The Best Laid Plans…

I don’t like covering other people’s classes.

Well, who does? You arrive at work and are informed that you’ve got a class to cover. You are presented with a lesson plan that you’re supposed to teach and you walk into a room with 10 pairs of eyes staring at you wondering where their teacher is. You know nothing about them, and there just isn’t time to get to know them.

I often have full intentions to follow the plan I have been given and teach what I am supposed to. But once I get into class, my instincts seem to take over and unplugging takes place. Today wasn’t so different.

The lesson plan I was given this morning was clearly meticulously prepared. A reading text had been careful copied and cut into neat pieces, ready for a jigsaw reading, and a detailed procedure was written out for me. I started to feel guilty and decided to that I should follow the plan this time.

But the students were just too interesting…damn it!

The conversation started with me asking the Pre-Advanced students what they did for a living and one of the ladies was trying to explain the fact that she owned furniture shops selling furniture that was specially aged to create an antique look that was fast becoming popular in her country. We talked about the ultra-modern, minimalistic designs so characteristic of single male households and the collocation ‘bachelor pad’ came up. One of the students mentioned ‘Bachelor’s Party’ and more lexis about bachelors went up on the board. A student wanted to know the opposite of bachelor and another student volunteered the word ‘Spinster’. I quickly clarified that ‘spinster’ had a very negative connotation, and the conversation soon became about the sexism inherent in our language.

I boarded the words ‘Master’ and ‘Mistress’ and asked for the different meanings and connotations they had, and then we looked at the words ‘Mr’ versus ‘Mrs’, ‘Miss’ and the more modern and politically correct ‘Ms’ and the reasons why these terms were considered inappropriate by some and why they were used in the past.  We started to think about the names of jobs ending with ‘man’ and found their politically correct substitutes, and decided that the words ‘doctor’  and ‘nurse’ didn’t need any changes as it was already de-gendered.

This led a student talking about the experiences he had with a male nurse and the conversation moved towards injections and vaccinations. When a student struggled to express that she had had an operation on her knee, the following sentences went up on the board:

I have had an operation on my knee.

I have had my knee operated on.

A doctor operated on my knee.

My knee was operated on several years ago.

We looked at the causative structure in the second sentence and students were reminded of the meaning and form before being given some quick practice. We then examined the rest of the sentence and I thought it was a good time to bring up the Textual Metafunction of Halliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar. The departure point (i.e. the subject) of each sentence was identified and we look at which parts of the sentences were Given and New, forming likely questions that preceeded each statement. We then started to look at separable phrasal verbs and why we would never put the pronoun ‘it’ at the end of a sentence like ‘I switched it off’ (because ‘it’ is a given piece of information and not new).

A student then asked about placing the stress in a marked position and we started looking at Contrastive Stress and how we can give information a ‘new’ position in a sentence by placing a marked intonation stress on the word. This led to us practicing intonation changes in sentences and then chunking longer sentences and playing around with prominence.

At this point, I started to feel bad about those nicely cut-up texts that were sitting in a corner and decided to use them for a chunking activity. Instead of a plain jigsaw reading, students had to read the short passages to their partners with the appropriate intonation changes while their partners took notes. The catch is they weren’t allowed to write words in their notes. They were only allowed to draw. Using their drawings, the students were then re-paired with different partners and had to re-tell what they had heard using only their drawings to help them remember.

Time was running out at this point and I had to leave the students at that point…

But I felt a bit more at peace with my guilt this time having used part of the plan given to me, albeit only a small part of it…

So who says cut-up cards were only for Tommy and Tina TEFLS and can’t be used in a Dogme class?

Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

8 thoughts on “The Best Laid Plans…”

  1. Delightful!
    Way to go – I’m sure those students learned a lot and that both you and the students enjoyed it.
    Looked at your “about” page and it was empty – wondering who you are and where this lesson took place!

    1. Thanks for the comments, Naomi. And thanks for highlighting the fact that the About page was empty. I hadn’t realised it before because I’d filled in my profile and had assumed that it would then be accessible to all. I’ve updated the About page now. In any case, I work for International House London.

  2. Thanks for a very informative and detailed post. And having read your last post too, I for one am glad you’re blogging.

    It’s both illuminating and comforting to read that those of us who are in smaller, more geographically isolated schools, and want to do Dogme, are able to compare notes with others. I love living where I do (Santiago, northwest Spain) and working where I do (Workshop, a very small private school) but you do need to stay in contact.

    So you’ve done me a favour.

    Oh – one detail I always ask about – how did you scaffold? On the board, on paper, digitally, during the class, at the tail end, after?

    1. I definitely agree that the internet really helps bring together all the English teaching professionals around the world, and it’s great to be able to stay in touch and share ideas with people like yourself who are practising in more geographically isolated schools.
      In terms of scaffolding, if by that, you mean guiding students towards a better understanding of language, it takes place in a multitude of ways. I think a teacher should keep adding to their ‘bag of tricks’ and use different methods judiciously when the occasion arises. But if by scaffolding, you mean supporting the lesson so students can refer back to it in the future, I always take a photo with my mobile of the language column of my board at the end of every lesson. I then put that language on coloured cards which are then used for recycling activities throughout the course. I also encourage learners to take their own notes.
      Not sure if that is what you’re referring to?

      1. That’s exactly what I was asking about.

        I don’t know if it’s the lighting or my camera or what, but it’s so hard to get a good snap of my board.

        Anyway, thanks again.

  3. Fabulous, Chia – as ever.

    This is a lesson straight out of my life and NOTHING can top it…..


  4. This is a great example of what might actually happen in an unplugged lesson. Could I use it in a teacher training session as an illustration?

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