As some of you might know, I used to work at Callan School of English following the Callan Method strictly, which involved reading a script from the Callan books 8 hours a day.
Now, I’m in no way dissing Callan or any behaviourist methodologies, because I learnt a lot from them. If you don’t believe me, read this.
I then went on to work for a school that basically gave me free rein to do anything I wanted with the students as long as I did the Callan 25% of the time.
I spent 75% of the time exploring coursebooks the school had and trying them out, sometimes just doing exercise after exercise, page after page, without fully understanding what I was meant to be doing.
By the time I did my CELTA at International House London, I had already been teaching for 2 years.
The CELTA completely changed my life.
It opened my eyes to the communicative approach of teaching and really helped me to make sense of my own language learning experiences with Japanese and Spanish, and showed me how to better help my students to learn English.
The CELTA also showed me the range of materials that were out there.
I was thrilled to find books like English Phrasal Verbs in Use, English Idioms in Use, The Anti-Grammar Book, Recipes for Tired Teachers, Mark Fletcher’s Visual Grammar, Ron Martinez’s Conversation Lessons, Mark Hancock’s Pronunciation Games, Jill Hadfield’s Communication Games, Vocabulary Games and Grammar Games, etc., on top of the wonderful coursebooks like Cutting Edge and Inside Out that I was introduced to.
I was in ELT materials heaven.
Back then, when IH London was in Piccadilly, we had a bookshop in the school, and on the last day of my CELTA, I went to the bookshop and bought a whole stack of books (and a set of cuisennaire rods) as I kicked off my reinvigorated teaching career.
For more than a year after the CELTA, I was the materials girl.
Colleagues in the staffroom would tease me about constantly cutting bits of photocopied cards and pictures every single morning before lessons began.
Some colleagues even started to use me as a reference and would ask me questions such as ‘Look at this photocopy? Which book does it come from?’, to which I would immediately reply, ‘That’s from Ron Martinez’s Conversation Lessons Chapter 2’.
And I was proud of it. Why should I not be?
The experts wrote the books, and I knew them all.
We would be given, say 9 units of a coursebook to play with in a month-long course, and one day, a student said to me on the last day of his course, ‘You are the first teacher at IH that actually did every single exercise and every single page of the 9 units, and finished the coursebook! I have never finished a coursebook before!’
And he meant it as a compliment.
Since my DELTA, I have not used a coursebook.
I sometimes start to try and use one but never get past the lead-in.
It’s been 5 years since I have used a coursebook.
Today, I feel like I have come full circle.
Today, I did Varinder’s class. With a coursebook.
Below is my account of it.
- To give students opportunities to practise reading for detailed understanding in the context of famous doctored photographs.
- To enable students to better understand four pieces of lexis used in the reading text after processing the text for meaning.
- To raise students’ awareness of object nouns that collocate with the verb ‘take’ and to offer controlled practice of these collocations by using sentences beginning with ‘The last exam I took…’, ‘The last train I took…’, ‘The last time I took a long walk…’, etc.
- To enable students to notice the meaning and form of the passive voice used in the reading text about doctored photographs, and practising the use of the passive in a controlled practice about another doctored photograph, and another in the context of the writing of a formal letter.
- To offer students opportunities for speaking practice in the context of cameras, photographs and the doctoring of photos.
Materials: Global Intermediate Pg 66 & 67.
The lesson started with me walking into the classroom and greeting the students, asking them if they knew I was taking the class today. Those that had been in my 2 weeks of Dogme classes already knew of the experiment and said that they had been informed that I was teaching today. The new students, however, didn’t quite understand who I was and why I was there, and so, I briefly explained to them the nature of the experiment and who I was.
I then revealed that I was going to be using the coursebook today.
(Stage aim: To contextualize the lesson, generate interest, engage the students and activate schemata)
As a lead-in to the lesson, I asked the students if they all had a mobile phone and asked what they normally did with the phone, aside from making calls.
Students were put in pairs as they discussed their favourite apps and games, and language like ‘to do list’, ‘address book’, ‘navigation’ and ‘online banking’ naturally emerged. I couldn’t resist and the language was begging to be fed in, and then clarified. I then elicited that one could also take photos on their mobile phones and asked if they owned a separate digital camera or if they used their mobiles for that purpose.
Using the lead-in questions in the book, I then asked, ‘Do you remember your first camera? What was it like?’
I described my first camera and told students that it was a disposable one, but I noticed that my example was not quite enough to prompt them to say more. Some said they couldn’t remember, while others didn’t think their first camera was that significant and couldn’t be bothered to describe it.
So, instinctively, I got them to close their eyes and do a visualization exercise.
Using questions and prompts, I asked, ‘What did it look like? What colour was it? Who gave it to you? What photographs did you take with it?’.
When they opened their eyes, they were put in groups to share what they had visualized.
One or two of the students of my generation had stories to tell of the days when cameras that had separate disposable flash cubes that had to be purchased, but most of the younger students didn’t seem to have many remarkable tales to relate, and so I moved on to the next question in the book – ‘Have you ever manipulated a photo? Why?’ while clarifying the question with an example.
This question definitely needed more prompting because most of the students’ first reactions were either ‘No’ or ‘Yes, just to change the colour or for red eye reduction’. It wasn’t a topic they seemed to have much to say about. One of the students asked what kind of changes we were talking about.
Pre-Reading Prediction Task
(Stage Aim: To activate schemata and generate interest in the text)
This, I thought was a nice segue into the prediction task of the reading text, so I asked students to look at the two pictures given (one of a doctored Abraham Lincoln photo and one of a doctored Stalin photo) and asked the following questions.
‘What do you notice about them? What has happened?’
Quick pairwork showed that the only things that could be said as answers to those questions were, ‘They are different’, ‘This guy’s head was changed to Abraham Lincoln’s’ and ‘They deleted these people from Stalin’s photo’.
Some students, while doing the task, instinctively tried to read the text to find the answers, and my classroom management skills took over as I said, ‘Wait, don’t read the text yet. Just look at the photo.’
I suddenly felt kind of silly doing that. Students were appropriately motivated to read the text to find out more…and here was I telling them to wait till the next stage…was I frustrating them?
So, I prompted further, ‘Do you know of any other pictures that have been doctored?’
As students spoke in pairs, one talked about a very old Brazilian celebrity who had her legs photoshopped so severely that it looked ridiculously smooth. Another spoke of Belusconi and how he always has his photos touched up. She added that he liked to be positioned in such a way where he looked taller, and I jokingly mentioned Tom Cruise. The class laughed and there seemed to be more to be said about the topic. But I could see Varinder from the corner looking at me with the ‘80% coursebook!’ eyes and thought I shouldn’t let my Dogmetician side take over…
I then asked students why they think the pictures in the coursebook were doctored and they suggested that in the first picture, they might have wanted Abraham Lincoln to look taller or have a better body for propaganda purposes, while in the second picture, they have removed the people around Stalin perhaps because they don’t want to be seen with him.
Reading for Detailed Understanding
(Stage aim: To offer practice of reading for detailed understanding)
At this point, I asked students to read the text to check their predictions, and to do the reading for detailed understanding task: ‘How and why was each photo changed?’
This was a rather odd question to be asking them, to be honest, because the paragraph on the doctored photo of Abraham Lincoln simply did not state the reason for doctoring the photo, and after realizing this, students could only guess that their prediction that it might be due to propaganda might have been true.
(Stage aim: To exploit the text by pulling out and clarifying some useful lexis for both receptive and productive use)
Some paircheck and feedback later, we moved swiftly on to the 4 pieces of lexis that were pulled out from the text: ‘sophisticated’, ‘fallen out with’, ‘regarded’ and exaggerated’.
The page of the coursebook provides a multiple choice exercise where students have to deduce the meaning of the lexis by looking at the co-text.
After a paircheck stage, in the open class stage, I started to further supplement the clarification of meaning with additional CCQs, highlighted the form and drew attention to certain pronunciation features and drilled the words or phrases.
At certain points, I felt that I had to supplement a lot more so as to fully exploit the four pieces of lexis and enable students to better understand their use. Here are two examples.
1. ‘We regarded that afterwards as a mistake’
Nobody in class go this one right. Many thought regarded meant ‘apologised’ (one of the multiple choice options) perhaps due to the co-text.
So, I wrote on the above sentence on the board, and then added,
‘Please regard my house as your own house’
‘You can regard me as your friend’
I then had the students in pairs discuss what they now thought ‘regard’ meant.
They all agreed it meant ‘to see things a certain way’ (one of the multiple choice options).
When we were happy with the meaning, I elicited that ‘regard’ (in this meaning) is usually followed by an object and then the preposition ‘as’ and another object.
i.e. ‘to regard somebody/something as somebody/something’
2. People who the Soviet leader Stalin had fallen out with or no longer trusted were often eliminated from pictures.
After establishing that the multiple choice answer ‘had a disagreement with’ was the correct answer, a student then asked, ‘Can I say “I had fallen out with the newspaper or the concept or opinion?” if I disagree with it?’
What a brilliant question! Further concept checking was clearly needed.
So I went on to clarify that the phrasal verb could only be used when you fall out with somebody e.g. a friend, a partner, a family member, and this happens when you have a argument with them and stop talking to them.
I elicited (then fed in) that after you fall out with someone, you then say sorry and you ‘make up with someone’.
Once meaning was clarified, I wrote on the board, ‘I fell out with my friend’ and then elicited that it was a transitive phrasal verb that took the object ‘my friend’.
(Most of the students were from my 2-week Dogme class where we had previously dealt with transitive and intransitive verbs, and this was a good chance to revise this with them. The 2 new students spoke Portuguese and Italian and seemed familiar with the concept of transitivity from study of their own L1s)
I did the same for ‘make up with my friend’ before asking them how I could make this intransitive.
I started the sentence with ‘My friend and I…’ and elicited ‘fell out’ and the fact that we drop ‘with’ and the object when making this phrasal verb intransitive.
I then elicited the same for ‘make up’.
It was now time to move on to the vocabulary section.
Vocabulary and Collocations
(Stage aim: To raise awareness of collocations with ‘take’ and to provide controlled practice of given collocations)
‘Chesting’ the book, I showed students the table on the page that showed 5 categories of collocations with the verb ‘take’.
Transport take a taxi…
Food or medicine take sugar…
Activities take a shower…
Exams take an exam…
Control take control…
Images take a photo…
Students now had to put the following nouns into the categories above to make collocations with ‘take’:
the bus, drugs, the metro, milk, nap, a picture, a pill, power, responsibility, a test, a train, a walk.
To be honest, I found this activity quite frustrating as the collocations were out of context and the only thing they had in common was the word ‘take’… but hey, I was using the coursebook, and I was going to put my heart and soul into it.
After open class feedback, and clarifying the difference the use of ‘to walk’ and ‘to take a walk’ (where I also asked learners if they were two different words in their L1s), we moved on to the controlled practice exercise.
Learners had to complete the following sentences:
The last exam I took…
The last train I took…
The last photo I took…
The last time I took a long walk…
The last time I took responsibility for something…
This example sentence was given in the coursebook:
The last photo I took was when I went to Egypt. The temples were incredible.
This was a complex structure, especially for the large number of Far East Asian students in the class, and so I felt the need to scaffold the practice for them.
‘The last exam I took was very difficult’
and asked students what the subject of the sentence was.
Some said ‘exam’ and others said ‘I’ and they clearly had difficulty with this (and considering that all the phrases given to the learners to complete were noun phrases that were acting as subjects, I thought it important to guide them through this).
I elicited that the main verb was ‘was’ and then guided them towards realizing that the subject was ‘the last exam I took’.
The last exam I took
Some students then cleverly asked if we could replace the adjective slot with adverbials like ‘last week’ or ‘with my friend’ or ‘at school’, and I sent them off in pairs to complete the exercise.
However, if you look at the example sentence given (The last photo I took was when I went to Egypt.), you would notice that the scaffolding was still in progress at this point.
After completing the sentences with adjectives and adverbials, checking with their partners and sharing with the class, I then pushed them to see that
‘The last exam I took was when I first came to London’ was also possible, with ‘when I first came to London’ acting as the object.
This time, students made sentences with ‘when’ phrases as the object.
But the most amusing thing was when I tried to expand on the sentences students made in open class feedback.
One student said, ‘The last exam I took was last month’.
I asked, ‘Oh? Which exam was that?’
He replied, ‘Oh, it’s not true. I was only doing the exercise.’
As I went round the class, I realized that more than half the class did the same. None of them were able to tell me more about their ‘experience’ because those sentences were simply not true.
It was a practice exercise, and that’s how they saw it.
Watching them in paircheck and open class feedback stages, it was also obvious that they did not see those stages as speaking practice or chances for interaction in English.
The goal for them was the practice exercise and trying to get the answers for it.
And they certainly didn’t see the point in expanding much on their answers.
If I had told them to complete the sentences with ‘real’ answers from their lives, would it have made a difference?
Or are the sentences so random and devoid of context that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway?
Does it matter that they weren’t giving real answers and were just drilling the use of ‘the last time I…was…when I …’ and collocations with ‘take’?
We took a break at this point and I promised to look at the passive voice when we came back.
Grammar: The passive (Present stage)
(Stage aim: To help students better understand the use of the passive, the reasons for its use, and the different tenses the passive can take)
The top of the grammar section had three sentences from the previous reading text featuring verbs in the passive voice.
This photo was taken in 1862.
Parts of the photo have been changed.
Photos are being manipulated more than ever now.
This was followed by the following rules
- We form the passive with ‘be’ and a past participle.
- We use the passive when we don’t know who did the action, the action isn’t important or the action is more important than the person or thing who did it (the agent).
I had students look at the example sentences and read the grammar rules.
It was a moment that I must admit I felt rather uncomfortable with.
I would have much preferred to give them as chance to notice the structure themselves, and to read the text and speculate reasons why they think the author has chosen to use the passive instead of the active voice in each case that the passive was used.
Of course, some might argue that giving students the ‘rules’ would save time and can be just as efficient.
Anyway, after eliciting that the tense changes in the passive happens on the verb ‘to be’ and not the past participle, I then proceeded to ask students to find 7 examples of the passive voice from the reading text.
I then expanded on the task on my own by asking students to change those passive sentences to active ones.
Students ended up with sentences like :
‘Somebody put Lincoln’s head onto the body of Southern politician’
‘Somebody eliminated the people from pictures.’
‘Somebody squeezed together the Pyramids of Giza’, etc.
Students started to say, ‘Sounds strange. They all start with “somebody”’
So I asked them what was wrong with that, and together we agreed that it was boring, and not deserving of subject position because it was the theme of the sentence and because we didn’t know who that somebody was.
This time round, I felt as if they understood the reasons for the passive much better.
Controlled Practice 1 (Practice Stage)
(Stage aim: To provide controlled practice of the use of the passive by allowing students to choose between the active and the passive in the context of a text about another doctored picture)
As controlled practice to the passive voice, students then had to fill in the gaps of a text with the correct form of the verbs in the brackets, putting them in the active or passive voice.
The text was about a Chinese photographer Liu Weiqiang, who had doctored a photo with a high-speed train and a herd of antelopes and was given an award.
The photo was not on the page, and so while students were completing the gap-fill, I took the initiative of looking for the photo in question on the internet and on my iPad.
After students finished checking their answers with their partners, I asked, ‘Would you like to see that photo?’
To my surprise, the answer from most of the students was, ‘Which photo?’
I said, ‘The one in the text you have just read!’
The students said, ‘It was about a photo? We were not reading it! We were only doing the grammar exercise!’
Is it my fault for not doing a gist reading task before the gap-fill?
Even if I did, would the students be so focused on the grammar task that they wouldn’t really care about the text?
Does it matter that they didn’t read the content of the text?
If not, then why have the text? What would then be the difference between that and having random practice sentences a la Murphy?
Controlled Practice 2 (Practice Stage)
(Stage aim: To provide controlled practice of the passive by having students convert sentences in the active to the passive while using different tenses in the context of a letter)
Deviating from the context of doctored photos (but still having some connection to photos in there), the text given to students to convert was as follows:
We’re sorry, we have lost your photographs. We usually keep them in a box on the table. The other day somebody was cleaning the shop. They moved the box. I’m afraid we can’t find the photos now. We will send you a new set of photographs to your home address.
After a paircheck and open class feedback stage, I asked students whether they felt that the original text or the one with the passive sentences were more formal.
Looking at the content of the text, and with some eliciting and prompting, we then established that the passive voice made the writer seem more distant, less personal and therefore allowed the writer to take less responsibility for the loss of the photos.
The activities of this unit then ends at this point, and I had students look at all the emergent words on the board and do a quick recall with their partners as to what they meant. Thanks, Varinder, for this! It worked really well!
There was one thing, however, that I didn’t quite expect to feel, but consistently did throughout the coursebook lesson I taught today.
I felt distinctly more authoritative, more in control, and more of a teacher.
I felt in charge with the coursebook.
And the way I acted started to tend towards those roles too as the lesson progressed.
I felt my rapport-building jokes and conversations not as genuine and certainly not able to run its course.
I felt like I wasn’t really listening to all the students had to say, and not asking the natural questions that led on from their utterances.
I felt teacher-centred.
I felt like a performer. A performer with a script.
I felt like I’ve come full circle.