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Well after last week’s mini class, I was happy to at least have seven students last night.  As usual, a few things went well and a few things I would definitely do differently.  If someone could just invent a time machine already, I’m sure the quality of ELT in the world would rise dramatically…

Opening Discussion

Nothing fancy here – coming back after Easter break, we had two groups discussing their holidays.  With a few prompts on the board to help them along (Where? With whom? Activities?, etc.), the learners got going.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear the learners who did attend last class trying to use some of the descriptive language we had looked at.  Amazingly gratifying when it happens!

Taboo

Next to recycle some lexis, I passed out the student-made lexical cards (which are quickly adding up).  In groups again they played taboo, describing their words to the group.

Although this was fun and focused on meaning, it didn’t actually provide much real practice.  For next class I’ll need to think of some other use for the lexical cards.  I did like however that the students who had missed the last class were surprised at everything they had missed and eager to catch up, while the other students seemed proud of their new vocab and knowledge.

Article discussion

One of the students who had volunteered last class brought in an article from the local English paper.  To start, I wrote the headline on the board, Residents Divided on Turtle Hatchery Program, and we went over the meaning of to hatch/a hatchery.  Then, pairs wrote up three questions to ask ‘the expert’, while the expert asked me about some of the difficult vocab from the article.  Then we had a Q&A session and everyone seemed genuinely interested in the topic.

Because of this interest and the built-in pro’s and con’s of the topic, I decided to set up mini debates (I had been reading @dalecoulter / @phil3wade ‘s post about debates and it obviously stuck).  First, the two groups, for and against, brainstormed five reasons and boarded them.  Then, after a little clarification and correction (see blurry pic below), the class broke off into pairs to debate.  To build in a bit of task repetition and fluency practice, I gave them 2 minutes for the first round.  Next they switched partners but only had 1 minute to make their case.  Finally, they switched partners again and had 30 seconds.  Not only did they gain confidence with each round, but the increased pressure of the time limits added to the excitement and urgency.  To bring the task to a close, learners gave feedback about the best reason their opponents had presented them with.

This was easily my favourite part of the class as there was lots of engagement, student interaction, and language emerging naturally.  Best of all, it all came from a local article of interest, brought in by a student.  And although there was no prior planning, the activities in no way felt vague or aimless.  This one was a keeper.

Song

Having done a lot of speaking and a little reading and writing so far, I had thought we could do a bit of listening.  To lead in, I put some discussion prompts on the board and in two lines the learners had short discussions.  I don’t like to write full questions as I prefer that the learners grammaticize (sp?) the prompts and form the questions themselves.  The prompts included:

  • Favourite song/band/type of music?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • How you feel?
  • Memories?
  • Same as when you were a child?

So far so good.  Then it was time for some listening – I had brought in a song The fool by The Hepcats as it has been stuck in my head recently.  To begin, they listened to the first verse and tried to determine the type of music, instruments, adjectives to describe it, and theme.  Despite the difficulty level of the listening, with a little repetition and peer checking they handled this well.

Now, time for a dogme confession – I brought in the lyrics.  To be honest, I’ve been trying to stay handout free (other than our research questionnaires), but without the lyrics my list of song activities shrinks considerably.  Any help in this regard would be very welcome.  Worse still, my activity had a pre-planned language focus (contractions).  True it was something that the learners had struggled with last class, but it still didn’t sit right with me.

Basically, the song is full of contractions but I had typed up the lyrics without them.  Students then had to add the contractions as they listened.  After some class feedback, the learners practiced reading the lyrics in pairs.  This worked well as the song has a two part call and answer anyways, much like a jazz chant.

My justification I suppose is that I wanted to provide a model for the first song of the course.  From here on in the learners will be bringing in the songs that interest them.  I’m rationalizing I know, but we all slip sometimes…

Considerations

What went well:

  • conversation arising from student-selected article and engaging speaking tasks
  • emergent lexis related to music (instruments, genres, etc.) and subsequent use
  • task repetition and fluency practice

What could be improved:

  • How I can exploit listening texts in a material-light manner that allows for students’ language needs to emerge naturally
  • Overreliance on discussion questions on the board – try to vary format of discussion questions
  • Ensure that opportunities are provided for more real practice of recycled lexis

Live and learn…

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