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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.

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