led me to where I am today. Stripping everything back, deciding what it was I actually wanted to do and then choosing the path that led me to becoming an ELT teacher.

Now lets fast forward to the present day. I was lucky enough to attend the brilliant IH Barcelona annual conference last weekend. The line up of speakers was impressive and I was excited to see some old faces. There was no real theme to the conference as now seems to be the fashion, but throughout the conference and especially after a period of deep reflection the theme was evidently clear to me.

The conference began on the Friday evening with two excellent plenaries. The first was from Jessica Mackay (@JessBCN) My tweets from the session:

Jessica Mackay currently encouraging us to do research #IHBCNELT

Teachers are probably better at being able to explain their research to other teachers. It can help TD, be empowering & inspiring. #IHBCNELT

Research can help to refresh our teaching and make us rethink what we do in the classroom. #IHBCNELT

Sts benefit from a teacher who does research. That teacher is engaged, interested and cares about the class. Everyone wins. #IHBCNELT

A desperate need for research written by teachers for teachers. #IHBCNELT

It was a very inspiring start to the conference and had me sitting up, paying attention and immediately pondering what research I could do. The last comment above, was for me, a very powerful statement and something that I think is desperately missing from ELT. I don’t think research in a sense has to be about writing huge dissertations for your masters degree or papers and books laden with toilsome terminology. To be relevant and immediately useful for teachers on the ground it needs to be done in real-time, action research coupled with documentation through blogging. Easily accessible and open to comment and debate among other teachers.

Next up was Anthony Gaughan (@anthonygauhan), who was asking us, “Where are all the unplugged teacher trainers?” Anthony hit the ground running, wanting to know why Dogme/unplugged teaching was only being paid “lip service (at best)” when it came to teacher training. Why wasn’t it given more time, more attention? Why weren’t trainees being encouraged to teach without the coursebook and work directly with what their students brought to the classroom? His argument was compelling and backed up with his own experiences of unplugging his CELTA courses. He then laid out an unofficial mandate for how teacher trainers and future trainers could set about unplugging their own courses.

Course books are not essential! @AnthonyGaughan hits the nail on the head. #IHBCNELT

Ditch your timetable, work back from results, start with what they can do, ask them what they think. #unpluggedteachertraining#IHBCNELT

Stop writing TP points, don’t ask for lesson plans, devote more time to guidance, stop answering, ask! #unpluggedteachertraining#IHBCNELT

Teach with them, don’t judge, help, 3 good reasons-economy-flexibility-self sufficiency for doing #unpluggedteachertraining #IHBCNELT

I’m not a teacher trainer and far from being one, but this had me on the edge of my seat. I certainly hope I wasn’t the only one and I really hope that the teacher trainers who attended were paying attention. If we want to make a difference to teaching it has to be at the very root of the profession. Trainees need to be made aware that course books and materials are not the be all and end all of a successful lesson. Anthony talked about teachers walking unaided, with out the crutches of the coursebook to support them. If anything the bottle feeding of coursebooks to trainees is quite possibly what prevents them from walking unaided in the first place. The trainee needs to be trusted, encouraged, nurtured just like we do with our students, they must be made aware of the bigger picture and that picture can’t be found in a course book.

Luke Meddings kicked of proceedings on Saturday morning with his talk ‘Dogme, detour and drift:Learning from the situationists. He didn’t let us down. Taking us on a journey around the world, back in time and a trip to his mum’s loft.

His message was simple and hard-hitting.

School=exams=success. Real education is lost. @LukeMeddings sounds like he is building towards a rallying call. Revolution? #IHBCNELT

.@LukeMeddings: “When it becomes a revolutionary act to just teach instead of prepare students for the test, we’re in trouble.” #IHBCNELT

Education is becoming obsessed with results, statistics and exams. Teaching is now akin to feeding information into empty heads. Spoon feeding language and discrete grammar. Luke was willing to provide us with an answer to counter this tide of standardization and testing. Dogme!

Dogme could be the key. Focus on dialogue, no focus on discrete grammar points. learn a language thru spking Giving people a voice #IHBCNELT

I couldn’t help but agree. Luke, as well as Anthony, was bringing Dogme back to the forefront of ELT. It is a viable alternative in a world where very few people are willing to break away from the pack and do something different. And to get it started we need to breakdown a few barriers.

Dismantle the box we are put in as teachers. Then go on to dismantle the boxes our students are kept in. @LukeMeddings great talk #IHBCNELT

The conference moved on and so did I. Moving around the conference hall to see as many people as possible. Some great talks, combined with useful ideas and further food for thought.

At 15.30 I found myself at a loose end, so I drifted into the main hall to watch Phillip Kerr talk about “The adaptivity of adaptive learning”. It blew my mind!

Coursebooks are on the move and this is bad news for teachers. The big publishing houses and many other newly formed businesses are currently investing huge amounts of money into adaptive learning. Coursebook content is moving online, likely to become cheaper and more easily accessible, making the need for real face to face teaching less and less. Teachers will be relegated and learning will be about learners consuming grammar and lexical mcnuggets. You would think that to spend billions of pounds on adaptive learning, you would need good old-fashioned research to support its credibility as a learning method. Well think again. The method is fueled purely by what is called, ‘Big Data’. Big companies collecting personal information and recording internet habits and trends to tailor personalised learning courses.

Big data is something we need to know about. we need to be aware of the effect it has on us We need to talk about it! Phillip Kerr #IHBCNELT

Money talks and it talks louder than all the teachers in the world put together. But Phillip gave us some hope, eloquently pointing out the big problems adaptive learning is likely to face in the future.

Adam Beale ‏@bealer81  Feb 8

Language is socially constructed. Always has been & always will be. Phillip Kerr speaking about problems adaptive learning faces #IHBCNELT

Unfortunately he did end on a more negative note when he warned;

“Algorithm written coursebooks are coming … Good luck.” a chilling end to Phillip Kerr’s dose of dystopia at #IHBCNELT I’m scared anyway.

I’m not sue if I did Phillip’s excellent talk any justice, so I would highly recommend reading his blog, which you can find here –

So what about this theme?

All of the talks I have written about here struck a major chord with me. Almost like a wake up call, my own personal watershed moment. The theme was one of returning to basics, with the teacher becoming the most important learning tool in the classroom. Teachers researching their profession, teachers showing other teachers what is possible, teachers giving students a voice and freeing them from the ever-present pressure of exams and finally, teachers providing learners with the one true way of learning a language, face to face through dialogue construction.

This has inspired me to completely rethink my current teaching. As I hand back the most recent of the exams I have been teaching towards, I feel an uneasy guilt that I have become part of the system. A teacher that simply spoon feeds his way through the school year. I need a phase of stripping everything back again, destroying what I have become to then remake myself. Dogme, I believe, is key to this. It doesn’t mean a total disregard for coursebooks or materials in general. This is not a war or a rant against coursebooks, but a search for a viable alternative that utilises the teacher and creates a more meaningful way of teaching. I would like to prove that there is another way and bring this to the attention of as many people who are willing to listen. Like the doomed character at the beginning of the post I may well be wandering into my own personal desert, but at least I gave it a shot.

This air conditioned life has left me gasping for some real conversation. (Frank Turner)


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.

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

Someplace simple

I had an idea. I didn’t have any notes. I knew what I was looking for, or listening for. I had no back up plan.

Thanks to Spain’s random holidays, I only got to see my project group once this week. So I had plenty of time to come up with an idea for this class. I had spent the weekend reading through their diaries, which you can see on another page of this blog. They enjoyed talking, wanted to talk more and seemed to enjoy the class more when they got the opportunity to do this.

We started the class by looking at the re-drafted versions of their collaborative stories, from the previous lesson. I had emailed them the story, with suggestions and corrections. The majority of the students brought a corrected version back, so I posted them around the room and we walked around reading each others work and noting the small changes each individual had made. I noted one error that everyone had made, highlighted it on the board, checked for meaning, gave a further example and praised them for their work.

I paired up the students and asked them to talk about what had happened in the last lesson, what we did and what we talked about. After they would report back to me on what they had discussed. It was slow going, but eventually they started talking, a few hints and they soon remembered. When reporting back I asked one person from each pair to report back on what the other person had said. Articles were missing, the tenses were all over the place and everyone seemed a little out of sorts. I asked them to swap partners. Get them moving, wake them up. I asked them to talk to their partner about the best and worst thing that happened to them since they last saw each other. The talking started in earnest, I let it run, listening in and supplying vocabulary when it was required. Again I asked them to report back, again the control of tenses was lacking. I walked up to the board and wrote down –

He/she said (that)

He/she told me (that)

I started to talk about reported speech, but didn’t mention it directly. In fact I didn’t need to. One of my students exclaimed loudly, “ah reported speech”. Yes, reported speech. I talked about back shifting the tenses, one of the students mentioned the ‘that clause’, I added it to the board and gave an example. I swapped the pairs again and asked them to do the same activity, and when they reported back they should try to use the language on the board and think about the tense shift. They talked and then they reported back. There was a marked difference in their accuracy, in fact a huge leap in accuracy. I could see them concentrating, working harder to get their utterances correct, self-correcting, re-formulating. Someone had watched five films in a row, that was the best thing since the last class, so we talked about films briefly. I swapped the pairs and asked them to talk about the films they like and dislike with their partner. They maintained the level of accuracy afterwards and this continued when we started talking about superheroes and super powers.

After trying so hard recently to get my students talking and worrying about having a real structure to my lesson, it turns out that this simple piece of grammar produced the best, most relaxed and productive lesson since we started. For the first time after a lesson with this class, I didn’t feel the need to agonise over my teaching and analyse the lesson from start to finish. It seems so clear now, but over the last few weeks I think I have been looking too hard, trying too hard, even thinking too hard.

Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals. Jim Rohn.

hit/strike pay dirt


to get or find something valuable or useful

He hit pay dirt with his new invention. (Macmillan dictionary)