The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 7

Today, Varinder Unlu goes back to using the coursebook after trying Dogme out for a day.

This is Varinder’s account of her 7th Day using the coursebook.

Click here if you need a refresher on what’s happened till now.

Meanwhile, let me hand you over to Varinder

3rd May 2012

For those of you who have been following this teach-off from the beginning, you may remember that when I started two weeks ago I asked the class to pick a book to read and they choose Sherlock Holmes – short stories.  We talked about the first story in one of the lessons last week and yesterday the students asked me when we would be talking about the rest of the book, so I in keeping with what the learners want – I did that today for the first part of the lesson.

Objectives for today’s lesson:

To discuss Sherlock Holmes stories

To introduce/revise reported speech – questions and statements

To improve student speaking

To improve student listening

The class started almost on time – I was a few minutes late.  When I got to the classroom there were seven students already there.  I didn’t want to start the first activity until more of the learners were there so we played “back to the board”.

By about 9.15 most of the students had arrived.  I divided the class into two groups and put the discussion questions (see below)up on the IWB.  I went through the questions with them to make sure that they knew what was being asked of them.

  • Did you feel that the book met your expectations? Were you disappointed?
  • Did you enjoy the book and stories? Why? Why not?
  • How did the book compare to other books by the author (or other books in the same genre)?
  • What about the plot of the different stories? Did it pull you in; or did you feel you had to force yourself to read the book?
  • How realistic was the characterization? Would you want to meet any of the characters? Did you like them? Hate them?
  • Did the actions of the characters seem plausible? Why? Why not?
  • How does the setting figure into the stories? Is the setting a character? Does it come to life? Did you feel you were experiencing the time and place in which the stories was set?
  • How would the stories have been different if it had taken place in a different time or place?
  • Did the stories end the way you expected?
  • Would you recommend this book to other readers? To your close friend? Why/why not?

The groups started their discussions and I monitored and occasionally asked questions to help things along.    There some great answers to the questions.  Once the students had finished their discussion we did a class feedback of their answers.  At the end of this we talked again about the importance of reading especially as some of the students were saying that they had learned a lot from the book and it had helped them to see words in context.  I explained that they should go to the school library and borrow more books to read and continue reading in English for pleasure.

Varinder’s board work with mind map


  1. To lead into the first activity in the book (page 70) I wrote the word “speak” on the board and asked the students to discuss in pairs the different ways of speaking.  During feedback we got a lot of lovely language from the learners:  slowly, quickly, loudly, quietly etc (see pic of whiteboard for rest).  I then added some of the ones they had not got:  whisper, sigh, mumble, groan.  I drilled the language as the words were put up on the board by asking students how the word was pronounced and the picking the best pronunciation to model for the rest of the class.  I prefer to drill in this way as it takes the focus away from me and there is always one student in the class who can be used to model it.
  2. I then asked the group to look at page 70 and the read the instructions for the first activity.  I usually allow students to read the instructions for themselves as it is an invaluable skill for them to have to be able to read instructions and follow them – particularly important when they’re taking exams but also in their day to day life.  I checked that they had understood the instructions by asking: How many people are you going to listen to? How many phrases are there? What do you have to do with the people and the phrases?
  3. I played the listening and students listened and matched up.  I allowed students to check their answers in pairs and played the listening one more time for consolidation and then conducted quick class feedback.
  4. Next I asked the student to look at the words in the grey box in exercise 2 and went through the pronunciation.  I then asked the students to work with their partner to explain any words they knew the meaning of and their partner did not.  The students then did the activity which was to match the words up to the sentences which had their definitions in them.
  5. During feedback there were a few questions, especially as the form of the word sometimes had to change if students were to say the sentence with the word from the grey box.  One was likes to chat/chatting.  Students wanted to know if this could be used in both ways ie like + to + infinitive or like + verb ing. As they seemed keen know this I thought that after the break we would go through the sentences again.
  6. After the break focused the students’ attention back on the sentences and asked them to re-write them using the correct form of the word.  We went through them and students were asking questions about why like and love can be followed by the infinitive with to and the verb + ing.  So I gave the students the grammar exercise at the back of the book on page 148 for homework.  It  gives a brief explanation of verbs followed by –ing and infinitive with to.  I will ask them in tomorrow’s lesson if they have an questions and will clarify if there is still confusion.
  7. We moved onto the lead in for the Reading activity.  I asked the students to look at the two questions and discuss with their partner.  We went through their answers briefly.  Here there was confusion over overheard and eavesdrop, which we went through and also the word gossip. 
  8. I then asked the students to read the conversations on page 71 and decide which one they thought was the funniest.  Students discussed their answers with their partners.  I conducted class feedback and went thought any problems with lexis – squirrel, pay check, salary, wages.  One of the Brazilian students said that in Brazil they refer to payslip as the onion because every time you open it makes you cry!! (I thought this was really funny and so did class).  Students enjoyed this activity and there was a lot of talking and asking of questions.

I think because the class now know each other well and I know their different characters and a quite a lot about their personal interests, we could joke about things and everyone knew what was being talked about.

  1. Finally I went through some of the pronunciation of words and some meanings that were up in my vocab column on the whiteboard.

As is often the case in real life teaching (as opposed to CELTA or DELTA observation lesson), we didn’t get to the reported speech part of this lesson.  Something we will continue with tomorrow.

Varinder enjoying the lesson

I have been thinking about this lesson a lot, especially when students brought up the questions about like and love.  Of course because the lesson focus was reported speech I didn’t want to spend too much time on this but wanted to help as well.  That’s why I thought it better to give them something to do by themselves and then see if they have any questions rather than start focusing on that.  I think my teaching in ESOL taught me to keep things simple and manageable so rather than overloading the learners with various things in one lesson, I feel it’s better to focus on one thing.  This has worked for me and my learners in the past and I have achieved a great level of success with students by giving them manageable chunks of language to focus on.

This is a lovely lesson in the Global and there’s a lot that comes out of it for the learners.

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.

11 thoughts on “The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 7”

  1. Hmmm. A long list of questions used to create a discussion? Interesting think I (bad Yoda impersonation).

    This has been plaguing me for a long while now in my own teaching. To be more precise, how can I provide enough stimulus to create real talk and thus various different types of interaction? Q&A’s just get, well answers. I really hate cut up bits of paper with questions on them that turn speaking opportunities into interviews BUT with some classes they be the only thing that works. I’ve tried giving topics, statements, quotes etc as ‘join the dots’ so that students have enough input to get them going or to fuel the discussion. I don’t like lots of questions because they often just have a natural development that can and should be done by the student but it seems tough and very tricky to pull off as each student is different.Knowing what input and triggers and how long, the seating arrangement, the groupings, if it’s a task, a discussion, a debate, if there’s a notetaker, a recorder, will you participate or not ….all these are factors that have to be used to mould a speaking activity to create the maximum effect.

    Nowadays, I start with open or direct ‘any thoughts?’ questions and use body language as a key to eliciting comments ie ‘Tom you look like you disagree’. Only when things are fuelled up enough and the topic hasn’t fully been done is it time for S-S discussion. But again, I am very aware of not just have ‘opinion, agree, disagree’ interactions.

    Rob Haines is a master of this. I’ve read many of his lesson notes and he sets up countless different kinds of activities like brainstorming, listing, comparing, debating etc and all seemlessly integrated.

    For me I’ve realised that a lot has to do with the topic so if I want debates there has to be a topic that is debateable and that splits the class. For discussion it must interest students. I’d say I spend a long time on selecting topics and then a text, audio or video but I plan very little for the discussion lesson. I focus on learning and researching the topic and just thinking of different avenues for exploration. I think Luke Medding’s ‘backpocket syllabus’ is the perfect explanation.

    Just out of interest Varinder, did you have one for your Dogme lesson?? Also does Chia have one for hers?? I used to scribble stuff on my tram ticket on the way to work but now use the post-its on Windows 7.

    1. Phil, could you go a little further into the backpocket syllabus concept? I remember Luke talking about it in TESOL France, but how has it developed?

      1. Hi Matt.

        Yes, he had a tiny post-it note with a few things written on it I think. Something like a topic which he sourced from the news or an important event related to the students and then ideas/language. Mike Harrison recently posted one too which I put in the Dogme museum:

    2. Hi Phil

      Yes it is a rather long list of questions for the book we had chosen to read as a “book club” type of activity. In normal circumstances, when I’m not enforced to teach 80% of course book, I would have done this activity quite differently. I would ask students to come up with the types of questions they would like the other group to answer. I think it was teacher led as I provided the questions, but it still worked well despite this. I was worried about my critics with this lesson because it was diverting away from the course book for at least 45 minutes…

      As for your question about my Dogme lesson, no I didn’t really have a “backpocket syllabus”. I think because it was a one off I went in with the hope that we’ll get onto something and things will happen. If I were to have done this for a week or longer I think I would be more likely to do it. (“hope” obviously wasn’t enough though!!) 🙂 .


      1. Hi Varinder,

        Thanks. That may be why you weren’t too happy with the lesson. I think a lot of Dogme teachers go in with a topic or an idea of a topic based on previous lessons, student interests or something that is in the news. Or it just could be ‘news’. You could then think ahead of possibilities related to language and even activities and just put them on a post it. This would give you a frame to work with. Even when I’ve been thrown into a cover lesson with 30 sec notice I always spent the first 5 mins doing NA/DT via a speaking/getting to know them activity and then scribbled down possibilities and a quick lesson timeline/tree. Then it’s all about where things go.

        I ran a ‘news’ course for about 12 lessons last year and there was no syllabus at all. I let them chose a story and 1 pair presented for 10 mins every week. My post-it notes just varied as to what kind of grammar/vocab I thought 1)needed working on based on the previous lessons 2)what I predicted would come up. Also what kind of interactions would be interesting (I planned a few different ones each lesson to keep it fresh) and whatever else I thought would be useful/interesting/challenging.

        Based on your large amount of contact time with most of the students you probably have enough to teach them for a full week just based on what their errors/weaknesses are. If you decide that is your aim for a lesson then you can let a topic arise, help choose one or let them choose one from a range. The challenge is freedom but in a frame ie if the course is ‘news’ then you can plan/prepare all your usual things but have them on a 1 page syllabus, you can also add your ongoing needs analysis. Keep this with you in the lesson and use it to pull off activities and also add things to you see need working on. In this way you have a living syllabus and at the end a full one. I think I wrote about this on Dale’s blog if you are interested:

    3. Hi Phil

      I would be very interested in reading some of Rob Haines’s lesson notes. Does he have a blog?



      1. He scrapped it. Just check all his millions of ideas and LPs on the Dogme Yahoo group, there’s over 10 years of his ideas on there. That should keep you busy for a while Karl. Happy hunting.

    4. Hi Phil,
      I really like what you said about the way you conduct discussions and speaking tasks.
      As for my answer to your question, for the purpose of the Teach-Off, I was required to do pure Dogme, so at no point did I have any plan or any preconceived notion of where the lesson would head. Neither did I have a backup plan.
      However, in my normal lessons, I do sometimes bring in materials or topics that I have in mind that might stimulate discussion/debate. But of course, like you, I don’t necessarily plan where it would take the class. Tasks and pair/groupwork discussions, I usually come up with them on the spot.


  2. …and Varinder, to sort of get back on task at hand… were you informed by the dogme lesson? Were you relieved/more comfortable/more bored? Any idea as to students feelings, and whether or not they mirrored yours?

    Here I see a very well planned, safe, structure. (Which you can and did move in and out of.) Would this be a typical class plan for you, or was there a after the dogme class?

    1. To be completely honest with you Matt, I was really nervous about going into the classroom with just a pen – I have done it before in the past when I’ve been asked to cover a lesson a minute before it starts but I suppose in those situations I haven’t had much time to think about it. Here I knew I was going to be doing this and the more I thought about it, the more worried I became.

      The way I normally teach outside of this experiment is quite different – the biggest difference being I would never use 80% of the course book. I think Jim Scrivner made an excellent comment about course books on Chia’s “countable/uncountable” post – (I’ve copied it below if you haven’t seen it)

      “If I have a course to teach, I would much rather work with a coursebook, even a poor one. It gives a base, a core, a start point, something to bite against. What I wouldn’t want is someone to tell me how I must use that book.

      Most coursebooks nowadays are pretty good – or, as I have recently been arguing, “too good”.They are not the problem. The problem is with the line managers, schools and institutions that require that they are used in a certain way e.g. “Cover two units each week”. This requires teachers to work in a subservient position to the book and this is what leads to the undervaluing of important live classroom things things such as listening and responding, being flexible, working with what happens, finding out where the real learning is going on.

      It’s not coursebooks that “dominate and determine so many aspects of a teacher’s day-to-day professional life” but the relationships that teacher are pressurised to have with them.”

      I totally agree with Jim here – coursebooks are not the problem. I think we need to start thinking about our learners first and then think about what the best way is to teach them what they need. My argument all through this has been about having balance and variety in our teaching and listening to our learners. Following one method or approach does not allow for student centred lessons and real learning to take place.


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