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Tag Archives: Emergent Language

Wrong Side of the Bed (A Video Activity Plan)

This is an enjoyable little lesson activity that could really spice up the somewhat dull topic of morning routines.

  1. Elicit from the students English surrounding the topic of morning routines.  Get it up on the board.
  2. Get them thinking about whether every morning is exactly the same, whether every day is exactly the same.  They should soon be talking about good days and bad days.
  3. Ask the students if they can suggest what the phrase “Get up on the wrong side of the bed” might mean. (There are usually similar phrases in the students’ L1.)*
  4. Divide the students into pairs.  Arrange them so that the pairs are facing each other, with only one partner facing the board, or wherever you are going to display the movie.  You are probably familiar with this technique.  One partner will watch the movie and describe everything they see as they see it and the other partner has to write it down.
  5. Tell them they are going to watch a short video using a lot of the ‘morning routine’ vocabulary that they came up with.  The whole class will see the first 12 seconds.  This helps them to understand that the video is going to look at two alternative realities.
  6. Go through a practice run with the students describing to each other what they saw.
  7. Watch it again so the students can practise observing and describing at the same time as well as dictating the notes.  Get one half of the class to focus on the left story, the other half to focus on the right.
  8. Run through the video once.
  9. Get all the writers together to compare and build their notes.  Get all the speakers together for them to ask the teacher questions about specific vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.
  10. Run through the video a second time.
  11. Get the pairs to look over the notes together.  Can the watcher give any last help or piece of information?
  12. Get writers to read what they have.  Write up any errors you hear and open the floor to corrections. Also make sure to write up good phrases and chunks of language as well – never good to just focus on the mistakes.
  13. Get the whole class to watch the video.  (By this point the writers will want to see the video.)

* It would not be a waste of time to pay attention to these various counterpart L1 phrases.  Maybe get them on the board, or get the students to write it (or them, if there are multiple L1s).  A little bit of translation work to make the various phrases accessible would certainly help the students to remember it and if it is a multi-cultural/multi-lingual class there are obviously other benefits to students each taking a turn to present just a smidgeon of their culture.

Dramatic Finish (for those teachers brave enough and depending on your group)

The students are going to devise and act out their own ‘wrong side of the bed’ day.  But first, get one of the students to read this summary of the story out, one line at a time.  The teacher acts out these plot points.  The reason for this is to give a model and help students not feel so self-conscious.

  • The alarm goes off.
  • The man turns off the alarm… but accidentally breaks his glasses at the same time.
  • The man gets dressed… but trips over while putting his trousers on.
  • The man opens the curtains… but they fall off the rail.
  • The man makes some toast… but it is burnt.
  • The man washes his hands… but the water splashes all over him.
  • The man leaves his house… but his scarf is caught in the door.
  • The man is shouting at a homeless man… and his wallet is stolen.
  • The man wants to eat an apple on the way to work… but he forgot it.
  • The man is knocked down… but a lady helps him up.

While there is a temptation to pick all this English apart and analyze it with the class, your students can only assimilate a certain amount at one time.  Maybe just focus on the vocabulary or the use of ‘and’ and ‘but’, or a few phrases like ‘get dressed’, ‘open the curtains’, ‘on his way to…’.

So after this model acting, get the class into groups, give them some time to work on a ‘worst-case scenario’ morning of their own and make sure they have an actor and one or more narrators.  Float around the class now feeding in phrases and chunks as and when needed.

If you do this part, make sure you allow enough time for every group to perform!

Enjoy.

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Activities

 

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Pizza with my Students

When are we all going to go out for pizza?

This was the question from all of my advanced students almost from Day 1.  Teenagers are persistent and after three months I was eventually worn down to saying ‘yes’  a couple of weeks ago.

And what a revelation!  In the hour and a half (the length of a class) I probably got more English out of them and more of their stories than I had in the last month of classes.  Comfort really is the key (affective filters and all that) but it also helped – not hindered – that the conversations were switching from L1 to L2 depending on which part of the table I was in conversation with.  I placed myself strategically at the middle of the table so as to be accessible to all and then I simply let the conversation happen.

So now I have a conundrum – where does and should L1 fit into a conversation class for a homo-linguistic group of B2/C1 English speakers?  Everyone, including the teacher it must be said, enjoyed this forum of communication far more than the classroom.  Instead of me actively monitoring them, they were checking themselves and asking me for clarification or correction.  If I wasn’t part of one end of the table’s conversation then it would slip back to L1 (as we would naturally expect) but this meant that the conversation continued and nobody got bored and, most importantly, the periods of English conversation during that dinner probably had more value and were of more interest to the learners than a great majority of discussion we’ve had in class.

So this brings about an interesting point for dogmeists – environment and space.  Working around emergent language and a conversation-driven syllabus is great and can be rewarding and sometimes very successful, but how easy is it for our learners (and the teacher for that matter) to handle this approach, a departure from traditional methodology, while still surrounded by the four traditional walls of the classroom.  Here I am considering the hidden curriculum of space and a thought-provoking post that Willy Cardoso wrote a few months ago.

Can I move every class to the pizza parlour?  No – I don’t think my school would cover the cost of all that food!  Would it be a good idea to do this regularly?  Yes.  Would it be a good idea to do it frequently?  Probably not – I feel you get less out of special occasions when they are not special.  Can this ‘success’ be moved back into the classroom without the pizza?  I don’t know.

Thoughts, suggestions, ideas?

 

 
 

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The Never-Ending Sentence (a.k.a. Cheddar Gorge)

Why the game is called Cheddar Gorge, no one knows.

I’m sure most of us have done this activity in class and it is certainly not original but it is fun, there are lots of possible variations and I want to share something I did with my classes this week which really seemed to work quite well – yes, this might be the first time I’m posting about a positive classroom experience!  Don’t worry, I’m sure I can find something in the activity that can be improved. 😉

So this is inspired by the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue game, Cheddar Gorge.

Part 1

Put the students under the clock!

The students get into groups of four or five.  One student is nominated as a “writer” for the activity.  The class is then given 5 minutes, timed.  The objective is for each student to contribute a word to the sentence and the aim is to make the longest sentence possible without it finishing.  While the speakers are contributing words to the sentence, the writer is recording the sentence on paper.

Example of spoken dialogue:

  1. Amelia:  We
  2. Barry:  are
  3. Carlos:  all
  4. Deanna:  very
  5. Amelia:  happy
  6. Barry:  and…

You get the idea.

Part 2 (My numbers refer to the corresponding slides)

2.  After the five minutes are up, the students have a couple of minutes to review what they said and make any corrections to spelling or word choice (they have probably already been doing this during the original five minutes already).  They also have to do a word count.  Meanwhile, the teacher writes this up a table on the board.

3.  The teacher then gets the word counts from all the teams (I’ve put A, B and C, you could engage the learners more by getting them to make up their own team names).  After this, the students have to pass around their written sentence to another group.  With another team’s sentence they can get more points by finding errors.  I am quite open with what makes a mistake and this can include handwriting if the students are having problems reading it (this is an issue that learners need to be aware of just like any other).

So now the learners have all their points though you could get them to pass the writing round again for a second ‘proof-read’ by another group.

4.  For every error they found in other groups’ sentences they get 5 points.

5.  For every error they made in their own sentence they get 5 points off.

6.  Once they have gone through all of these, the teacher reads out each sentence to the class.  Any extra errors that the teacher finds will get deducted from final score.

Part 3

Once the students get the idea they then play the game again.  The 2nd round scores will be added to the 1st round (so teams have a lead to protect or have another chance to gain the lead).  This time you will notice that the learners are far more focused on not making mistakes that will hurt their points later.

So Why Did I Do It?

I’ll be honest, I initially thought of it as a fun little activity for the end of a class and mostly as a time-filler more than anything else but after seeing the reaction and studying the activity while it was happening I noticed that it can be so much more than that.

Students are involved in a highly communicative exercise where, after getting to grips with the activity, they quickly negotiate meaning and peer-correct as they “cheat” and help each other out.  The person who is writing soon understands that poor handwriting will lead to poor marks (illegible handwriting will lose points) and this helps put them in the same sort of mindset they need to various exams, like Cambridge ones.  Self-correction also improves as the students are eager not to lose and give away points for silly mistakes.

For the teacher this is a wonderful way to see what errors are being missed by all the students and therefore what correction will be of universal value.  For the other errors that are caught by the learners themselves, the students become each other’s teachers.

This is a wonderful activity and I highly recommend it.  It can be tailored be about a specific topic or to include specific vocabulary and right off the bat it forces increased use of relative clauses.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2011 in Activities

 

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

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.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Reflections

 

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