Pura Vida Dogme

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Hello everyone and thank you for visiting the Pura Vida Dogme action research blog.

Pura Vida Dogme is our humble attempt to capture dogme in action in our specific context – Costa Rican adults in a small group, volunteering their time twice a week for four months.  As a free volunteer project, there are no institutional constraints, coursebooks, necessary evaluations, etc.  Just the students, the teachers, and opportunities for learning.

Below you’ll find posts after every class, describing what happened and our thoughts on what went well or could have been improved.  Hopefully you’ll find this look into Dogme in Latin America interesting, and please feel free to leave any comments or suggestions.

If you’d like to know more about us or the school, please visit the About Us section of the site, and if you’d like to know more about the project, please feel free to send us an email.

Thank you and enjoy!

Class 17 and 18: Not with a whimper…

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It’s taken a while, but now that I’ve made it through my first week in Dubai, I finally have a chance to reflect on my final class with the Pura Vida Dogme group.  I’m calling this one class 17 and 18 as it included a two-hour class followed by two hours conversation in English in the local cantina – something I’ll sorely miss…

Right from the get go

Walking into class, it was clear what the students had on their mind.  They knew it was my last class (Chris was going to finish off the course), and wanted to know how we were going to celebrate.  Since they all seemed to be pub-going folk, functional language for drinking establishments seemed to be a sensible direction for the class.

After about 20 minutes of lexis review exercises, the main part of the lesson went something like this:

Talking about pubs

  • Quick discussion of what cantinas are called in English (UK and US)
  • Pairs made a list of all the qualities of an excellent bar and boarded them
  • Groups of 4 had to compare and combine their lists before choosing the 5 most important qualities (this list was then compared to mine and Chris’ very short list)
  • A bit of clarification, reformulation, drilling and correction of the new lexis that had come up

I felt like this part of the lesson went over well and was another one of my preferred mini-TBL cycles.  However, while it provoked discussion and led to some useful lexis, it still felt like they hadn’t had much opportunity for challenging speaking practice involving new language.  So…

Talking in pubs

  • Class brainstorm of when they would need to speak in English in a pub (asking for a drink, chatting up a girl, finding the washroom, etc.)
  • Pairs came up with all the exponents they could think of and boarded them
  • Clarification stage in which we categorized by register and I added a few exponents I thought they might find useful
  • Pairs wrote dialogues in pairs, trying to use the new language
  • Performed the dialogues in front of the class
  • Minimal delayed feedback to finish

Canchis Canchis

And off we went to the local cantina.  Drinking Imperial, eating Chicharrones, and watching Costa Rican music videos from the 1980’s.  If you haven’t seen Canchis Canchis, I highly recommend you click here.

Anyways, it was a great informal wrap up to my part of the course, in large part because two of the more loyal students had a lot to say.  Both had unexpectedly checked out this blog and were curious as to what Dogme was.  As we talked, they described how it was different, and here were some of the points they made:

On the positive side

  • Highly enjoyed the course
  • Liked the focus on lexis
  • Loved the amount of speaking
  • Liked that everything was based around them
  • Liked the small number of students

However…

  • Didn’t feel like it would work so well with beginners
  • Didn’t feel it would work with non-native speakers
  • Didn’t feel as much pressure to do homework as there was no assessment (and consequently didn’t do as much at home)

Rather than analyze these comments now, I think I’ll wait for their learner diaries and final course evaluations to be turned in and write up another post then.  Instead, I’ll leave you with a small clip of the final class (unsteadily shot on my phone).  Thanks D and F!

Class 12: The Scottish Accent: Easier Than American

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This class was all about accents. There’s a number of different examples of these floating about the class, given that Ben’s Canadian, I’m Scottish and the group are Costa Ricans. Such exposure surely can’t be a bad thing.

Accentuate the difficulties

I actually can’t remember how the topic came up now, as my notes are not the most complete from this class. That said, I do know that they started talking about my accent versus the much more predominant US version in this part of the world. Well, I say US version, I don’t think I’ve met two Americans here with the same accent, but they all seem to get lumped together as US, in the same was that someone from Newcastle and London have a British accent (I, oddly, don’t, having it would seem, a Scottish accent, but I digress..).

And so the discussion continued, with the differences between the various English accents the group is familiar with being expanded and commented upon. You’ll be glad to know that ‘the Scottish accent’ is seemingly quite easy to follow, which I’ll take as a compliment to my language grading, as most native speakers tend to tell you otherwise (though that’s another debate about greater cultural issues). From here, I then asked the group to think about Costa Rica and decide upon the most difficult accents here. As usual, the Caribbean was highlighted as being particularly tricky.

But where are all the comparatives?

It would seem natural in a discussion comparing different things to use some language for comparison. Given that this wasn’t happening, I went for this as the emergent language. Indeed, in the whole discussion, the only attempted comparative structure was “they are closer to the border, they speak more Nicaraguan“, which certainly conveys the intended meaning, but not exactly 100% naturally. At this point, just as I was about to go over some lexical phrases for comparing, Freddy asked for clarification of the pattern of 2+ syllables taking “more”, while 1 syllable adjectives take “-er” when forming comparatives. We quickly went over this, as they seemed to know it, and discussed less clear-cut examples such as “fun” (it seems to get treated as a noun) and “handsome”, which someone pointed out seems to go both ways. I thus felt justified in my selection of comparatives as the emergent language and went on to present other ways of comparing.

When I work on comparative forms, I usually do it by sorting them into “a big difference”, “no difference” and “a small difference” with one or two other bits and pieces thrown in. We ended up with (there were accompanying examples but I don’t have a photo for this class):

A big difference + [comparative form]

  • considerably
  • a lot
  • a great deal
  • way

No difference

  • as [adjective] as
  • no [comparative form] than

A small difference + [comparative form]

  • slightly
  • a little
  • a bit
  • a little bit

We also went over sentence stress and register too and added further examples using the accents context established earlier and through reformulating some of their ideas at the board.

You should know this already, it’s in the pre-int book

Interestingly, for a group who’d you think would’ve had few problems with this area, they were unable to provide any modifying forms at all, such as “a little”, “a lot”, etc.  This is one aspect of teaching where Dogme really comes into its own in my opinion. The group would probably have tested at an intermediate or lower upper int level and be working with a textbook which would more than likely assume they knew such forms already. Well, they didn’t. Hence, expanding their range meant starting from there and then building. This is what emerged from the class and with no assumption on my part of any prior knowledge they ‘should have’ had. The focus on emergent language was thus specific to this group with their needs at that time and was, to my mind, more useful for them. Oh, grammar McNuggets, wherefore art thou?

Time to have heated a debate

To practise the structures, I asked the group to do 2 different activities

The first: write 5 sentences about different accents using the new language that they felt least sure of. They then had to read each their sentences to the group and justify them, with the others able to debate them using a comparative structure in some way.

The second is a bit more difficult

  1. With strips of paper, each person writes two things to compare, one on the left, one on the right, such as “Men / Women” or “Costa Rica / USA”.
  2. I take the strips and distribute them randomly, with each person having to argue that what they get is better in some way. Thus, if you get “men” and you’re a woman, you still have to argue that men are better in some way.
  3. I go over some simple and slightly exaggerated lexical phrases for refuting what’s been said, such as “you must be joking!” or “no way!”.
  4. The debates begin. Each time an appropriate comparative is used, I give it a tick at the board. When we get to, say, 5 ticks, that piece can’t be used again.
  5. When it seems a group has exhausted their debate, I give them another card to start again with.

This activity is always quite engaging and can really work well with the right group, though it can difficult and requires some imagination. Some groups just don’t go for it, but if you know your class you can get a feel for what they like and I think this class appreciated the challenge and we ended up spending about 20mins on it. There then followed some delayed error correction and clarification, and that was that. Home time, or in my case off to the pub for a ceviche and a chat, but it’s all ultimately the same thing..

Initial survey – Motivations and preferences

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Here are the results from the second survey we conducted during the second class of the course.  You can see the procedure for how it was administered here.

Unfortunately, two of our students have still yet to complete the questionnaire, which I suppose tells us something about their motivation and preferences when it comes to homework!

Survey1 A

Survey1 B

Survey1 C

Survey1 D

As with the other survey, our analysis will be posted soon.

Initial survey – Previous learning experience

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This was the first survey administered as part of the first class.  For a full description of how it was used in class, you can see the Class 1 summary here.

Here are links to our core six students’ results:

Survey1 A

Survey1 B

Survey1 C

Survey1 D

Survey1 E

Survey1 F

Analysis of the results to follow…

Class 15: Bongs and reported speech

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After selling my bed in preparation for the upcoming move, I hadn’t had much sleep the previous night.  Hopefully this didn’t overly affect my class, but I’m sure it wasn’t my finest hour…

Courts and pitches and rinks, oh my

Walking into the class, the three early students were, not surprisingly, talking about the national football championship game that had just taken place.  One learner immediately asked whether the correct term was soccer field and we took it from there:

  • Elicited types of sports grounds onto board – field, court, rink, etc.
  • Students boarded sports played in each
  • As a class clarified meaning and drilled pronunciation

Serious recycling

Now that we had some language to work with up on the board, I thought we could practice some of the lexis from previous lessons.  In particular, it was a chance to work on exponents for giving opinions and giving reasons from last class, and the comparative structures from a couple of weeks ago.  In groups of 3…

  • Students tried to remember phrases from last class, wrote them on mini whiteboards, and checked their notes to see if they had forgotten any
  • Student A chose two of the sports from the board for his group members
  • Students B and C argued the merits of their respective sports
  • At random intervals, Student A held up a mini whiteboard and the speaker had to try to incorporate the lexis

At this point nothing new to work on had jumped out at me, but luckily I had some backup…

Phelps

Having been talking about sports, it seemed like a good moment to bring out an article about the swimmer Michael Phelps that a student had emailed me a few weeks ago and that I hadn’t had a chance to use in class yet.

  • Gist task – Ss quickly read article and wrote possible titles.  During feedback they chose their favourite (Phelps, the road ahead was the winner)
  • Detailed reading – As there was a lot of biographical information, I had groups try to create timelines of his life
  • Inferring meaning – Each student chose one unfamiliar word and the class tried to work out the meaning from context

The students seemed to enjoy the reading tasks and the article and were very interested in Phelps’ suspension for getting caught using a bong.  This also tied in nicely with the discussion from last class involving the ethics of drug use.

Reporting verbs

In the article there were a number of direct quotations, and I noticed that no one was reporting them using any verb other than said.  So…

  • Students underlined all the quotations
  • Put first sentence on board and elicited how they would report it (with said)
  • There were no issues with changing the tenses or pronouns, so we went straight into looking at other reporting verbs
  • Elicited and checked meaning of reporting verbs used in the article (acknowledge, add, clarify) and a few others I thought might be useful (decide, threaten, beg, request, remind, promise, admit)
  • Students went through article and wrote reported the direct quotations using appropriate reporting verbs

Unfortunately, this took longer than anticipated and there was no time for freer practice of the language.  I would have liked to play a material-free version of one of Hadfield’s games, in which two students play angry neighbours/friends/etc. and need a mediator to go back and forwards between them.  This will have to wait for next time I suppose.

Upon reflection

Looking back over my lesson summary, I like it on paper much better than I liked it at the time.  I don’t have any real issues with any of the tasks I selected or the execution, but the class wasn’t as dynamic or enjoyable as it normally is.  This could well have been due to my own energy level, or maybe there’s something else I’m missing.  Any ideas?

Class 10: You’ll Get Used To Riding Camels

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This was a class that started with a discussion about the merits of bank machines, as I’d just visited one and it had failed to give me the 12,000 Colones (about $24) it said it had given me.  I don’t think I’ll be going to Banco Popular again was the somewhat inevitable conclusion. Anyway, like the topic of a Dogme class, I digress..

Recycle, Recycling, Recycled

Ben’s previous class had dealt with certain aspects of word formation that emerged as problematic from the group’s writing. So, after the above conversation, we revised this as follows

  • individual learners reconstructed the word formation table as best they could from memory
  • compare with each other in groups
  • groups then re-write the table on board
  • discussion of problematic examples, such as the pronunciation of “studious” or the adjective “weighty”, lots of CCQs, drilling, etc
  • individuals choose 3 words they find most problematic and write a sentence with them

As usual, I’d hoped for some language to emerge during this activity, but nothing came up.

But They Wanted to Know About Me

Isn’t it fascinating how learners always want to seem to know something about you, or about each other, rather than letting word formation get in the way? Remember those book-bound lessons when such moments would arise and you’d have to cut them short to get to the next practice as you had to finish unit 3? Well, possibly the best things about Dogme is that you don’t have to do that. You can take those moments and run with them, see where they go, let the learners ask questions and converse about what they want and then use that as the basis for any language work, and not the other way round. Well, that’s exactly what happened here.

The class knew that Ben was going to Dubai and so they started asking me what I was going to do. They were somewhat surprised to learn that I was going to the same school and that Ben would again be my boss. I must admit, I was somewhat surprised by that too, but the ELT world is a strange one… Anyway, I seized my opportunity and asked the group what they thought Ben and his wife would find different in Dubai compared with Costa Rica, following on from Ben’s previous class. This didn’t really work at all, as they kept talking about what I would find strange, but in the end it’s more or less the same.

It became apparent that there was a gap in their knowledge concerning the structure “be used to + Ving” to mean “be accustomed to sth”. There were some errors “they used to kissing in the street” and one or two learners simply avoided the form altogether, when it would have been the best way to express what they wanted. Nobody at all used a “get used + Ving” structure.

In order to scaffold the conversation and keep it going in this direction, we did the following

  • I asked them to write a list of 6 strange things in Dubai and 6 normal things here in Costa Rica.
  • The groups then compared lists and justified what they’d written,  with me feeding in lexis where appropriate.
  • We discussed them all as a class and continued the conversation
  • I then did a presentation of “be used to + Ving” at the board, using some of their ideas, eliciting/providing sentences such as “Chris is used to hearing noise!” (see picture below for more). There were the usual CCQs, raising awareness of and drilling of connected speech, etc.
  • As a bit of an experiment, I then built up a similar set of examples using Dubai, but this time referencing the future with sentences such as “Chris’ll never get used to living in a hot place” (see picture). We did this almost entirely lexically and I think it went well.

Time to Practise

To practise the structure, we did a couple of different activities, which I’ll now outline

  1. Individuals write as many sentences as they can in 10mins using the Dubai/Costa Rica contrast. Teacher monitors and supports. Compare in groups, justifying what’s been written. Whole class discussion. Feedback at board.
  2. Using examples on the board, teacher removes the grammar. That is to say, takes out some grammar words (“is”, “used to”, Ving”, etc), different ones from different sentences. Groups reconstruct sentences, filling in the grammar. Feedback to each at board, with pron/stress work too and discussion of different possibilities.
  3. Individuals write 8 sentences about themselves using the structure. Compare with partner. Justify, ask follow up questions, etc. Full class discussion
  4. Delayed error correction from previous activities at the board, using both good and bad examples.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

And then it was the end of the class, a class I thoroughly enjoyed and one which I think really benefited the group, as well as being engaging for them. There was a clear gap in their knowledge which emerged as the conversation continued. They enjoyed coming up with sentences about me and they were using the emergent language well at the end. We’ll see if it sticks, but I’m confident that the context will be memorable and the fact that they came up with sentences about riding camels, chatting up women, women in veils, which I didn’t provide, should help them recall again later. It all came from them.

On a personal reflective note, I did find that I talked more than usual in this class. This was because they kept asking me questions about me and I answered them as honestly and fully as I could. This is perhaps an inherent issue of concern in Dogme, and one which I have come across before with another teacher who thought Dogme was him just talking to to his students for 3 hours. The thing is, the learners wanted to know, they were interested and engaged, and I suppose this meant they got some meaningful listening practice too, but I felt slightly uncomfortable after about 10mins. I’m happy to talk with my groups and I often have good conversations with them, but I was conscious that I wanted to move on and get them talking, while at the same time not appearing to kill the conversation and their interest. I moved into the listing task (6 strange things in Dubai) as a means of doing this, and it seemed to work really well. Something to bear in mind in the future.

Class 13: Bacon zucchini ice-cream

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For last night’s class, I decided to go for a more deep-end dogme approach.  While sometimes I have a listening or reading text or some sort of lesson skeleton or speaking task, I decided to see what would happen without my usual supports.  The only material I had brought with me were a few slips of paper which the class had created and been using last class to practice comparatives; these said things like Chinese food | Costa Rican food.

Just-the-word.com

As I was chatting with the early students, one of them asked about how to use the word bitter (it had come up the previous class and was in his notes).  I thought this was a good opportunity to show the students a useful website for finding collocations (thank you @jemjemgardner !).  The stage went something like this:

  • Elicit word/phrase the students are interested in (from previous class)
  • Students predict collocations
  • Put word/phrase into just-the-word.com (on my phone)
  • Write up most common collocations and check predictions (see pic)
  • Look at corpus examples provided for further clarification
  • Students make sentences/tell stories from personal experience using the new collocations

Having never used a corpus site, I was pleased with how it went and the students’ reactions.  In the future I would also try another practice activity where the teacher writes up/reads out examples from the corpus but leaves out the collocation and the students fill in the blanks (the things we think of immediately following class…).

Comparative review

Next we moved on to a quick practice that got cut short last class (see Chris’ Class 12 summary for details) involving comparative phrases like a great deal more, way more, slightly more, etc.  The students already knew the drill and got right into it, debating enthusiastically and using the new language well.

During the activity, they often stopped to ask me how to say various food related adjectives including greasy, familiar, and chopped.  As a result, the focus for the rest of the class was a combination of food lexis and comparatives.

Extending their foodie range

As they hadn’t been having issues coming up with actual food items, I decided it would be more useful to look at lexis for describing food and meals:

  • Write categories on the board and elicit examples form class: Food groups, Ways to cook, Courses, Types of food, Flavours, Adjectives
  • Students brainstorm other lexical items and write them on the board
  • Class clarification with existing items and teacher inputs some other useful items

  • Practice #1   Favourite meal recipe
  1. students tell class their favourite meals
  2. students write recipes for each others’ favourite meals
  3. students check back with their partner to see how well they did
  4. debating whose meal was the best (using comparatives from earlier)

  • Practice # 2    Inventive desserts
  1. elicit 8-10 random food items onto board
  2. groups create desserts using all the items and share with class

Nothing like a wine and chocolate covered ice-cream sundae, topped with crispy fried bacon and zucchini…

Wrap-up

Amazingly, the two hours had flown by and we just had enough time to do an error correction auction.  I had remembered to bring in my little mini whiteboards (just laminated bits of card), and the learners used them to write their answers and wagers and before all holding them up at the same time.

Once again I knew that I hadn’t drilled as much as I probably should have, so we quickly went over the pronunciation of some of the lesson’s new lexis.

Musings

The more I do these completely unplanned dogme lessons, the more confidence I gain that I won’t be stranded mid-class with no idea of what to do.  It does seem though that for certain language points or for more in-depth receptive skills work, that a greater degree of planning would be useful.

However, I see no reason why some pre-planning, leading to “dogme-light” lessons can’t follow the same basic principles, which in the end is really the idea right?  As this project nears its conclusion, I can see my own thoughts on the topic gelling and I can imagine that I’ll probably end up with a stance straddling both deep-end dogme and dogme-principled teaching (“a meshing of Dogme and Guided Discovery” as Neil McMahon put it).  Reading back that last paragraph, I’m not entirely sure of its coherence, but maybe that’s an accurate reflection of my current thoughts…

Class 8: My Dog(me) Ate it, Honest!

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You may have noticed that these blog entries are a bit out of order at times. The reason for this is that Ben is simply far more organised than I am and writes his much more quickly than I do (like, it’s not even close..). Anyway, here follows a brief summary of class 8, which ended up focusing on being made redundant and third conditionals.

All aboard the train to Belén

We started the class with the groups briefly summarising the article they’d done in class 7 about a newly inaugurated commuter train service here in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. This was to ensure some continuity between the classes, recycle related lexis, further exploit the text, help me learn more about what had been discussed in class 7 and as a means of searching for potential emergent language. The exercise went as follows

  • Tell your partner all you can remember about the article
  • Read quickly and check
  • Discuss differences/things they’d forgotten with partner
  • Put article away and make very brief notes to summarise
  • Pairs decide who will say what
  • Present summary of article to me and other groups
  • Class discussion of differences, etc.

This was quite an enjoyable exercise and the groups found the summarising part a real challenge, which they all managed very well I have to say. It reminded me of the prepare and report stages of the TBL cycle, but alas I didn’t see much language or range issues to focus the class on. And so on we went.

My dog(me) ate it, honest!

The above led to a discussion of a recent problem the Costa Rican president’s husband had when he was stopped by traffic police without a licence.  From this, the class had a laugh about the farcical nature of this story and then told me that the first man’s (that term exists, right?) excuse was that he’s forgotten his licence. They then started talking about how stupid his excuse was and what excuses they’d have made. I noticed a distinct lack of any unreal conditionals here and, when used, errors such as using the so-called 2nd conditional where the 3rd would’ve been correct and form errors such as “I would making…”. Some language had emerged.

In groups, I asked them to prepare a list of excuses that the first man would have been better using. This they did and then we used some of these to move into a presentation stage, starting with the 3rd and then comparing it with the second. Their excuses were quite good fun, along the lines of “my dog ate it”, “a bird flew in and stole it” and other more Costa Rican examples such as “offer 10,000 Colones to the police”. The sentences we got for the presentation were along the lines of

  • If I had been in the car, I’d have said a bird flew in an stole my licence
  • If I had been driving without a licence, I’d have given the police 10,000 Colones
  • I’d have said that my dog ate the licence (if I had been in his position)

I present these quite lexically, drawing attention to patterns and highlighting just the past participle really. We also marked stress, drilled the sentences focusing on connected speech and of course I kept checking meaning throughout.

To practice this, they then had to go back to all their excuses (they had about 6 each) and write a sentence about each one using the new grammar and focusing on accuracy. These were then compared and discussed and relevant areas clarified/expanded upon.

But then, I lost my job

The lesson had a sort of hiatus at this point when one of the group asked me about my former place of work. Just that very day, I had accepted a job in IH Dubai, where I will be going in a few weeks. This is because the school here is closing and the group was naturally quite interested in this, with the school being really quite famous in San José. They wanted to know what was going on, what I was doing, etc, and this led to quite an interesting discussion about being made redundant, losing your job and potential problems.

In order to bring this back round to where I was going with the grammar practice, I asked the group to imagine they were me when I’d found out at a meeting 2 days previous that I was being made redundant. I elicited some sentence stems along the lines of

  • If I’d been at the meeting…
  • If I’d just lost my job…
  • If I had been going to classes at X…

We ended up with about 8 sentence stems, which the class completed individually before comparing with a partner and discussing/justifying each one. We got some favourites out to the board and discussed these as a group, highlighting interesting lexis/collocations and going over changing the order of the clauses.

How was it for you?

For me, the most interesting aspect of this class was the way the topic changed so abruptly right in the middle of a practice of the emergent language. This happened because the group was genuinely interested in what was happening in my life and wanted to know more. However, rather than this being detrimental to the flow of the class, it actually turned out to be advantageous as it gave me another opportunity for a practice activity with a different focus, using the new topic. Losing your job is something nobody wants to experience and everyone can relate to it, meaning (I hope!) that the sentences we got at the end of the class were all the more memorable. I’ll find out today in class 12, when we recycle this…

Class 11: Hallucinating relative clauses

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Last night I learnt the truth of the cliché “Be careful what you wish for”.  After hoping for an opportunity to deal with a classic meaty bit of grammar, yesterday’s class allowed me to tackle relative clauses, a classic language point I’ve taught countless times.  And yet…

Lead-in

  • Early students asked me about my dog who (whom?!) they knew was travelling to Canada that day
  • I handed back writing assignments and pairs worked out the corrections
  • Class feedback looking at ways to clarify some confusing sentences from the assignments

During this last part and the ensuing discussion, it became clear that some of the students were feeling discouraged because they wanted their writing to sound more sophisticated and complex, but it was ending up confused and garbled.  It was at this point that I decided we could look at relative clauses as a means of helping them produce more complex sentences while still maintaining clear syntax.

Dealing with the language

  • Elicited the target language playing taboo using our lexical cards (I gave the sentence stem ‘This is something…’) I chose examples of people, places, things, feelings, etc. to elicit different relative pronouns and clauses
  • Terrible clarification stage (see description below)
  • Groups continued playing taboo
  • Spread out the cards on the table and the class created a chain story, one student/one short sentence at a time (see pic)
  • Pairs rewrote the stories, combining sentences, embellishing, and adding information using relative clauses

Overall, I was happy with the language point I had selected to work on and the practice activities which were engaging, productive, and recycled lexis from previous classes.  The stories were wonderful and you can see two of them below:

However, the clarification stage was a mess and the only reason students were able to do the practice tasks so well was that the language point was already somewhat familiar to them.  In particular, while we did manage to deal with which pronoun to use in which situation, we never looked at a number of key aspects including defining/non-defining clauses, when the pronoun can be omitted, confusion between when/that, etc.

This was one of the very few cases where I feel that if I had had a good coursebook with a strong guided-discovery box, then the students would have benefited more.  I would chalk this up to my own shortcomings and lack of experience with this language point in an unplugged context, rather than any limitations of dogme, but it does make me wonder: with these types of language points, how realistic is it to assume that a teacher can succinctly deal with all relevant aspects and provide appropriate practice without any pre-planning?  I’m not the most experienced teacher, but if after 9 years I find this challenging, how difficult would it be for a new teacher?

Finishing off the class

At the end, we still had a little time left so I had them write in their learner diaries and then, as one of them wanted to see a picture of my dog, we did a little class picture dictation with a photo on my phone leading to some hilarious artistic results.

Class 9: Dogme, Dogmetic, Dogmetician

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Well tonight’s class definitely had a different dynamic, although I’m not sure that this was necessarily an improvement.  But more about that later…

Student compositions

After the usual chat to start, I handed back some student compositions.  I had decided to only underline the errors and write some comments at the end without any correction codes as they’re a pretty strong group:

  • Pair students and hand back compositions
  • Monitor and answer questions while students peer/self edited their work
  • Board a few examples of good language use and a few of the common problems to clarify as a class

At this stage it was clear that word formation was definitely an issue as there were numerous errors that they couldn’t correct including things like ‘to safe’, ‘to success’, ‘a prestige university’, etc,  so this is what I decided to focus on.

That being said, there was no real context as the language point came out of various disparate individual texts rather a class discussion.  As a result, the next stage focussing on language felt drier and more academic than I (or the students) would have liked.  How could this have been more engaging, motivating, cohesive?

Playing Gato

To get a better sense of what knowledge the learners already possessed, I decided to have a little impromptu test-teach-test sort of cycle (the kind which @ChrisOzog avoids!).

  • Groups gave me one noun, one verb, and one adjective from their compositions
  • Class played tic-tac-toe (U.S.) / Noughts and crosses (U.K.) / Gato (Costa Rica)
  • In each square was a word, e.g. religion and to get the X or O the team had to first tell me the other form of the word (I decided which part of speech) and make an example sentence.  If no one knew, I would replace the word with another and we would keep going
  • At the end we drew a grid on the board with all the words from the game and their compositions and the learners tried to complete it (see pic)
  • For a bit of practice, we played Two truths and a lie with each statement using at least one of the words and the conditional structures Chris had looked at in the previous class

Useful?  Maybe.  Magical and uplifting?  Far from it.

All you need is love

Thankfully one of the students had emailed me a Beatles tune and I had brought the lyrics, so we delved into an enjoyable bit of music for the last 30 minutes of class.

  • Mind map on board with brainstorming about the Beatles
  • Listened to the first verse, students wrote down 3 important words, then compared (I’ll freely admit this was a terrible and poorly-conceived gist task)
  • Listened again and fixed all the errors with verb patterns and conjugations I had included in the lyric sheet
  • Quick discussion about their interpretation of the lyrics

*    I was running short on time but was eager to do an activity suggested in the comments of an earlier blog post involving having students script a music video for the song.  I think this will be the intro/review for next class.

All you need is love Part 2

With 10 minutes left I looked at the window and saw that my wife had come early to pick me up and was waiting in the car.  Earlier we had been talking about how my wife will adjust to living in Dubai, so I decided to invite her in as a guest resource.  Everyone was eager to ask questions to a fellow Tica moving to the Arab word and it was a nice, meaningful way to end the lesson.

This class was definitely a tale of two halves.  For next week I’ll focus on making sure that I don’t sacrifice conversation and contextualised lexis for the sake of an obvious nugget of language work.

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