The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 1

This is Varinder Unlu’s account of her 1st Day using the coursebook in the Teach-Off at IH London.

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

Meanwhile, let me hand you over to Varinder…

23rd April 2012

Ok, can’t say that I wasn’t nervous this morning. I had already met the group several times when I observed Chia last week and I was sitting at the back of the classroom when Chia conducted feedback on Friday. I knew the learners had already developed a really good rapport with their teacher and my biggest challenge today was to create a tiny bit of that rapport.
Today was an intake day and we had two new students join the class after the break. I didn’t want to dive straight into the course book as that’s not what I would normally do when starting a new class. So this is what happened:
As I walked into the classroom at 8.55, three students were already there. I was introducing myself to them when four more students arrived.
Stages of my lesson:
1. Introductions – in order for students to learn something about me I invited them to ask me questions. Two out of the six students actually took this opportunity:
“Where are you from?” was the first one.
“What do like doing in London?” was the second.
The rest of the class looked at me with suspicion. This was going to be harder than I thought.
2. I explained what we were going to be doing in today’s lesson and boarded my lesson objectives:
• Needs analysis
• Choosing the topics of interest to them from the course book
• Learning to learn – being a better learner

3. Students answered their needs analysis questions. They were keen to do this and put quite a lot of thought into their answers. What surprised me was not their answers but the number of spelling mistakes, lack of punctuation and lack of structure in their written answers. Their speaking is definitely stronger than their writing.

4. I put the class into two groups and explained that we were going to be using the course book that they had been given the week before. I asked them to look at the contents page and discuss in their groups which topics appealed to them. I told them that because we only had two weeks together we would not be able to cover all the topics in the book and that each group had to decide to two. Interestingly, the two groups choose the same topics! So the two units we will be looking at this week (and possibly carrying on into next week) are: Unit 6 and Unit 7 from Global intermediate.

5. Now it was time to move on to learner training – we talked about what the students do to help improve their English outside the classroom. This discussion led to the importance of reading and we established that most of the class likes to read books about history and detective stories. So during the break I took the opportunity to get a class set of Edgar Alan “A collection of short stories” and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes – short stories”.

6. After the break students were given the books and I asked them to choose one that they would like to read over the next two weeks. They chose Sherlock Holmes. They will be reading the first story in the book this week and we will discuss it on Wednesday morning.

7. As I was so surprised at the lack of sentence structure in their needs analysis answers, I decided to do a quick test of present simple and continuous – page 17 (gap fill) from the course book. They actually found this challenging. We discussed the differences between the two as we checked the answers. As we were doing this, I dealt with language that was emerging as a result of some of the vocabulary in the text, for example: a student asked me what “sense of humour” meant. I threw it back out to the class and someone said “to make fun”. So I had to explain the difference between to “make fun of sbdy/sthg” and “to have fun”. We also discussed what the word “Liverpudlians” is used to describe leading to “Mancunians” “Geordies” etc.

8. We then moved on to exercise 2 – questions. During feedback, we looked at subject/object questions.

9. It was now 11.50 and we had ten minutes to re-cap the lexis that had come up in the lesson. We went through pronunciation and meaning of the words and phrases that I had written on the whiteboard.

So we got through quite a lot in three hours. I’m happy to say that as the lesson progressed, the learners relaxed and started responding better. They asked me for clarification when they were not sure about something and they even asked me a few personal questions as lesson went on.
Tomorrow we start using the course book properly…….


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.