“Could It Be Shorter?”, Could It Be Better?

27 May

I wouldn’t label this lesson as a disaster but I did end up feeling somewhat “blah” about the lesson as a whole and I’m not so much wondering where it went wrong in this case but what I could have done better.

So what did I do?

I had a lesson planned out… in fact I had two lesson plans ready to go as this class has already had a couple of ‘unplugged’ classes from me recently though I always have a ‘materials-heavy’ lesson ready to go if the ‘light’ class isn’t taking off.  However, straight out of the gate I saw an opportunity to jump on just about the very first thing that was said.

Student: “If it hadn’t rained yesterday we would have celebrated at the Corsórdromo.”

This took 2 or 3 attempts for the student to get out but he was obviously trying hard to get his conditionals right.  I wrote it up on the board and mentally filed my original lesson plan away for another day.  This would be the focus of the rest of the lesson.  And the reason for this was the next part of our exchange:

Me: “Could you say that for me again please?”

Student: “Umm, could it be shorter?”

Ha!  And there it was – proof-positive of my students’ reluctance and aversion to the 3rd conditional!  Now, I recently saw Robin Walker’s excellent ‘Pronunciation Matters’ seminar from IATEFL Brighton 2011 and his comment about Spanish-speakers’ avoidance of 3rd conditional was ringing in my head like a very loud bell (if you haven’t seen this talk, I highly recommend it!)

So what did I do next?

For a little while, we continued with the original discussion we were having.   I explained about my planned trip to Buenos Aires this weekend and they all joked that the place is so dangerous I won’t come out alive.  Capitalizing on that, I drew a face of myself beaten up, looking similar to this photoshopped picture of Mr Bean!  I asked if this was me next week, what might I say?

I asked them to come up with some fun examples but they basically came up with the standard 3rd conditional examples one would expect.  Oh well, next time perhaps. (I think sometimes those ‘funny’ examples are more for the benefit of the teacher than the students anyway.)

After that, I noticed the students weren’t really listening to each other and I was losing their attention as I focused on examples for each student individually.  Time to change tracks!

Getting them all round one table I got them to say a sentence in the 3rd conditional (I didn’t call it 3rd conditional, just “sentences like these” – wanted to avoid making this too explicitly grammar focussed).  The first student had to give a sentence, the next student had to repeat the first sentence and give their own, the next students had to repeat the first two and so on.

So here’s why I did it?

We had already looked at the chunks of language (“If it hadn’t”, “we would have” and variations thereof) and I had drilled it in an attempt to reduce the anxiety the students have, i.e. “Could it be shorter?”  (see this post on my other blog to get an idea of how I did this).  This exercise was an attempt to test if this advice and guidance had taken.  The activity also drilled and focused the students on the structure without doing it too explicitly.

So what would I like to have gone better?

I was quite happy with this last part but it did drag in some areas and even though it was each student’s job to do quality control for their own sentence as it got repeated around the room, there was some boredom.  Unfortunately a great follow up/wrap up to this exercise had to be cut short as we simply ran out of time.  I asked the students to write down all the sentences that we had been working on for the last 15/20 minutes or so.  While the task went uncompleted, I did manage to go round and make a couple of corrections to some revealing mistakes.

The pronunciation work had to be abandoned even though 2 or 3 of the 8 students were still struggling with “g”, “c” and “w” (good, would, could).  I gave a little extra time here already and even got to the stage where I specifically asked for the learners who weren’t having problems to describe, in L1, what they were doing with their mouths to make these different sounds.  This unfortunately had limited success.

So why am I not happier with this lesson?

The time management issue at the end came about from some dragging during activities as well as the pronunciation issues mentioned above.  What I would like to do is have a few more immediate class management techniques to be able to get more students active at one time without having to constantly remind them “no, you’re not finished” after only 20 seconds of effort.

Basically the pacing which subsequently led to a half-finished wrap up activity disappointed me here.  As a Dogme/Emergent Language lesson I’m relatively happy but it has certainly highlighted one or two areas I need to tighten up in my teaching.


Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Reflections


Tags: , , , , ,

5 responses to ““Could It Be Shorter?”, Could It Be Better?

  1. Willy C Cardoso

    May 27, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Hi Gordon,
    just found your blog. good stuff!
    I linked this post on the Dogme Facebook page so other teachers can come over and read you.

  2. sue H

    May 29, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Fab Gordon. All I would say is you have no reason to feel blah. The best thing I ever heard said regarding tefl is ‘sometimes learning a language is just ugly’. They can’t all be bouncy tefltastic sessions, and often what you think was ‘blah’ is the one that they remember. Great look to the blog, really nice design – can’t believe I’m writing on a tefl blog 😉

  3. Gordon Scruton

    May 29, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Sue, okay, shall I change my assessment to a “blah+”? 🙂

    Thanks for the comment and the quote, “Sometimes learning a language is just ugly.” Should we then add language acquisition to sausages and laws on that list of things that you never want to see being made?

  4. Brad Patterson

    June 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Nice post, Gordon. I really felt like I followed the progression of the lesson and how students were or were not reacting. I think this kind of sensitivity to the environment is one of the strengths necessary to succeed in an unplugged classroom.

    Then, it’s like anything else, repeat it and change a few things, find a better rhythm, think about it— or crash and burn and take off again. Ah, the rewards of the classroom and finding that ‘balance’ and ‘drive’ in a lesson.

    Cheers, Brad

    • Gordon Scruton

      June 5, 2011 at 1:49 am

      Thanks for the comment, Brad. Your point about how the lesson progressed makes me smile because I’ve got a parallel class to this one and the characters in that particular class would have called for a completely different rhythm and never mind crashing and burning, take off would never have been achieved in the first place!

      Oh well, horses for courses, as they say.


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