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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.