Class 6 was my first actual class with the group, following on from number 4 which more of a half class with the level exam in the second part. Ben and a friend on mine, Steph, were observing and I had 7 learners. The wet season appeared to have started and 3-in-a-row champions Alajuela were just about to be eliminated from the national football league (it seems there is a God..). And with all that in mind, off we went..
I started the class with some recycling activities to revise lexis from the cards. These were as follows
- Split the cards in half and give each half to the 2 groups. The groups then look at the lexis and put them in two separate piles, 1 “we know these” and 2 “we’re not so sure”. We tried this first with no reference to their lexical notebooks and then I asked them to check what they thought.
- Swap the piles and do the same activity again, asking the 2nd group to define the words the first group weren’t sure about, if they can. Otherwise, note down which ones are difficult for both groups.
- Feedback with the difficult ones and some of the lexis put in the “we know this” pile. You can then ask the learners which ones to take out of the cards as they’re now “easy” and remove them. Of course, you keep a note of what you’ve removed to focus on again in the future, but this helps give a sense of progress and achievement and puts the focus on the group to make such judgements about their own learning.
- A board rush activity. This involves making teams and then having the learners run to the board to write the target word. Whichever team does it first - with correct spelling – gets the point. The way I did it this time was to read a definition or example to the group, who decided on the correct word and then wrote it. Feedback to this involves CCQs, synonyms/antonyms etc, eliciting stress and drilling.
The importance of recycling is well documented in Teaching Unplugged (among other works) with my own belief being that recycling is of absolute paramount importance, especially in contexts like here in Costa Rica where the learners will not use English every day, or even every week, outside of class. Thus, I decided to look at the cards with the group for the first time and found the exercises to be engaging and useful for the group. All of this proved to be very successful, with the learners really enjoying the board race and a lot of drilling of problem words such as “franchise” and “recipe” to help fix the pronunciation.
Searching for Emergent Language
During the first 2 recycling stages, I’d been hoping for some obvious emergent language to become apparent. However, this simply didn’t happen. At one point I thought we could go with relative clauses, but then it became clear that the errors had only been minor slips. So what to do? I was going to ask them about the rainy season and if they like it, how they deal with it, etc, but at this point the group turned their attention to Ben, wanting to know if he felt any better after his horrendous Monday and subsequently enjoyable Class 5. I got them to ask questions and Ben answered these and developed the conversation. However, I still wasn’t seeing anything in the way of a language focus to really get stuck into.
Following on from the conversation with Ben, I asked the groups to compare their days and discuss who had the best one. This they did and I again listened out for anything to focus on, with no real success. The only thing that did spring to mind was sequencing adverbials such as “first”, “then”, “after that”, etc, as there was a dictinct lack of these as they recounted their days. However, the problem I had here is I simply could not think of a way of working on these at that moment (I’ve blogged before about this and potential solutions on my own blog here).
Post-class, Ben and I discussed this and came up with the idea of getting the group to write about their days and then compare them, take an example to the board and go over how it could be improved by adding these markers. They could then have re-written their original texts with the new language before we put them up round the room for the others to read and compare/comment on. This would have been a good activity, but I would definitely have run out of time trying it as the recycling went on for nearly an hour.
Anyone have any other ideas?
A Useful Class?
Yes, it was. Well, an hour of it certainly was. The second hour highlighted one of the challenging aspects of Dogme teaching: finding emergent language. In my experience, this has been one of the things that less experienced teachers feel uncomfortable with, due to a lack of confidence with their language awareness. For me, it was more of a frustration, as I really wanted to get stuck into something but just couldn’t find it and then when I thought I had it, I couldn’t think of what to do with it. I felt like I was simply setting up conversation after conversation without any real focus, which made the last hour a little activity-driven for my liking. However, that said, I do now have another area in which the learners’ range could be expanded and, having already thought through a structure for practice, know how I could scaffold future conversations to bring out the same area and then focus on it. I will also be a better teacher for this, as I’ve now got another activity in mind for when sequencing adverbials pop up unexpectedly.
One of the things that Ben and I need to focus on is ensuring there is continuity between classes. This hasn’t been a problem so far as Ben has taught the majority, but on Thursday I realised that I didn’t know enough about his Monday class to follow up on it. There are some reasons for this, including an absolutely ludicrously busy fortnight which has now thankfully passed, but that’s not really an excuse. I mentioned above the importance of recycling and, while I obviously did this with the cards activity, it would have been good to look again at the advice exponents from a different angle and the make/do collocations. This could also have helped with the trouble noticing emergent language as potential emergent language may have come up when looking again at previous worked on areas. Lesson learnt for me and I’d better find out what Ben has done tonight as I type…