Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (5 and 6)

Today was the sixth session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.)

–  Yes, the sixth: the fifth was last week but Friday seems to have rolled round again before I’ve got round to writing it up. Life and work happened! The sixth, and also the last for this term (sob!), so a special thank you to my colleague, Holly, whose brainchild it was and who has consistently brought along interesting ideas to get the discussion going. We’ve all got a lot out of it, in terms of ideas, motivation and generally a happy Friday feeling! 🙂 

To quote from my write-up of the first session,

The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.

Session 5

Last week, the focus of the session was how to make students more aware of what words they can and can’t use with countable and uncountable nouns – to try and minimise, amongst other things, the number of instances where we see “These research show” and “Many research prove” etc. This sequence was adapted from Teach This 

We began with a variation of backs to the board/jeopardy:

To start with, there was nothing on the board except the score table. The teacher writes a word on the board, e.g. spare key. In order to get their team member whose back is to the board to guess the word, the students have to ask a grammatically correct question, e.g. “what do you give to your neighbours so that they can water your plants while you are on holiday?”. Rather than erasing the word to write another, the word is left on the board and another is added, either underneath it or in the column next to it. Obviously one of the columns is for countable nouns and one for uncountable nouns.

Once the game is finished, the teacher then elicits from the students what each column of words is (countable/uncountable) and what question you could ask about each (How many…? or How much…?) Students should then work in pairs and identify one similarity and one difference between them, using these questions. So, student A might ask “How many tattoos do you have?” and Student B might reply “2”. Student A would either say “me too!” or “I have ten” or “I have none” and that would be a similarity or difference, depending on the response.

Next, students brainstorm quantifiers that can be used with each column (or you can give them a list of quantifiers and get them to match which ones go with which column). Then the teacher hands out an empty grid of quantifiers per pair or group of students:

What now follows is a few rounds of Stop the Bus! In other words, the teacher gives the students a category (e.g. no. 1 above was “Things you might have in your bedroom”) and students have to write nouns that fit the category and go with each quantifier.  After each round, do some whole class feedback to make sure groups have correct words. (Be aware, a teacher, I mean a student, of course, from one group might argue rather tenaciously against a word given by another group 😉 )

Once you have done a few rounds of Stop the Bus, write up a few examples from groups’ tables.

E.g.

  • happiness
  • carrot
  • books

Elicit a correct example definition for each and use it to review what words are and aren’t used with uncountable, singular countable, plural countable.

In the case of our EAP classes, this whole sequence then leads onto editing their coursework writing: students choose four nouns that they have used repeatedly (e.g. research!!!!) and use the ‘search’ function in Word to find all the occurrences and check the grammar around them. They should check if the noun is countable or uncountable, and if the noun is countable they should think about whether they want it as singular or plural. The grammar around the word is then edited accordingly.

Session 6

Today, we started by looking at Getting to know you activities: the current term is drawing swiftly towards its conclusion and the new one will arrive sooner than anyone might think, so this was a bit of forward-thinking.

So, here are the ideas that were shared.

Find that person

  • Each student writes one thing about themselves on a small piece of paper and screws it up.
  • All the papers are thrown up in the air in the middle of the classroom.
  • Each student comes and takes a piece of paper (throwing it back and taking again if it is their own)
  • Students mingle and ask questions to find out a) who their piece of paper belongs to and b) more information about what is written.

Getting to know the teacher

Variation 1

  • Students work in pairs to write 5 questions they want to ask the teachers. Each question should be in a different grammatical tense.
  • Pairs swap questions with another pair and check the grammar.
  • Depending on numbers/time, group pairs and pieces of paper and allow a question or two from each pair or group, that you then have to answer.

Variation 2

  • Choose 6 pictures (the more obscure the better) that relate to different periods of your life and display them on the board.
  • Students discuss what they think the pictures are about and what they suggest about the teacher.
  • Students share their ideas with the teacher and bit by bit the real story comes out.

This could also alternatively be done with 6 names or years or places.

Variation 3

  • Teacher writes 3 truths and one lie (mixed up) about him/herself on the board.
  • Students have to ask questions to try and decide which is the lie.
  • Once the lie has been guessed, they can then do the activity in pairs and share their findings with the rest of the class.

Conversation starter

  • Students write their name in the middle of a piece of paper. Around it, they write the name of someone important to them, a year, a place, and something random (their choice) about themselves.
  • Students mingle and find out more about each of the things their classmates have written on their papers.

Shipwreck

This is for when you’ve done a bit of getting to know you but still have more time left and want to get students talking some more.

  • Give the students the scenario that there is a shipwreck, a lifeboat that only holds 5 people and a need to decide who is going to be allowed onto that lifeboat.
  • Give them a list of ten people (for example roles search “lifeboat ESL game”
  • They have to discuss and decide who to save
  • Extension: they have to take on that role and try to persuade the others on the ship to let them on the lifeboat (obviously creative license comes into play, they can go beyond the information on the role card!).

Survival

As above, this is for when you’ve done a bit of getting to know you but still have more time left and want to get them talking some more.

  • Linking back to the shipwreck, now that students have decided who will live and who will die, they have to decide what to take with them.
  • Give them a list of things they have on the boat, of which they can only take 5 or the boat will sink. You could include some of the things mentioned here and some random other things. (And I bet none of the students will decide to take the condom because it makes a good water bag!)

For more getting to know you activities, see my posts here and here

After the getting-to-know-you brainstorm (or what are we supposed to call it these days – thought shower or something?), we talked about self-observation. The idea suggested was that every couple of weeks you pick one of your weaknesses  (can be very simple little things e.g. instructions, board-work, getting down to student eye-level to speak to them etc.) and focus on it in all your lessons for that period of time. Whether or not you pair it with reflective writing etc was thought to be a matter of personal choice and not for everybody. Have you done something like this before?

And that was the end of our last scholarship circle for the term (because All The Marking lands next week and continues in week 9…) I will miss them!!  

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (3 and 4!)

Today was the fourth session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.)

–  Yes, the fourth: the third was last week but I was buried under rather a large pile of essays so I didn’t have time to write it up. So this week is a double bill! Hurrah!

To quote from my write-up of the first session,

The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.

 

In session 3, last week, we shared the following ideas:

1. Catch-all nouns and cohesion in pairs

This is a useful review activity for students who don’t seem to be using catch-all nouns in their writing.

For those less familiar with EAP-dom, “catch-all nouns”, also sometimes called “general nouns”, are nouns that can be used to condense ideas already put forward, so that you can refer to them and give more information about them. They are general words that take on specificity through what comes before (or indeed after) them, for example problem, issue, process, approach, trend etc.

For this activity you:

  • give each student a worksheet with some examples of catch-all nouns in use, with the noun gapped out. Each student has a different set of examples.
  • get the students to take it in turns to read out a sentence to their partner, who needs to use the co-text to guess which general noun is missing. They must also decide if they need the singular “this” or the plural “these” in front of the noun.

E.g. First the cocoa beans are picked by hand and placed in the sun to dry. Then they are put in large sacks and loaded onto lorries (sounding familiar to anyone who teaches IELTS?!). ……………….. is repeated many times a day. Answer: This process.

Here is an example set of worksheets that my colleague whose idea it was gave to us:

The benefits of this activity are:

  • it makes the students think carefully about which catch-all nouns work best in which contexts.
  • it forces the students listen carefully to what their partner is saying, and in order to provide the answer they of course need to listen AND understand, so it also provides some detailed listening practice.
  • it also makes them think about whether the noun is singular or plural, and which determiner they need – this/these – to use with it. (Something our students tend to make mistakes with!)

Variation: Have students stand in a line; read out a gapped sentence; students step forward if they can think of a word + determiner that fit the gap. Actually I think it would work really nicely with mini-whiteboards too. Ahhh mini-whiteboards. Those were the days… 😉

2) Adapting a listening

This activity can be used with any listening extract where the speaker refers to data taken from a graph, where the graph has been provided in the materials for students to look at.

Instead of showing the graph to the students, get them to listen and make notes on it. Then put them in groups and get them to produce the graph based on what they have written down.

If any of you academic IELTS teachers out there are feeling keen, you could record yourselves talking about data from a graph (make it a funny graph so the activity is less dry!) and get the the students to produce the graph based on what you say. Then you could get the students to repeat the activity themselves – group them, get them, in their groups, to prepare a graph and discuss how they would present the information in it (using IELTS writing part 1 language) and then pair them up with someone from another group. Student A talks about their graph, student B listens and takes notes and then tries to draw the graph. (Or they could directly draw if you don’t want to bring note-taking skills into it!) They swap roles and repeat. Hopefully the language becomes more meaningful through being used communicatively. 

3) Speed-reading relay

The aim of this activity, as you would guess, is to work on students’ reading speed.

  • Put students in pairs or small groups.
  • Give each pair or group one copy of the text
  • Student A reads for 30 seconds, stops and makes a mark on the page where they got to and then verbally summarises what they just read for Student B.
  • Student B reads on from where Student A stopped. Another 30 seconds. Repeat as above.
  • This goes on until a pair or group gets to the end of their text. The first pair/group to do so is the winner!

You could use this activity as a way of practising different speed reading techniques: teach students a handful of different techniques (find examples here) and then use this as a fun way to practice them.

4) Variation on a debate theme

This is less of an activity and more of a variation on an activity: when you are doing a class debate, instead of dividing the class into 2 groups, half for and half against the motion, divide them into three groups and give each group a role:

  • For (pick a group of people who would naturally be in favour of the motion. E.g. if the motion were to ban video games, perhaps worried parents)
  • Against (pick a group of people who would naturally be against the motion. Following the above example, it could be video game designers)
  • Politicians (these have to prepare difficult questions to raise during the course of the debate, imagining that they have to think about what their constituents might say in response to the arguments raised)

In session 4, today, we shared the following ideas:

1. Task-based Evaluation (mine!)

  • Do a speaking ladder. Round 1:talk about the last restaurant you went to. (Rules: students  must elaborate not just say “yeah it was ok, I ate curry”!) Round 2: tell your new partner about the restaurant your old partner visited and how they felt about it. You can repeat this so that each student talks about their restaurant twice and a partner’s restaurant twice so that more language can be generated.
  • While they are doing this, collect examples of anything evaluative that they say.
  • Then students look for example evaluative language in a text and categorise it – modal verbs, adjectives, reporting verbs, adverbs.
  • Go back to the language students produced earlier and read out each example for them to put into their tables (unless you can cunningly feed it all into the computer while they are busy on one of the identification activities and then display it when they are ready! But this way they have to listen carefully so it’s still good!).
  • Repeat the speaking ladder activity with the aim of students upgrading their language from their initial effort. Give them some planning time first and if there is time, do a repetition.

My thinking behind this activity was that in day-to-day life we do evaluate, but when it comes to academic writing, students think that evaluation is this really difficult thing and it usually therefore gets omitted, so hopefully rooting it in the students’ own (meaningful) output, it will be more memorable and make more sense.

2. Bringing evaluation into synthesis

This activity is an extension of the fishbowl synthesis activity we talked about in session 2. Once students have fishbowled (yes it’s officially a verb now – at least in the USIC staffroom!) and written the summary paragraph, usually what you will find is that they have just about managed to synthesise stuff but there will be little if any evaluation. To get them to make that extra step which is needed in order for it to be a good paragraph rather than just a collection of information, elicit from them what’s missing from their paragraphs (which are now on a Google doc) – i.e. evaluation – and then brainstorm/board evaluative language that they could use. Then give them time to edit their paragraphs accordingly.

(This could be used in conjunction with my activity…gotta love the scholarship circle!)

3. Error correction scavenger hunt

  • Brainstorm, as a class, typical mistakes that students make in their writing. (If students say “grammar” or “vocabulary”, get them to be more specific!).
  • Prepare slips of paper/post-its with one error type and example per slip before the lesson and at this point hand out one to each student. Students mingle and explain their error type to the other students. (You could then put them in groups and get them to make a list of as many as they could remember and see which group remembers the most, for a bit of fun :-p )
  • Give out an error correction scavenger list like this one:

  • Put up sentences, or chunks of two or three sentences, taken from students’ work, around the classroom on the walls. Anonymise it and number each piece of paper (on which is/are the sentence(s) from one student).
  • Students walk round looking for the errors on the scavenger list, with speed obviously being of the essence. They find the mistake and write the number of the piece of paper they found it on next to the mistake  type on their scavenger list.
  • You go round and stick a post-it above each piece of paper with the error type(s) in the sentence(s) on it.
  • Students go round in their pairs and check they have the correct error type per sentence and then try to correct the sentence.
  • In groups, students compare their corrections.
  • Whole class feedback.

The idea of the lesson is to get students looking for typical error types. It also gets them up and moving, which is always a bonus in the EAP classroom! No reason why it couldn’t work with IELTS essays and the like as well! (This idea originally came from this pdf by Ken Lackman, about getting students involved in error correction, worth a look for more ideas.)

So, two great sessions, two motivation injections, and lots of ideas. 🙂 Let us know if you use any of them and how you got on!

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (2)

Today was the second session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.) To quote from my write-up of the first session,

The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.

Last session, we had a series of little ideas, while this session we went into more depth on two activities:

1) Synthesis Fishbowl *

This activity takes the “fishbowl” approach to structuring a speaking activity and uses it as the basis for teaching students about synthesis. Synthesis is basically the process of using and combining multiple sources to support a point, showing where the sources agree and disagree. Linking language and particular reporting structures help the writer to do this. Here is an example of the kind language that is used in synthesising sources, taken from Manchester University’s  Academic Phrase Bank:

So now that we know what synthesis is, back to the fish bowl. In a fish bowl speaking activity, students sit in two circles, an inner circle and, around the outside of that circle (funnily enough), an outer circle. (As per the picture below, assuming that each X represents a student!)

Inner circle students face each other. They will be the speakers. Outer circle students watch the inner circle. They will be listener/note takers.

Each student/speaker in the inner circle receives a piece of paper like this:

 

On it they write their surname and a (fairly recent) year e.g. 2014.

Each student/listener-notetaker receives a piece of paper with a table like this on it:

The table would have enough squares for each student of the inner circle to be represented (which would usually be about 4 – you don’t want the inner circle to be too big! For larger classes break them down into sub-groups within each of which there will be an inner and outer circle).

The inner circle discusses whatever topic you set them, the outer circle makes notes on what they say. (You can make this harder if you have really good students: the outer circle could listen and take notes that evaluate the inner circle’s arguments  e.g. “Good example from X of……../Y needed more support for what he said about bla bla bla/ Z said he agreed but didn’t explain why” etc).

Once the discussion has finished/you have called it a halt, new groups are formed of a student from the inner circle and a couple of students from the outer circle. In these new groups they identify themes that were discussed and look for relationships between the pieces of information they have noted down. I.e. what do the speakers agree about? What do they disagree about? Does a speaker (or more than one of them!) build on anything another speaker has said?

After they have teased these relationships out of their notes, they write a paragraph summarising the discussion (you could use google docs for this). You could give them a framework to use for lower levels, you could feed in language you want them to use (particular verbs or structures), depending how much scaffolding they need. They will need to pick one of the themes discussed (which will provide them with their topic sentence) and then use synthesising language to summarise what was said about it.

This mirrors what they will have to do with academic sources in their writing. We (the teachers) have decided to film ourselves doing the activity in a future scholarship circle session, so that it can be used as the basis of a homework task to prepare students for doing the activity in class themselves.

*Obviously fishbowls are not only useable for teaching synthesis – they are a way of running a speaking activity so that students’ listening skills are worked as well. Of course students take it in turns to be listeners and speakers.

2) Nominalisation game

This is the game I put forward last week. This week I actually brought the grid to the session and everyone had a go at playing it. Click on the picture below to be taken to a pdf of that grid.

To quote from last week’s write up, it works like this:

Put students in groups of three and give each group a grid, counters and dice (they can use a phone app and the change in their pockets if needs be!). The aim of the game is to “collect” as many squares as possible by turning the verbs into nouns. To do this, students roll the dice and move their counter the corresponding number of moves. If their square has not been claimed, they can claim it by giving the correct noun form. If they are correct, they draw their symbol on that square. They can move in any direction that gets them to an empty square (backwards, forwards, diagonally, vertically etc) in any combination. They continue until all squares have been claimed or the teacher calls a halt. The winner has the greatest number of squares when the game stops. You can then get the students to group the nouns they have made according to the different suffixes used to create nouns and then try to think of any more verbs–>nouns they know that work in the same way.

That’s all for this week. Just like last week, the session gave me a real boost. There’s nothing like spending some quality time being creative with a great bunch of people! 🙂 Here are a few questions to leave you with:

Have you used a fish bowl activity before? How did you use it? Do you have any other ideas for teaching synthesis or activities for livening up lessons on nominalisation?

 

 

 

IELTS Speaking Part 2 (Fun) Practice Activity

Each week on a Tuesday, since my IELTS courses finished, I have been doing IELTS PSP Speaking, which is basically an hour of IELTS-focused speaking practice. I have found that when practicing part 2, students frequently dry up before 2 minutes, sometimes well before, so I came up with this activity to encourage them to extend their answers as much as possible… It is a mixture of an activity that was suggested by a Sheffield Uni colleague of mine from last summer, Tim Ball, at the IELTS Swap Shop session that took place at IATEFL this year, and the well-known game, connect 4.

  • It consists of a 6×6 grid (click on the picture to access a ready-to-use document):
Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 12.53.30

Game board

  •  In each square of the grid there is an IELTS Part 2 Speaking topic.
  • Students are aiming to score as many points as possible by getting 3 or 4 squares in a row, with 3 being worth 10 points and 4 being worth 20 points.
  • In order to “win” a square, students must speak for the full two minutes about the topic in question.
  • The instructions on the game remind students to think about the what/who/why/when/how type questions that accompany speaking part 2 topics.
  • As with the exam, they have a minute to think about what they are going to say and make a few notes.
  • Students play in pairs.
  • Student A speaks, Student B listens and times, and vice-versa.
  • Teacher listens and does delayed feedback at suitable moments.

The students were engaged by it and the aim was fulfilled: instead of just giving up after 1 and a half minutes, they did push themselves to keep speaking! (How important winning a square becomes… 😉 )

Let me know how your students get on with it! Enjoy!

Vocabulary Review Activity for Teenagers

Aim: 

Review previously met vocabulary in a fun, game-like way.

Materials: 

A pre-prepared slide with all the target vocabulary on it (and some red herrings as well, if you wish…) – see example below; fly swats or post-its or balls (I used fly swats in this case but no reason why the other methods can’t work! Balls might be quite challenging on the motor skills, of course due to the target size…); a set of cards with one piece of target vocabulary on each one.

Some vocabulary!

An example: Some L5a vocabulary!

This game is a cross between the board bashes I do with my Ms (10 to 12 year olds) on a regular basis, which is a case of I put a bunch of target vocabulary pictures on a slide, I say the word, they bash the word, or post-it the word or throw a ball at it, as the case may be, and the backs to the board game I often do with my L5a (upper int 13-15yr old) teens. It came about because I wanted to review vocabulary with afore-mentioned teens but change up the usual backs to the board with a bit of variety… 

Method

  • Put learners into teams
  • Invite one member of each team up to the board. Hand them a fly swat or post-it. (Or, get them to stand a bit away from the board and hand them a ball…)
  • One team picks a word card, looks at it, passes it to the next team to look at and so on. Once all teams know what the word is, they start to try and get their team mates at the board to guess the word, in usual backs to the board style (definitions, synonyms, banana sentences…).
  • Team members at the board swat, post-it or throw the ball at the word they think is the answer. (NB to avoid random bashing, stipulate that incorrect guesses lose points…)
  • First team member to swat, post-it or throw the ball at the correct word gains a point for their team.
  • Teams each send another person up to the board for round 2.
  • The game continues until the word cards are finished or until you feel enough time has been spent, whichever happens first!

It worked well, my teens got really in to it. Of course, as you can imagine, the losing points stipulation came about in reaction to the random board bashing issue! It takes a bit more preparation than usual backs to the board but it’s very quick, easy preparation really.

No reason why it couldn’t be used in adult classes as well, of course!

Enjoy!

Reported Speech Whispers 

Premise:

This activity is a variation on the age-old activity ‘Whispers’ aka ‘Chinese Whispers’ aka ‘Broken down telephone’. I have played it with intermediate adults and upper intermediate teens, both of which groups met with good old reported speech this term. Both groups responded well. It provides controlled spoken practice of direct speech – reported speech and vice versa conversions and encourages students to subsequently reconsider what they have said and check it for accuracy.

Not that my students are monkeys...

Whisper, whisper! (Not that my students are monkeys…)

Procedure:

  • Put students in groups of 3
  • Student 1 whispers something to Student 2 (it can be helpful if you feed in a few examples at first, to get the students going)
  • Student 2 whisper reports it to Student 3.
  • Student 3 says out loud what they think Student 1 actually said, based on Student 2’s report.
  • Student 1 confirms or repeats out loud what they originally whispered.
  • Student 2 explains how they reported it and why (particularly if the message got lost)
  • Together, the group decide if they were correct according to ‘the rules’. (with teacher help where needed)

The only preparation required is the handful of examples that help set the activity up.

For further (written) practice:

  • After they have played this game you could get the students in their groups to write down as many direct speech sentences as they can remember from the game.
  • Students then swap papers with another group.
  • Groups then work together to convert the sentences from the group they have swapped papers with into reported speech.
  • The groups then swap back and correct the other group’s conversions of their sentences. Of course the teacher monitors closely during both game and follow-up, providing help and feedback as appropriate.

Diary of an intermediate language learner (Part 3)

Diary of an intermediate language learner comes to an end with… 

PART 3

(You can also read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

Day 4 – Thursday 26th February 2015

I turned up bright and early (despite no sleep to speak of the night before, worse luck), with all my homework done (yay!), and a plate of brownies to share with my classmates. They were a little goodbye from me, this being my last day, and on a more personal note a celebration of the summer job offer I had from Sheffield University yesterday! It was brought to my attention that I had perhaps been too dominant in the first three days of the course, so I took it very quietly today.

Today, there was no recounting what we did yesterday. I have, however, had an idea of how we could have done it: I was thinking it would have been nice to return to the chunks for recounting that we met on Day 1. The task could have been to use these to recount what we did yesterday, however mundane. The challenge would be to recount these potentially mundane things using the chunks to pretend like it was exciting, and as listener to respond as though it were super exciting. E.g. (Loosely converting the Italian chunks we used into English…) “You’ll never guess what happened [yesterday]! “Do tell..” “Well, first of all, I actually woke up!!” “Really?! Wow!” “Yes, and then, get this, I had breakfast!” “No!!!” etc. I think it could be fun! As well as some nice language-recycling. 🙂

Storyonics!

Storyonics! To be combined with lovely Italian chunks…? 🙂

In the event, we started instead by checking our gap-fill homework in pairs, while C wrote the solutions up on the board and then we checked against those and had the opportunity to ask any questions. This was quite a time-efficient way of dealing with the homework check, though inevitably a fair bit of discussion arose. Of course, as with previous days, it was useful. Next up was yesterday’s recipe which we had rewritten for homework, and we went through this open class with C nominating us in turn to read sections of it.

We continued with the theme of recipes: the first task of the day was to work in groups and create a recipe. However, this time the recipe wasn’t for food but for love. Nevertheless, though, imperatives and pronouns were of course required! One group had to write a recipe for winning a girl over, the other (my group) had to write a recipe for achieving the opposite effect. So here was the opinion gap opportunity I was wishing for yesterday! I mostly listened rather than spoke, and it was clear that everyone found it a fun, engaging activity. C did lots of monitoring and helping us fill in gaps in our language and pronoun usage, which was useful. Once we had finished, we paired up with someone from the opposite group and shared our recipes. Finally, C boarded each recipe in turn, using the opportunity to do some pronunciation drilling.

IMG_20150226_114925

Our recipes!

After break and brownies, the theme continued but the focus shifted to a song by Marco Ferrandini : Teorema. The gist question was to listen for whether Marco’s theory was for winning a girl or getting rid of her. It seemed to be the former, but there turned out to be a twist, which we discovered on listening to the second part. Conveniently enough, the song was full of imperatives and pronouns, which C exploited by getting us to try and complete the gapped text with these; first from memory and then listening to check. This was followed by a similar activity based on the second part of the song, but this time focusing on prepositions.

So this was a task-based lesson, with the main task being production of a recipe and the work with the song being post-task focus on form activities. The non-linguistic outcome was, of course, the recipe. The language focus was imperatives and pronouns, which C encouraged us to use in our recipe production, so it was an overt language focus. I suppose, therefore, purists might argue that because we were guided towards use of a particular form (i.e. imperatives and pronouns), which we had been studying, that it was more a language practice activity than a task. However, there was definitely a non-linguistic outcome, with an opinion gap which required collaboration and negotiation in order to complete the task. Or, perhaps it might be that the recipe activity wasn’t the main task; it was a pre-task activity, with the main task being the work with the song. In which case you could perhaps argue that the completed song was the non-linguistic outcome?

I was thinking an alternative approach could be:

  • to start with a brief discussion about what makes relationships successful or unsuccessful
  • use that as a springboard to elicit/brainstorm/board relevant vocabulary, useful verbs and nouns (pre-task activity)
  • then do the recipe activity as the main task, but with no overt form-focus (interestingly, to me anyway, in this case, as we had done the recipe activity the previous day, that would have acted as a facilitating activity [I remember Willis and Willis in Doing Task-based teaching saying that pre-task preparation can carry over from a previous lesson], which would hopefully mean that what we produced in the main task would be less ‘impoverished’ [common criticism of TBL output] than it might have been otherwise!)
  • and then input the song, keeping the gist stage that we had, whereby we discovered the twist in it, then treat the first verse as a dictogloss, so that we would try to reconstruct it from key words noted down
  • and then compare our reconstruction with the transcript, with relevant focus on form emerging at this stage
  • and finally go back to our main-task recipes and upgrade them based on what we had gleaned from the song (enter, at this point, hopefully, all the wonderful form focus work that emerged from this activity when we did it with C!)

I love that there are so many different ways of using a given set of materials (in this case, a song text) and I think the way C used it was very creative. I especially liked how the recipe theme carried over from the previous lesson, giving the lessons a non-grammatical link/flow. And thinking that brings to mind another can of worms: planning over a series of lessons, as well as within individual lessons! There is so much to think about as a teacher…

Teacher Take-away

Here is the customary subjective summary of what I learnt…

  • Tasks with a non-linguistic outcome are a Good Thing. From a student point of view it doesn’t matter whether or not they strictly speaking fit the criteria of a task according to purists.
  • Focusing on language that emerges from a task is a Good Thing. (E.g. in this case the imperatives and pronouns emerging from the recipe-writing) …Especially with a teacher who does it well. 🙂
  • Continuity of theme/topic, not only of grammar structure, is a Good Thing.
  • It’s fun doing songs in class! (This is something I should do more of…a challenge?!)
  • There are countless ways of using the same materials. As a T, this week has made me think more about alternative ways. Good to get out of a rut?
  • Prepositions are a bitch! 😉 (But it is motivating when you are the only one to figure out what the correct preposition is before listening! Of course I have now forgotten both the verb and preposition in question…)
  • Sometimes things happen outside a lesson that affect how you participate in that lesson. That’s life. Learner life doesn’t cease to exist when inside the classroom.
  • I’m now a fan of TBL from student point of view as well as from teacher point of view!

Final reflections

Some might think I’ve been overly critical of C’s teaching in this reflective journal and that therefore I didn’t find the course good, but it’s not true:

Firstly, I feel a lot more secure in my understanding and use of pronouns. Not just in terms of form, but also pronunciation. (I won’t forget ‘glielo’ and yellow!)  I’ve also picked up a fair bit of new vocabulary, both words and chunks. (I want to try out the story recounting chunks, I might try it with my storyonics cards! And maybe also if/when I start private lessons again, [still to be confirmed…]). So as a linguistic exercise, it has been recognisably very valuable. Am very jealous of the students who get to spend a month in this class! 😉

Secondly, I’ve experienced a wide range of activity types and teaching techniques from a learner’s point of view, which for me has been very interesting. Of course my reaction to any given activity or technique is very subjective. But experiencing my reactions to activities and techniques, to things that arise in the classroom, to lessons as a whole, will hopefully make me that bit more empathic and responsive to the reactions that I notice in my learners when I teach.

Finally, not only is C clearly a born teacher, but she has a lot more teaching experience than I have, and so from this point of view I’ve found participating in the lessons a very valuable learning experience – lots of activities to ‘steal’ and techniques to try out, but also, in attempting to evaluate my experience of the lessons, trying to think critically about my experience, I’ve enabled myself to ‘steal’ not only things that actually happened but also additional possibilities. For me, teaching is about endless possibilities, puzzle pieces that can be put together in different ways and bring out different pictures, depending on who is in the classroom at the time. I now look forward to experimenting (further!) with my own puzzle pieces, based on all the new possibilities that have opened up in my mind as a consequence of joining this Italian class for a week. Lucky me! 🙂

Thank you, C, for letting me into your class for a week: it was great!! And thank you IHPA giving me the opportunity to flog myself with being a full-time language learner AND teacher all at the same time. Utterly exhausting but oh so worth it and something I would highly recommend to any teacher who has the opportunity to do so. Spending some time in a classroom as a learner, you learn ever such a lot about teaching, as well as of the target language itself, in the process: it really is time well-spent.

All of us ss and t together: Happy language learners, lucky to have such a good teacher! :)

All of us ss and t together: Happy language learners, lucky to have such a good teacher! 🙂