Devil’s Advocate vs Dale Coulter on Dogme and Newly Qualified Teachers

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA). After all, it’s always healthy to rethink our views and justify them.

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

Second on the hot seat is Dale Coulter

Dale currently finds himself in Rome where he is an English teacher.  He specialises in Dogme and reflective practice in teaching, both of which he has spoken about at ELT conferences in the past year. You can find out more on his blog here. Or follow him on Twitter here.

Chia:  Hi Dale, are you ready to be DA-ed?

Dale:  Hi Chia, great to be speaking to you, I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for a DA-ing.

Chia: It is a well-known fact that you are a Dogmetician who have been practising Dogme ever since you finished your Celta. Many would argue that newly-qualified teachers (NQs) should not be attempting Dogme. What would you say to that?

Dale:  Interesting point, Chia. As a teacher trainer what would you say are the reasons why you’d be skeptical about your trainees attempting Dogme?

Chia:  Answering a question with a question…very cunning, Dale… Well, there are several reasons for the CELTA trainers’ skepticism.

For starters, NQs are not experienced or skilled enough to be dealing with emergent language and reacting to spontaneous and specific needs…

Dale: True, the teaching practice element in CELTA courses does not provide enough classroom time to prepare a teacher thoroughly to react to emergent language. Mind you, attempting a Dogme lesson doesn’t mean throwing the book out the window and unplugging your whole course. For instance, my first Dogme lesson was a 1 hour 15 minute slot as part of a three hour lesson. I think that somewhat minimises the the risk of ‘failure’, wouldn’t you say?

Chia:  Not really, because you could still have a 1 hour 15 minute flop, which could lose your credibility and destroy your confidence…something that NQs don’t need. NQs need confidence-boosting experiences, don’t you think?

Dale:  Definitely, a complete flop using any teaching method or approach is a big dent in the confidence of any teacher, not just an NQ. You need to be prepared for the lesson. Emergent language doesn’t just emerge on its own; the teacher needs to know how to exploit language opportunities in the classroom. It is also about the language the teacher selects to deal with, and how it is dealt with. I was definitely reassured by the fact that I had some experience of being guided towards learning to deal with emergent language from my teaching practice on the CELTA. We can’t underestimate the importance of knowing what ’emergent language’ is and what it means to deal with.

Take an experienced teacher who tried Dogme, for example. What if their lesson was a failure and they failed to react to students’ emerging needs and the language they were producing? I don’t think this is a criticism that can be soley aimed at NQs.

Chia: On a CELTA, one can get experience of dealing with emergent language through teaching practice, but they are mostly lexical items. What about grammar? Most NQs don’t know their grammar well enough to be able to deal with the questions or the emerging reformulations that are needed.

You said so yourself in a post on your own blog on November 12th (reflections on Tesol France) that NQs often think, ‘There’s so much I don’t know about grammar, I am terrified that my students might ask me questions’. This is from your blog.

Dale: I knew that one would come back and bite me one day. Jokes aside, what’s to say an NQ can’t pick up a grammar book and read it? Take a proactive approach to it by dealing with the lack of knowledge. Obviously you can’t read up on the grammar of the English language in one week, which is something I realised too, so I chose to do Dogme with a class that is least likely to throw up difficult questions: an intermediate level. After all, when teaching Dogme, you can always guide the conversation towards areas that you know students may have difficulties with – to make your life easier, and secondly, research those areas and make sure you feel confident to answer questions about them.

You know they don’t know X or Y and you can guide them towards that, almost like leading them towards a cliff then when they reach the edge, building them a bridge to the other side

Chia: Is that then not really Dogme? It sounds more like a planned lesson where you have manipulated the needs…

Dale: In that case, I guess I’m not a Dogmetician then, I just manipulate conversation driven lessons around the needs of my students and work with the language they produce. Guilty as charged…hahaha

Chia: Stop acting cute, Dale. But in all seriousness, conversation lessons can sound like a chat. As many opponents have said, Dogme could be seen as ‘winging it elevated to an art form’… Couldn’t students get that from sitting in a pub? Where’s the structure?

Dale: Of course, I’ve heard that one a million times before… for me Dogme has always been a manifestation of principled eclecticism in the classroom. It’s not like you’re hashing a lesson together at random, you’re providing the most suitable solution to what has emerged, which, obviously a NQ would have some difficulty with on a long-term basis, but generalising that all of them couldn’t I think is a bit of an insult to the ability of an NQ.

By the way, I remember one of my trainers saying that to me “a speaking activity should give students something more than they could get in the pub” …

Chia: And how do you give them that extra that they can’t get in a pub?

Dale: Well, firstly I think there’s a difference between conversation-driven and a conversation lesson. The former implies that conversation is the vehicle with which learners and the teacher arrive at their destination, the latter is like conversation as a road to learning, which is where some cynics have their doubts.

It’s a teachers’ job to pick on thematic or linguistic elements of conversation-driven time and use them for lesson content, that way what is taught is immediate and contextualised.

Chia: Yes, but NQs will not be able to differentiate between conversation lessons and  conversation-driven lessons, needless to say have the confidence or ability to pick out linguistic elements to use as lesson content simultaneously and spontaneously.

Having linguistic aims prepared and how these aims are to be achieved in each stage of the procedure does not only provide structure for the NQs but also for the students. Jeremy Harmer said that Dogme is like ‘jungle-path teaching’, i.e. a lesson with no plan and structure, and therefore no continuity…

Dale: So you are going to quote Harmer at me, are you? Let me quote one of my classes back to you. They said they believed I prepared more than any other teacher and that my lessons were very structured and organised. Doesn’t that pay tribute to the fact that Dogme is a form of principled eclecticism working on a materials-light level. Didn’t you yourself call it Improvised Principled Eclecticism?

Chia: Sshhh, don’t tell anyone, Dale. I’m trying to play Devil’s Advocate here.

Dale: No, you’ve raised a good point there about the perceived lack of structure. I think it’s a criticism levelled at Dogme very frequently.

Chia:  So what do you do in your Dogme classes that helps students to feel that they are well-prepared and well-structured?

Dale: I have always applied a lot of what I learned in CELTA and then subsequently in DELTA. You see, lesson stages, as such, still exist: there is still a stage in which you check meaning or form, practice, review, drill, feedback, practice. The difference is that they are not rigid in a Dogme lesson; stages are at your disposal when they are necessary, if they are necessary. Students feel like it’s structured because it is structured.

Chia: Are you therefore saying that it is important to teach CELTA trainees to write lesson aims and and execute the procedures and lesson stages they have planned? Isn’t that contradictory to Dogme principles?

Dale: Well, the teaching of linguistic aims, lesson plans, lesson procedures, achievement of aims etc is easier to teach directly to trainees, in the sense of transferring information from A to B.

By the same token it’s easier to assess and benchmark to decide on a general standard. Is this contradictory to Dogme? Without the foundational backbone that lesson aims and procedures provide, a lesson lacks structure, which is why I consider them to be important as a foundation to build on.

However, identifying positive teaching behaviours in trainees like dealing with emergent language, building on them and reinforcing them with positive feedback corresponds more with the demands on a Dogmetician. I’d say a lot of the cynicism about Dogme and NQs stems from the fact that training does not cover these areas. The ability however is there, it just needs pulling out.

Chia: The thing is Dogme requires the teacher to have a certain rigour and an ability to deal with emergent language, correction and reformulation whilst combining structuring, multi-tasking abilities and knowledge of language in order to come across as organised and well-prepared. NQs often are still struggling with these aspects and are not going to be as able to cope with combining them in a flexible and improvised manner.

Dale: Exactly, it takes a long time to become an expert in these areas, which required years of practice, positive models to follow and experience in the classroom, so why are we not focusing on these things right from the beginning, to give trainees a better start?

Chia: You sure you’re not digging yourself into a hole there, Dale? You’re right, it takes lots of years of experience honing the skill of dealing with emergent language. If done badly, it could either result in all talk and no language work, or even worse, teacher-centred explanations and lectures that are contradictory to the communicative approach to teaching.

Dale:  But Chia it takes time to refine the skill and the road is a long one. Which comes back to my point that why aren’t we starting the journey straight away?

And on the topic of communicative language teaching… many teachers work under different definitions of ‘communicative’, and there’s disparity between their ideas and what others consider it to be…but that’s another topic for a sequel to my first DA, perhaps?

Chia:  So you’re enjoying this grilling enough to come back again then? ; )

But, honestly, a common point made by CELTA trainers is the fact that many coming on courses like the CELTA already think that teaching English should be relatively easy simply because English is their native tongue. Introducing NQs to Dogme and dealing with emergent language at such an early stage of their teaching can mislead them into thinking that chatting with their students in English is all they need to do…into mistakenly believing that Dogme is easy.

Dale:  A very good point. You could also say that trainees may be misled into thinking that following the instructions in the teacher’s book, doing the practice exercises in the back of the book and teaching from page 1-100 is all they need to do. Coming back to Dogme though, I think in these cases the better-judgement of the trainer is needed. As I’m sure you know, each group of trainees is different from the last; some groups are stronger, some are weaker. Introducing elements of Dogme to a stronger group, pushing them to deal with emergent language and use their knowledge of the English language to help students pushes the trainees to their  i+1. To a weaker group though, I will admit that it is not a good idea to encourage them to use Dogme and could lead to such opinions. Like a hierarchy of needs, Dogme lies at the top and lower levels need to be satisfied first.

Chia: Are you therefore saying that Dogme can or should only be attempted if and when trainees are able to use the coursebook and when they are able to deal with shaping a traditional PPP/Test-Teach-Test/Guided Discovery lesson from pre-assumed lesson aims?

Dale: I think trainees should have the benefit of a ‘backbone’ to English language teaching, as I mentioned earlier, it gives them an invaluable introduction to the profession. With a stronger group that grasps these concepts with ease, and one whose beliefs about teaching fit with the ideas behind, then I would say yes. I think it’s up to the trainer(s) to assess the level of the group and provide suitable challenge for them. I think I’ve touched on another point here that’s important: how Dogme fits with a teacher’s developing belief structure.

Chia: What do you mean by that?

Dale: Well, let’s face it, everyone believes languages are learned and taught in a different way and some teachers just don’t see Dogme as a way of playing to their teaching strengths and/or compatible with what they believe about SLA.

If there is a group containing many trainees who have the experience of learning another language, the experience of being a language student, and from this have understood the need for communication, immediacy and sensitivity to students needs, then it makes a more fitting environment in which to attempt Dogme.

Chia: Hang on, Dale. I’ve got two questions I’d like to ask here…

1. Are you saying that if the trainees do not believe in the need for communication and immediacy, that if they believe in that languages are learnt by grammar translation or the Direct Method, or by completing countless gap-fill exercises, then we should not encourage them to attempt Dogme?

2. Are you saying that native speakers who have never learnt another language and have no experience of being a language student would be far less suited to Dogme?

Dale:  Ok, I’ll take your first question. No, I’m not saying we should settle for this and simple pander to their needs. I referred to a kind of hierarchy earlier. In this case, guided-discovery, test-teach-test etc would be the next level on the hierarchy. In this situation, a trainee must train to level and encouraging them to attempt Dogme would be pitching too high, don’t you think?

In response to your second question, I think that non-native speakers or native speakers who have had some form of language instruction/experience of learning another language have in their possession key abilities for Dogme and for teaching. One of them is empathy with their students, which makes a teacher more sensitive to students’ needs, both emotional and linguistic.

Chia: Interesting points there. Can I take this debate on a slightly different direction?

We have so far been arguing about the ability for NQs to use Dogme in conversation-driven lessons with language focus. How about the other skills like reading, listening and writing?

The Importance of Listening in Class

Dale:  As a Dogmetician, I’m sure you’ve considered this as well yourself.

Chia: Dale…I keep telling you, I’m not talking to you as a Dogmetician at the moment…only as a DA…

Dale: Sorry, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference, especially when I’m used to you playing the role of DA consistently in daily life anyway.

Back to the point, we bang on about being sensitive to our students’ needs and responding to them, but what if these needs are specific to writing/reading/listening? This throws up another question: how does a NQ handle these without coursebook materials?

It’s a good question and it focuses us even more on the difference between attempting some Dogme lessons and being a Dogmetician. Materials-light is sometimes confused with materials-free, and it would be wrong to think you can’t use materials altogether. Certainly if this were the case, skills that require materials would not receive focus. A Dogmetician, in my opinion, selects materials to teach skills which can be exploited for conversation, engage learners and provide space to deal with difficulties learners have when practising those skills.

I think some NQs would have trouble teaching reading, writing and listening skills without the supportive framework of materials. On the other hand, if a NQ wants to use authentic materials, use learner generated and produced materials, then shouldn’t we be supportive in this pursuit? After all, isn’t that what assignment 3 of CELTA is trying to encourage anyway?

Chia: What kind of materials could an NQ use to focus on such skills that still keeps the lesson a Dogme one?

Dale: I would recommend short texts, both listening and reading, and authentic. Your ideas for using BBC news were very helpful for me, also short newspaper articles, parts of short stories or even teacher-written texts. In creating tasks, try and move away from testing comprehension and encourage students to interact with the text, pick out language they identify as useful, share ideas about a text, have them create the questions, have them respond to the text, rewrite it.

Chia: NQs would have greater difficulty in selecting authentic texts and creating tasks for their learners, in addition to the previously-discussed ability to pull out appropriate language for learners to focus on and dealing with them in sufficient detail.

Dale: You’re right there Chia, in selecting appropriate language and creating tasks, experience puts you at a great advantage. That’s why, just like emergent language, it’s better to get NQs practising asap.

Chia: Wait…if you are using such materials, what then is the difference between a Dogme lesson and a non-Dogme one?

Dale: Maybe there isn’t much of a difference.

Chia: Maybe it’s just good teaching.

Dale: Maybe the labels aren’t important.

Chia: Yeah, maybe it’s the learners’ motivation and needs that should take centre stage.

Dale: Maybe Dogme is a platform that provides the most space for this in the classroom.

Chia: Maybe.

Dale: Wow. That was intense.

Chia: Thank you for letting me put you in the hot seat.

Dale: It’s been a great pleasure, Chia.

Epilogue: Dale and Chia still argue like siblings at a family Christmas dinner. They also love each other, especially when the exchanging of expensive gifts is involved… Dale was only expressing his own views and does not represent any organisation he’s associated with. Chia is, in fact, a Dogmetician too. She was only playing DA.

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Devil’s Advocate vs Mike Hogan on Business English Teaching and Training

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). We concluded that the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA). After all, it’s always healthy to rethink our views as we attempt to justify them.

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype.  The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project.

So the first victim in the hot seat is my co-conspirator, Mike Hogan.  

Mike currently gives communication skills training to corporate clients based in Germany. He also creates bespoke training concepts for clients and advises clients, training providers and publishers on issues relating to corporate training. Mike is also a Business English coursebook writer. Find out more about him here and follow him on Twitter here.

Chia : The area of Business English teaching is a very grey one…It is often unclear as to whether the BE teacher is teaching English or teaching Business skills.

While some say the two should not and cannot be separated, and that BE teachers should also be well-versed in business, others say that we are simply not paid enough to act as consultants.

Mike: Hi Chia, you’ve definitely brought up an interesting and relevant topic, but before we delve into it, I think you’re confusing the different job/roles.

Consultants and business English teachers are simply not the same thing

Chia : Pray tell. What are the differences?

Mike: Well, before we look at that, let’s just focus first on the BE teacher and what’s expected of them. What is their task?

Chia : What WHO is expecting of them? The clients? The TEFL BE specialists? The layperson? Everyone seems to have a different definition of what is expected of the BE teacher. Some expect a course in Business, some expect communication skills, some expect presentation or negotiation skills, some just want some grammar…

Mike : Right, so you’ve listed communications skills, presentations & negotiation skills and grammar….. We’re getting closer to the big 6: Telephoning, Correspondence, Presentations, Meetings, Negotiations, Socializing/Small Talk. These are the skills which most course books cover, and also those listed in books like:

How to Teach Business English                         or                                                                                                                The Business English Teacher

Chia : So are you saying that the definition of a BE teacher is one that teaches English used to carry out those 6 skills and what is expected of a trainer or a consultant is different then?

Mike : Yes, those ‘6’ are certainly what seems to be expected from a BE teacher , although not limited to those. The expectations of the latter two are fundamentally different, as is what they deliver.

Let’s stick with ‘teacher’ for a moment though. A teacher can come into BE teaching from a number of areas, right? Although it’s often though the CELTA route, right?

Chia : Yes.

Mike : Ok, and many of those may not have had what one might call “professional” business experience before doing their CELTA. (I include myself among them).

So, then those starting out lack the practical experience and knowledge of business meetings and presentations necessary to train their learners. They teach from the coursebooks provided to them and use them as the basis from which to further their own knowledge of said subjects.

As Frendo puts it in the aforementioned book, “a teacher is someone who teaches (for general purposes of general improvement). A trainer is someone who is required to change a person’s behaviour or ability so that they can do a specific job. Training is job-oriented.”

Chia: Isn’t that simply rhetoric? Take the English teaching field outside of BE for example. We call them teachers but many would be pretty up in arms if you were to suggest that they were just teaching for ‘general improvement’. We live in a world of ‘niche markets’ and English teaching is becoming more and more needs-based than ever.

Does that mean that outside of BE, all teachers who attempt a needs-based, job-oriented focus is a trainer?

Mike: Hold on… “Teacher as coach is someone who can help the learner to take advantage of the learning opportunities in their learning environments … to better understand their own strengths/weaknesses, and plan accordingly. This is related to learner autonomy, where the learner takes full responsibility for their learning.” They generally work in-company – as does the trainer – as opposed to within a school environment, a place where ‘the teacher’ is often found.

Chia: All the definitions you are giving seems like pure rhetoric to me. The word ‘general’ in General English is a misnomer. Most experienced teachers will tell you that… And any teacher engaged in 1-to-1 classes will without doubt be using goal-oriented needs-based lessons… You are just giving me definitions after definitions…

Mike: And as you’ve said above, yes the teaching world is a world of niche markets and I wasn’t aiming at making a sweeping statement about what teachers do or what they call themselves, but fundamentally, the definitions are there and they are different from each other. This is how they can be distinguished.

Chia: The boundaries between a teacher, a trainer, and a consultant is not always that clear in real life.

Mike: I haven’t mentioned consultant yet … and yes, there’s a huge difference here: experience and what they do.

Consultants are neither “teaching” nor “training”, but can use their expertise to run needs analyses within companies, create training concepts, analyse the structures in place within, potentially recommend training suppliers, conduct negotiations (rather than ‘teach’ the language for them, or ‘train’ the skill)…and so on.

Following my point of experience (just above) – a consultant (or coach) very often has ‘real’ business experience…and their educational background may well have been a business MA rather than one in TESOL.

Am I getting closer to not just using rhetoric to highlight the differences?

[Note: that was in no way a value statement relating to either type of MA, and I have great amounts of respect for anyone who further their development through further learning, regardless of what it is they’re learning. It should be relevant to them, their needs and direction].

And over the years teachers may, yes, develop into trainers, and from there into coaches or consultants … but it also comes with continual development and not just teaching experience.

Further training and also often ‘real’ business experience are necessary to make that leap/step…as well as the implementation of many of the skills found in our BE course books, i.e. marketing, networking, presentations and negotiations … in order to ‘place’ oneself.

Wikipedia: “Business English means different things to different people. For some, it focuses on vocabulary and topics used in the worlds of business, trade, finance, and international relations. For others it refers to the communication skills used in the workplace, and focuses on the language and skills needed for typical business communication such as presentations, negotiations, meetings, small talk, socializing, correspondence, report writing, and so on.”

Chia: As you have so clearly just shown with your wiki definition of BE, the boundaries aren’t always clear…But don’t you think that part of the issue in the Business world is a failure for clients to recognise what the BE teacher/trainer/coach does? (I’m going to leave out consultant as you have clearly shown that that warrants a whole different discussion) And thus the status of the BE teacher/trainer/coach isn’t clear too

Mike: I believe that one should tread lightly when using the term ‘coach’ as it can often be misconstrued in the psychological or life coach sense … and also in the business coach sense …which is getting closer to the consultant definition I gave above.

Chia: What I’m saying is a lot of BE teachers might be doing the very things that you defined as what a trainer, or even a coach does … but just because of where they work and how they package themselves, they don’t earn the same title and therefore the same remuneration.

Mike: I’m sorry, I have to disagree.

As I’ve just said above … the coach uses very many different techniques to the teacher or trainer. ‘Coaching Toolkit for Business English Trainers’  aims to looks at some of the differences and highlight coaching approaches which can be used be those thinking about making the transition or expanding their own skill set. It’s been co-authored by a Business English trainer who has re-trained as a coach (Anna Stowers) – which also follows my previous point about (continual) development.

So, can we please remove that designation from your objections above and focus then on the distinction between teacher and trainer?

Chia: OK, fair point. I recede.

Mike: I thought you would. ; )  Anyway, coming back to ‘where they work’ and ‘how they package themselves’ and that ‘they don’t earn the same title or remuneration’.

Does a doctor who works in his/her own specialist practice earn more than a ‘general’ ‘non-specialist’ doctor working in a hospital?

Does a mechanic who works for a Formula 1 team make more than the guy around the corner who fixes my car?

Chia: A doctor’s or a F1 mechanic’s specialist knowledge isn’t quite the common sense knowledge that a business trainer needs…

Mike: But are you agreeing that specialist knowledge is worth a higher fee?

Chia: Yes. But common sense packaged as specialist knowledge isn’t necessarily that specialist.

Mike: Ok, and are you also then saying that business (English) trainers’ knowledge of business need just be that at a level of ‘common’ sense?

Chia: It depends on how you define common sense, which of course as we know isn’t that common.

Mike: Common = most people know it.

Chia: Common sense isn’t quite common as such. It’s an ability for logical thinking and as defined by Merriam-Webster as, “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.”

It’s an ability to make such judgment – an ability that could be honed from experience, or be instinctive…

But certainly not the same kind of specialist knowledge that a doctor has…

Mike: Yes, there are very many excellent teachers out there, with very high levels of ‘common sense’ that would also make excellent trainers, but common sense is not enough. ‘Specialist’ knowledge of how business works is also necessary. For such people, with (or without) prior professional experience, investing in professional development could greatly help, such as the Cert iBet, or an Intercultural Trainer’s Cert … as is attending the conferences where we see each other and our peers. That combined with practice, i.e. the experience I was talking about earlier, will help them to make the next steps in their career (if they decide to want to go in that direction).

OK, given your background in trading , or sales & marketing … If you were giving BE teaching/training to a group of sales/marketing people or traders, do you not think that you’d be able to relate more to them and their needs than someone who has no idea of these industries (and may not be flexible enough to take a Dogme approach to it)?

Chia: I like the way you sneakily slip Dogme in there to get me on your side… But not today, Mike…not today…

Mike: Well, as I’ve said before (today), the concepts behind Dogme aren’t new (in Business English) teaching, and people teaching/training in this industry need to be particularly adaptable to the needs of their learners.

Chia: Absolutely. But again, I take you back to the initial argument. Most good teachers already practise some form of principled eclectism, which by definition is needs-based.

On my Celta courses, I spend the whole month getting my trainees to elicit, to deal with emergent language, to work with learners’ interests and learners’ needs … even at a Celta level, one could claim that I’m training them to be trainers rather than teachers as such … after all, isn’t that what the communicative approach to teaching about? So is there really a difference between trainer and teacher?

Mike: Yes, there is – context, expectations, delivery, experience, ability, (possible) specialization … and not necessarily location …

There is a growing importance of and focus on improved performance in the workplace rather than mere language level practice and improvement. This means more importance is being given to the level of transfer between what is covered by the TRAINER and how applicable that is in learners’ working lives. It’s not enough for learners to be able to successfully complete activities, role-plays and simulations in training sessions. They need to complete their professional tasks more successfully.

OK. let’s try a different angle…

Do you call yourself a trainer?

Chia : No

Mike: Why not? If it’s just a matter of rhetoric (as you say) and results in higher rates for doing the same thing?? Then it would be a no-brainer to call yourself one, right?

Chia: Because I work for a school and it says ‘teacher’ on my pay slip. Which is exactly my point… I could be doing all the things a trainer does but labels only matter if you are a free-lancer… Thus, my point being, the labels are not about what we do, it’s about who we work for and how much we get paid. In an ideal world, we would be defined by the duties we perform, but in actuality, it is about the marketing and being the free-lancer and not about the job we do as such…

Purely playing Devil’s Advocate, don’t you think it’s extremely unfair that we have to do the marketing and repackaging of ourselves to ‘fool’ the clients into thinking we aren’t the bog-standard ‘English teacher’. Shouldn’t we instead be trying to change the lay person’s view of what an English teacher does so as to ensure they understand the impact we can have on their communicative competencies in their businesses? Shouldn’t we be trying to educate the lay person instead of trying to differentiate ourselves from English teachers?

Mike: We’re not re-packaging ourselves and I don’t know what you mean by ‘bog standard’ teacher. Who is the lay person? Our client?? and what sort of ‘fooling’ are we doing? Regardless of what our clients’ expectations of what a BE teacher is or isn’t.

I believe the best way to fulfill clients needs is to find out what they are (rather than telling them what they are – based on what we want to sell), to consult them and clearly identify their needs then those of their organisation. The person consulting is not necessarily the teacher/trainer/deliverer. It is quite often a centre manager, sales person, external consultant, etc. Then a suitable programme/offer/course/package can be put together for an appropriate fee, with the appropriate type of professional taking care of the delivery.

The key word is ‘appropriate’. Then we can ensure that our client’s needs (and expectations) are met. …and this type of consultancy work should be done be a consultant who can draw on the necessary and appropriate resources to deliver.

Appropriate meaning; what does this individual, group or client need? A teacher, trainer, coach or mix of all.

As I said above, the consultant and the training/coaching/teaching provider are not necessarily one and the same person, but they could be – although as you’ve indirectly pointed out, this could lead to a conflict of expectation in terms of rates.

…and responding to your comment above; there are many (training) institutions which use trainer to delivery their training – drawing on the differences highlighted at the top, and so it’s the distinction is not limited to whether the provider of the service is in a ‘school’ (or agency), or in-company.

Mike: Further to my comment earlier about trainers, coaches and consultants often have business training backgrounds rather than TESOL MA and such, I also think that training of the type that our participants get, i.e. active business people, would also be potentially very useful. I’m talking about fundamental training in the principles of project management, team leadership and such areas. Such training would give the basis for increased insight into business communication and business practices, which again serve to draw a distinction between the titles of professional we are talking about. They could be useful for people aiming to further develop in the fields of corporate training.

In addition, training in international competency development could also be beneficial. There are many specialist course available for thse coming from Business English teaching background, such as those offered by Barry Tomalin at IH, London; Adrian Pilbeam at LTC Bath; York Associates or WorldWork in the UK; or Skylight in Germany.

Yes, it’s about where we do it and how much we get paid, but crucially, it is also about WHAT we do.  Training is about training someone for a change in their behaviour, or ability so that they can do a SPECIFIC job. It’s context based and led by situation … and not just because unit5 of the book deals with business trips and negotiations. [Aside: IF you work with course books, they need to be flexible and adaptable with opportunity for personalization]

Chia: Sure. You can call that training and I can call that good teaching and continual professional development…

Mike: OK fine, but there is a difference in the terms/titles used, built upon (further) training, practical (i.e. business) experience, client expectations, and what is actually being delivered. There are also some key qualities necessary, including, but not limited to, openness, desire to self-improve/invest, ability to become an ‘expert’ in your clients’ field quickly, and others. Maybe we can save the rest for a sequel?

Chia: Thank you, Mike. That is a really concise summary of what we discussed. Sorry for giving you a hard time.


Come back soon for the next DA session, with a new person in the hot seat.

Chia

Epilogue: Mike & Chia are still friends! Mike’s opinions are his own and do not represent any organization he is associated with. Chia was just playing DA.

Dogme in Exam Preparation Classes

It’s often widely argued that Dogme cannot be applied in Exam preparation classes as they often follow a syllabus and have strict guidelines as to where students are headed and the language they need to know in order to pass the exam.

However, many exams these days no longer utilize discrete item tests like gaps fills. Instead, most exams seem to be looking at what students can do with the language they know, and through the use of topics as prompts, assess the range and accuracy of language students use to communicate and organise their ideas. For instance, students answer essay questions such as ‘Sports do not bring people together. They tear people apart. Do you agree?’

In fact, the IELTS exam itself is a bit like a Dogme lesson – Here’s a topic, let’s see what emerges.

So why do we feel that in order to effectively prepare students for these exams, we need to systematically take them through the exercises of a coursebook and strictly follow a syllabus?

I took an IELTS preparation class recently and was prescribed a neat little coursebook which I embarked on trying out. However, in the classroom, instincts seemed to take over and using the topics of the coursebook as  a departure point, I started to do the following:

For lexis

  • Get students to brainstorm words related to the topic while I mindmap on the board.
  • Do lots of revision and recall sessions using back-to-board or board rush games.

For speaking and discussions

  • Get students to discuss certain issues related to the topic in pairs, mindmap on their mini-white boards, and feedback to the class.
  • Divide the class into two with one group agreeing and the other disagreeing and conduct a class debate after some prep time.
  • Get students to close their eyes and visualize a scene they have to describe as the teacher raises awareness of all their senses, taking them through the sights and smells of the scene. Students then open their eyes and take turns describing to their partner (great for IELTS Speaking Part 2).

For writing

  • Give each pair a different essay question to draft the main points of the essay for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, the question is passed on to the next pair. After the brainstorming ideas for all those different questions, the class writes the introductory paragraph to the first question. The teacher writes one too. They show each other the paragraph and the class is guided into noticing certain features of writing the teacher has used. The class attempts to emulate what the teacher has done with the introduction paragraph of the next topic.

The above procedure can be done not just with introductions, but with any paragraph or short piece of writing. Repeat as many times as you like because each time, different language issues emerge, and it allows you to take students through everything from linking words to thematic structure (theme and rheme) to how to write overview statements.

For listening

  • Get students to pick a TV programme to watch as homework. You can specify the genre e.g. documentaries, or the film e.g. An Inconvenient Truth, Supersize Me. Students have to make notes and summarise the film for fellow classmates.
  • Do intensive listening exercises e.g. using the BBC News Headlines in class.

For grammar

  • So much grammar emerges from the discussions and the writing tasks that it is really a matter of the teacher being principled in the eclectic way they improvise in the classroom.
  • I find corrections for written homework best done with the whole class as a delayed correction slot so that students can learn from each other’s mistakes and think about how they can reformulate sentences to make them better.

So my one-month IELTS class went the Dogme way and feedback from my students was overwhelmingly positive. A couple said that they had never learnt so much in a month before.

And the irony is – everything they learnt came from them.

What do you do at Christmas?

Christmas is a family occasion where we gather around Christmas trees after a Christmas dinner of roast turkey and stuffing to open up presents after listening to the Queen’s Speech.    True or False?

Christmas is a time spent with friends, partying and clubbing in silly party hats and wishing each other Merry Christmas at the stroke of midnight. True or False?

Even if certain cultures don’t celebrate Christmas in the same way, they must surely know about the family Christmas of the west, thanks to the omnipresent Hollywood films.                     True or False?

Perhaps it is much harder for Hollywood to influence our family routines and traditions, but its impact is often much more clearly seen in our perceptions of romance and how we conduct our social lives and relationships. In Japan and Korea, Christmas Eve shares more in common with the Valentine’s Day we celebrate in Europe, where couples meet for a romantic candlelight dinner over which they exchange presents and whispers of Merry Christmas.

So if Christmas is like Valentine’s Day, what then do Koreans and Japanese do on Valentine’s Day? Well, here’s where local interpretations of European festivals take a slightly interesting turn. Valentine’s Day in Korea and Japan is now set aside as a day when women buy men chocolates as a declaration of their feelings. While Japanese women of all ages buy beautifully packaged gourmet chocolates for their partners, it was the teenagers that gave Valentine’s Day its real significance.  As it is not common for women in Korea and Japan to make the first move in expressing their interest in the opposite sex, this special day meant that women could take control and let the men they fancy know about it. This saw tonnes of chocolates delivered in truckloads to male celebrities making the tabloid news every year.

In order to avoid the threat to face that men might face when confronted with chocolates from a woman he’s not quite interested in, the Japanese created White Day a month after Valentine’s Day (14th March) for men to reciprocate with white gifts such as white chocolates, marshmallows or cookies, and jewellery after having a month to think about the advances on Valentine’s Day. An absence of gifts from the men they have showered with chocolates on Valentine’s Day can be taken as a form of polite rejection. In Korea, the 14th April has been named Black Day – a day when those who did not receive any presents on Valentine’s Day or White Day get together to celebrate being single.

But I digress. Christmas in Japan and Korea may not be a bank holiday, but it certainly is a chance to celebrate, a chance for shops to get out their fairy lights and fight to attract customers with the best decorations. In Singapore, Orchard Road, the main shopping street, is decorated with the most lavish lights, and every shopping centre competes to win the title for the best decorated. Unlike many countries in Asia, Christmas day in Singapore is indeed a bank holiday, but it isn’t quite the family occasion it is in the United Kingdom. So friends get together and party the night away.

The Spanish, on the other hand, certainly know how to make a holiday last. Presents aren’t exchanged until the 5th and 6th of January, during the festival of the Three Kings, when floats grace the streets of villages and sweets are thrown into the crowds as they reenact the coming of the three kings.

How do you celebrate Christmas?

How do your students celebrate Christmas?

Who do they celebrate it with?
What traditions do they have? What typical foods do they eat?

If you teach a multilingual, multicultural class, this could be a great chance for a discussion and some lovely sharing to take place.

If you teach a monolingual class, how about a task? Have different groups of students conduct research online about the different Christmas traditions of different countries and report back in the form of a presentation.

And check out websites like www.santa.net for some inspiration.

So, what do you do at Christmas?

Making Student-Centred Dogme Student-Friendly

So it seems that some students have been complaining about their teachers not using the assigned coursebook and  the discussion about whether the use of the coursebook should be encouraged/enforced has yet again risen.

With the Dogme approach to language teaching becoming more widely accepted in the TEFL world in the recent years, I had assumed that the debate was more or less over. That it was clear as day that a materials-light classroom where the use of students as the main resource was almost a given. I have taken for granted the fact that everyone knew that when done correctly, such lessons are rather taxing on the multi-tasking Dogme Practitioner, and that the benefits to their language learning process were for all to see.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a Dogmetician teaching without a coursebook for over 3 years. Perhaps it’s because Thornbury and Meddings have given the approach an official label and wrote an award-winning book alongside countless journal articles and blogs with solid theoretical backup of the approach. Perhaps it’s because I’ve come to see Dogme not as an approach or methodology, but simply as improvised but principled eclecticism and good teaching. But all teachers apply Dogme in very different ways. After all, it is what a teacher has in their ‘bag of tricks’ and how principled their version of improvised eclecticism is.

I have always enjoyed analysing language, and been rather systematic in the way I clarify grammar, lexis or pronunciation, and perhaps this comes through in the way I conduct my Dogme classes. I have also invariably learnt my foreign languages in the same fashion. Whether it be Japanese or Italian, coming in contact with the language through authentic texts and real life communication (whether it be Japanese pop songs or arguments with in Italian with my ex) had been what motivated me to put the systems I’d learnt to use. Our own learning experiences undoubtedly influence how we see the language learning process. And most of our students have been students of language classrooms prior to our encounters with them. They, therefore, have certain expectations of what their classes should entail. And one of these expectations might very well be a structured journey through a coursebook.

But we know language learning is by no means linear, and that learners remember and use so much more of the language when they themselves have noticed the gap in their knowledge and have seen their need for it. Students clearly prefer communicating about themselves, their classmates and their teacher than doing predictions and receptive skills tasks about the faceless Johns and Janes in a coursebook. When I did my action research project on Dogme several years ago, students surveyed quite unanimously claimed that the Dogme lessons were much more motivating and effective. So how is it that we have students complaining about the coursebook-light classrooms at school?

Could it be that they find the lack of structure daunting? Could it be that they feel they are not learning anything in class? Could it be that skills work have dominated these lessons and that students are unable to recognise this as language learning when little grammar is involved? How is it that the clients of executive business classes who have never been prescribed a coursebook are not voicing the same complaints?

I hope I’m not preaching to the converted but here are some things that I do to try and address the above issues:

1. Needs Analysis

This is crucial in a classroom where a coursebook is not going to be followed. A detailed needs analysis needs to be carried out on Day One, and the interests of the students, their language needs and expectations need to be identified. I make sure I ask the following questions at the beginning of every course, and allow time for students to discuss them in pairs/groups:

  • How long have you been here? How long will you stay?
  • Why are you learning English? Why did you decide to come to this city/school?
  • Who will you be speaking English to in the future? In what kind of situations?
  • Do you find it more difficult to speak or to understand?
  • Do you use English outside the classroom? When and who with? How do you feel when using English in these circumstances? Do you read the news or watch English TV programmes?
  • Which skills would you like to work on? Speaking? Reading? Writing? Listening?
  • Which systems do you think you need to work on? Grammar? Lexis? Pronunciation? Why?
  • Do you find it difficult understanding native speakers? What about native speakers?
  • What did you like about your previous language classes and what didn’t you like?
  • How do you think you improve your English best? How do you try to remember and use the new lexis or grammar structures that you learn?

Because our school provides free coursebooks for General English students, when I give out these new books on Day One of a GE class, I would get students to turn to the content page and discuss the topics and language areas (grammar, functions, lexis) that they wish to cover. To add to the topics in the book, I’d put up several topics on the board e.g. Travel, Food, Current Affairs, Fashion, Health, Education, Politics & History, Technology, Music, etc. The negotiation process would then begin. Students would confer with their partners and the class would vote for the topics they would like to see in the coming weeks (each student gets five votes). This allows me to steer conversations towards the areas they are interested in, to ask more questions when these topics come up, and to be ready to use the appropriate activites/methods that I need from my teaching ‘bag of tricks’ to address their language needs. My end-of-day-one notes would often look like this.

Student Profiles

Maria – Nurse from Spain, been here for 2 months, staying for another 3.

Needs English to keep up to date with the advances in the medical field and to                     communicate with people from different countries when travelling.

Loves shopping and clubbing.

Lives and hangs out with other Spanish-speakers after class. Watches many                         English films with English subtitles.

Finds it more difficult to understand native speakers.

An organic learner who prefers to pick chunks of lexis up through frequent                            contact.

Thinks that she needs to work on her grammar because her last teacher told her                  it’s important and that she’s bad at it.

Hates activities that require her to stand up.

Yukiko – Flight attendant from Japan, been here for 1 month, staying for another 5.

Needs English for work and loves the sound of the language. etc etc…

Results of Needs Analysis and Negotiation

Systems : 1. Lexis; 2. Grammar; 3. Discourse; 4. Pronunciation.

Skills: 1. Speaking; 2. Listening; 3. Writing; 4. Reading.

Topics: Food (10 votes); Education (8 votes); Health (8 votes); Current Affairs (5 votes), etc.

Grammar Areas in Coursebook: Conditionals 2 & 3; Relative Clauses; Passive Structures; Story-telling tenses, etc.

2. Explaining why I do what I do

We do sometimes walk around with the ‘teacher-knows-best’ attitude assuming that our students will trust us no matter what approach we use. Students, however, often have a set idea as to how they learn best, and sometimes gently going through the hows and whys of the approach we’re employing (preferably backed up with a few sentences that start with ‘Scientific research into language learning has proven that…’) could not only take the mystery out of this unfamiliar way of teaching, and encourage them to see the benefits of it for their English, but resolve any false assumptions about language learning. I don’t just do this on day one but every time I employ an activity or method I haven’t done with them before e.g. progressive deletion, running dictations, TBL etc. I try to provide students with the pedagogic rationale behind it.

3. Working with emergent language and corrections.

Dogme has been accused of being ‘winging it elevated to an art form’. For it to rise above being merely a chat in the pub, it is crucial that the teacher is noticing opportunities to feed in new language, to board and extend upon the language emerging, listening for the language problems that students are having and finding the right moments to work on them to the appropriate extent.

4. Drawing attention to the language covered

In order to avoid a situation where students are unsure of what language input they have been given, I find it worth highlighting to students at the end of the class what lexical/grammatical work they have done that day (‘Look at all that grammar we’ve done today!’). Keeping a language column on the side of the board that is gradually filled out during the lesson does help, but I also get students to tell each other what they have learnt that day a la the end of a Sesame Street episode (‘Sesame Street was brought to you by the letter Z and the numbers 1 to 10’). Recalling the previous day’s lesson and carrying out recycling activities at the start of the next day also helps reaffirm this (shameless plug: my last blog on recycling in a Dogme classroom).

5. Taking notes

If students are not using the coursebook, it is all the more important to get them to keep an organised notebook. My students often have three notebooks. One for taking notes in class, a lexical notebook they keep at home where the lexis covered in class in re-organised into either an alphabetical order or by topic, and a grammar notebook which they also keep at home. The transferring of information from their class notebook to the home one helps students to remember and revise what they have learnt that day and allows them to have the time and space to raise questions about the use of that language. It is also important to make sure students are given time in class to write down what you have boarded and clarified.

6. Controlled-practice exercises

Coursebook-less classrooms don’t equate fluency-focussed classrooms. There can be accuracy work done too. This could take the form of pairwork e.g. Teaching an elementary level ‘there is/are…some’, ‘there isn’t/aren’t…any’: Tell your partner about the shops near where you live’; Teaching a mid-int class past modals of obligation: ‘Tell your partner about the rules you had when you were at school’; Teaching an upp-int relative clauses: ‘Bring a photo of your friends and family tomorrow and tell your partner about the people in the photo’.
‘But those are semi-controlled/freer practice activities!’, I hear you exclaim? I often find that controlled gap-fills, sentence transformations, matching and categorizing activities in coursebooks and grammar workbooks tend to use random de-contextualised sentences that have absolutely nothing to do with the topic you are discussing. Making up your own enables you to exploit the context that delivered that language and helps students to focus on not just the form, but the meaning and use as well.

Having said that, I recognise that with some grammar structures, it is quite difficult to keep all the practice within context (which is probably why the books too find it hard to produce contextualised controlled practice). In such cases, using the students’ names and their real experiences or making a friendly joke about the students in the exercises often help memory and retention. e.g. teaching Vanessa, who is a journalist and loves celebrity gossip, relative clauses, I wrote the following sentence transformation exercise on the board: ‘Vanessa wrote that article about Angelina Jolie. Angelina Jolie punched Vanessa during an interview’  This, of course, wasn’t true, but following Derren Brown’s maxims on memory tricks: Keep it visual and make it funny!

I remember teaching a Saudi student the structure ‘so+adj + that + clause) on the day after he had been to the dentist. Among the many sentence transformations about his classmates was one that read, ‘Ahmed looks so gorgeous with his new teeth that everyone standing beside him now looks ugly.’ Ahmed was writing the sentences on the board down in his notebook when he noticed this one and laughed, ‘I’m never going to forget this structure now!’

7. Ensuring variety

We tell trainees on the Celta in week one about different styles, and although I’m not a big fan of the VAK paradigm, the aim of that input session is to convey the message that we need to vary the activities we use in the classroom. But so many of us get lazy and start to rely on the same tricks day after day. Teachers might find their favourite boil-in-the-bag lessons much easier to execute than using a coursebook. As Chaz Pugliese said in his talk at IATEFL this year, ‘Teachers have fun! Or you might bore us!’

8. Not letting gimmicks and technology dictate

On a very different note from the last point, I have often seen teachers who spend a lot of time preparing their lessons and trying to spice things up, creating the most amazing materials using the plethora of features that the internet and IWBs offer. This is hardly materials-light to classify as a Dogme approach, but I simply felt that I needed to include something about that in this post. Arguably, one can still make lessons interesting and ensure variety by focussing on the lives of the students and the stories they have to tell us.

As much as I believe teachers should harness their creativity, the focus needs to be taken off the fancy tools of teaching and placed on the very people we are teaching. Several years ago, the British Council produced some telling results of a focus group research they conducted where students claimed that they felt that the use of IWBs and technology was taking their teachers’ attention away from them and onto the technology. The novelty of IWB gimmicks might impress students to start with, but when that starts to take centre stage, the development of our students inevitably suffers. We are not in competition to see who can create an all-singing all-dancing lesson about the present perfect continuous. We are in the business of helping students understand and use the structure. And I’m all for the most efficient way to go about doing this.

9. Giving homework 

Homework in my classes often entail students keeping their notebooks up to date, reading an article their classmates have brought in, doing some research on a topic online, preparing presentations or writing emails/blogposts/journals/essays. Depending on the needs analysis of course, including writing skills work is essential in giving students a ‘rounded experience’ of learning English. Using the controlled practice exercises in coursebooks as homework can also placate students who feel like their coursebooks are going to waste, and help them to see that the language covered in the classroom does correlate to the syllabus in the coursebook.

10. End-of-course retrospective round-up

Speaking of correlation, at the end of my courses, after rigorous rounds of recycling and revision activities, I get my students to turn to the content page of the coursebook once again, like they have done on Day One. I then get them to discuss with their partners which topics and which language areas they have covered over the month that are in the coursebook. Students are often pleasantly surprised to find that not only have they covered everything in the part of the book they were meant to cover, they have also acquired structures and language beyond that syllabus.

If students are still complaining despite all this, perhaps it’s simply due to the fact that they’ve been given a free coursebook that they haven’t got to use. The solution then is simply: Stop giving them free coursebooks and save the school some money. *wink*

Recycling Language in a Dogme Classroom

I have often have teachers asking me, ‘If language just emerges, how do you ensure learning takes place? How do you recycle the langauge?’

Many of you have read, or written blogposts on the same subject, but I thought I’d share my favourite ways of recycling language (which I’ve, of course, stolen and adapted from all the wonderful teachers and colleagues around me).

First things first, I find a retrospective record of my Dogme lessons useful in helping me keep track of what has gone on, so as to revise the language covered, and also to enable me to provide the appropriate scaffolding for subsequent lessons. To do this, I simply take a photo of my boardwork (with my mobile phone) at the end of each lesson. (The other advantage of taking photos is that when students tell you that they have no recollection of a language item being clarified, mainly because they had forgotten to take notes of it, there’s photographic evidence in your pocket!)

Here are photos of three different days of my Low-Intermediate lesson. Pardon my bad handwriting… *cringe*

(You’ll need to click on the picture to enlarge it.)

The emergent language is then transferred onto cards. Lovely coloured cards provided for by the school… On each card is either a lexical item or a structure in the form of a model sentence/phrase. These cards are brought into class every day for language recycling, and the pile grows quite rapidly, to everyone’s amazement and satisfaction.

Here’s how I use them.

1.  Recall

This is something I have adapted from an idea that originated from  my colleague, Melissa, and have done it every lesson since. (Thanks, Mel) At the start of every lesson, students tell their partners what they remember from the lesson before. It is important that the recall is not simply focussed on language, but also what was talked about, who said what, and how those emergent language items came about. This could last anything from 5 minutes to 15 minutes, and is also a great way for students who were absent to have a chance to catch up and be taught by their peers. I sometimes distribute the language cards as prompts for students to remember the contexts they arose in.

2.  The traditional and much-loved Back-to-Board

You could do this at the start of every lesson, and students seem to love it all the same. Divide the class into 2 groups, have one represetative from each group sit in front of their groupmates with their back facing the board. The teacher writes the lexical item (collocations, phrases, even sentences) and the group members have to describe and explain the language item to their representative without using the words on the board (or related words e.g. made-make, friendship-friend), without spelling any word, and without using ‘sounds-like’ clues. The first rep to shout out the answer wins a point for the group.

3.  Taboo (without the taboo words)

As the pile of cards stack up, this activity is ideal for a end-of-week revision. Again, divide the class into two groups. One representative from one group comes up and takes the stack of cards. They have 2 minutes to explain as many words as they can for their group members to guess. Rules for Back-to-Board applies. If they choose to pass a card, the opposing team will have a chance to guess when the 2 minutes is up. One point is awarded to each card guessed right.

4.  Fastest hands first

All the students sit on the floor in a circle with a ball/bottle of water/soft toy in the middle. The teacher explains the word/phrase/sentence, the fastest person to grab the ball/bottle of water/soft toy gets to answer. If they fail, their group will have one point deducted from their total score.

5.  Sabotage

All the cards are placed faced up around the floor. The teacher leaves the room (or turns away from the students and cards) Again, in groups, students will have to pick the word/phrase/sentence that they think the other group might have trouble with. The other group will then have to explain the language item to the teacher. If the teacher guesses it right, they win a point. If the teacher can’t guess it (e.g. because they’ve got the meaning wrong), the group that picked the card would have to take over the explaining. A right guess at this stage wins a point for that group. A bad explanation would mean 2 points deducted off that group’s total score.

6.  Board Rush/ Mini-Whiteboards

Ever since I’ve bought a set of mini-white boards, the traditional board rush has taken on a new meaning. The teacher explains the language item, the students have to write their answers on the board as quickly as possible (and flip them over for the rest of the class to see if you’re using mini-whiteboards). Correct answers scores a point. A great way to check for spelling errors. The teacher could always vary this by giving one part of the collocation and have the students write the other, or giving the context in which this language item occurred and have the students remember what was said/reformulated.

7.  Charades/ Win, Lose or Draw

Students pick a card and act/draw out the language item for their team to guess. You know how this works.

8.  Language Auction

Students are divided into 3 or more teams (This could also be done in pairs). Each team/pair is given a set amount of money to invest/gamble e.g. £10,000. The teacher could explain the language item, give a gapped sentence, or write up a sentence using the language item wrongly. The teams/pairs then bid to answer the question. The highest bidder wins the amount they bid if the answer is correct. If they get it wrong, that same amount is deducted from their pot.

9. Tell me a story

This could be done in pairs, or groups of 3. The groups are given a random number of cards and have to use the language item on the cards to make up a story. They write it up and the story is then posted on the wall for a gallery activity.

10. Pick it up, Take it home

At the end of each week/course, my students help me to place all the coloured cards face up on the floor. Students then walk around the classrooms in pairs discussing the different language items, explaining to each other the contexts they came up in and exchanging opinions about which ones they found easy or difficult. Students then have a chance of picking up the cards containing the language items they have trouble remembering or using, and take those home with them. I find that the physicalisation of actually picking up the cards and keeping them really helps with students’ memory of the item.

So there you have it. These are the 10 things I do on a regular basis to enable recycling to happen in my classroom. In fact, I tend to do one of the above activites on a Tuesday to revise Monday’s language, on a Wednesday to revise Monday’s and Tuesday’s language, and so on and so forth. On a Friday, I dedicate more than half of my 3 hour lesson to recycling all the language covered thus far (that week and the weeks before that)…

You probably already do some of them (if not all) yourself. But if you haven’t, do give it a try and tell me how it goes! If you have some that I haven’t mentioned, please feel free to share your ideas!

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?