I tried at activity a couple of weeks ago which I’d often heard about, but never done before – a minimal pairs telephone. The previous week, I’d set my groups a writing task and whilst I was marking them, I noticed recurring issues with this and these when used as demonstratives. It’s a common problem for Spanish speakers because of the length of the two vowel phonemes – Spanish has a short /I/ sound, but not a longer /i:/. This leads them to make mistakes when writing, especially if they don’t proofread their work before handing it in!
So, after looking at the written task and highlighting the errors with this/these, I projected the table below and told them I was going to tell them my telephone number.
I then quickly read my telephone number as words, then again more slowly in sets of three. It was amusing, as they struggled to hear the difference as well. After pair-checking and confirming the answer, I drilled the words and encouraged them to stretch their mouths for the longer /i:/ sound. Then they read their telephone numbers to each other.
Quite a few years ago, I had a change of environment and started working in a state school which had blackboards – prompting me to suggest a new title for the blog. Well, it’s happened again…but now I’m faced with a scarily expensive smartboard! Annoyingly, there is also a whiteboard in the room…at the other end of it and whilst I love using the whiteboard, I feel it’s a little inconsistent to ask my class to turn their chairs/desks around every other day.
So, at the moment I’m going PowerPoint-crazy, prepping my lessons like the billy-o. However, I will ask someone at the centre to help me out with using the smartboard as a board, rather than just projecting everything.
Another area of excitement with this new environment is that I have been given the highest level group…which means I have a range of levels from pre-B1 to post-B2, with some who have even prepared for a C1 exam. I’m going to look into how I can effectively differentiate in the classroom, bearing in mind that the centre is materials-light (so no wonderful photocopying of various level reading texts) and also has a no-phones policy (so no wonderful differentiated listening tasks on BYOD). It’s a new adventure!
In yet another change of direction, it looks as though I won’t be teaching any YLs this year. However, these ideas, from a professional development session last year, are still valid when we think about our adult classes. Although we often assume there will be less discipline and classroom management issues with adults, this may not always be true. In fact, it can sometimes be more difficult to deal with such issues as you don’t want to patronise or embarrass your adult learners by responding to issues in the same way you would with younger learners.
So, in a bid to minimise classroom management problems, here are some factors to consider, in no particular order:
Or actually not, in my case! It’s Saturday but I woke up at 6.30 so I figured I may as well get up and do something useful with my time and blog about yesterday’s lesson.
A bit of background to the lesson itself: we’re just starting TP2 with the part-time TESOL trainees and so yesterday the tutors were teaching. Although I always feel nervous when being observed on the course, I generally feel better at the start of TP2 as I’m more familiar with the learners. As such, I’d planned yesterday’s lesson with the original B1 group in mind and they were, generally speaking, a strong B1 group. Unfortunately, as I found out when I arrived at the school yesterday, only three of the previous group were continuing and I had five new learners that day. As soon as they walked in, I knew the material would be incredibly challenging for them, especially as a couple felt more like A2 learners. But, c’est la vie! We did the tasks a little more slowly and stronger learners were able to support their peers well and although the material was challenging, the tasks associated were simple, as you’ll see below.
We did some initial chat around the three questions below and a collocations task from the book which also provided space for learners to personalise the language and gave me further opportunity to gauge their level.
Do you find it easy to get to sleep?
Are you a heavy or a light sleeper?
What do you do when you can’t sleep?
We did this prediction task before watching the video – the first time they watched, I asked them to check their predictions, we did a quick pair-check, then I asked them to watch again and then tell a partner what they found interesting or surprising about the video. The text is fast, but the predictions task was simple and the answers for those statements were clearly given.
For the next stage, I’d done a little crowd-sourcing and asked my friends in the UK what time they go to bed and get up – I mapped their responses onto a chart and then got all the learners (and trainees) to add their times. I pointed out that the difference in the times that people in the UK and Spain get up was fairly minimal and asked them to discuss in pairs why they thought Spanish people go to bed so much later.
This then led on to reading a shortened, graded version of this text from The Guardian, which explains that Spain is in the wrong time zone. There was an activity to match some tricky lexis from the text to definitions and while I’d originally planned for learners to share their opinion on the text (similar to the video – what did you find interesting or surprising?), I felt that because of the shift in level, the group would benefit from a more structured comprehension/reaction-to-the-text task, so I wrote some statements from the text on the board and asked them to discuss whether they were true.
The reading text led on to the final task – a debate. I divided the group into two, mixing up learners a little so that a) the original three members were split up, b) there was an even number of stronger/weaker learners in each group and c) the stronger learners who had supported their weaker peers before were paired with someone different. Group A had to discuss reasons why they thought Spain should change its time zone; group B had to discuss why they felt Spain should stay in its current time zone – I had prepared some points for each group to think about such as how the change might affect businesses or Spanish traditions, amongst others. After a few minutes to get some ideas together, we did a quick task to look at language of agreeing/disagreeing and then mixed up the groups so learners could debate whether or not to change time zone. Although I was happy with this final stage, I feel that it would have been more successful if I had made everyone in groups A and B to make notes as then I could have paired people off to debate. As it was, in group B, only one person had made notes – as I felt that the weaker learners in that group would feel very uncomfortable doing the debate task with no support, I decided to have two people from each group against two from the other, which inevitably meant that some people spoke more than others.
So, what did I learn from this lesson?
I think the main tip I’ve taken away is to plan lower rather than higher for a first lesson with (what could be) an unfamiliar group as it’s much easier to extend simple tasks for stronger learners than it is to adapt materials on-the-spot for weaker learners.
For a recent trainee’s lesson, the TP points originally said to do a board rush to activate schema around the topic of jobs. Unfortunately, between writing the TP points and talking them through as a group, we decided to change rooms and the new room’s layout meant that a board rush would have been a little tricky. So, when we talked through the lesson, we discussed alternatives and settled on the learners writing down jobs starting with each letter in pairs and then a bit of feedback on some interesting jobs which they came up with.
In the end, the teacher decided to do feedback on all the letters of the alphabet which in many ways was fabulous as it gave the learners a chance to share their previous knowledge and allowed them to introduce new lexis to classmates. However, it did make for a slightly longer engage stage which meant the teacher was left with less time for later tasks – this wasn’t a problem in terms of aims achievement, but he had prepared a wonderful picture dictation which there unfortunately wasn’t time for.
In feedback on the lesson, which is done online as it’s a part-time CertTESOL course, I asked the trainees what they would have done differently in order to maximise time and materials. They came up with some good ideas and one trainee mentioned an alternative way of doing a board rush which I’m going to steal for this blogpost (thanks, Val!).
She suggested having the alphabet stuck up around the room, either with alphabet flashcards or on pieces of paper. Learners could then move around the room and add jobs to each letter, either by writing them directly on the paper or sticking post-its on. I think this is a great way to do an alternative board rush as it means that everyone is involved, rather than the two or three people who can squeeze up at the board on a good day, and still involves the kinaesthetic element of getting up and about. You could still have the competitive element too – either assign certain pen colours to individuals on a team as you probably would in a normal board rush, or use differnt coloured post-its (though be careful of cheats who may remove words!). Another bonus is that the lexis can be kept much more easily – often board work is fleeting, rubbed off in preparation for the next task – unless of course you’re a die-hard #ELTwhiteboard fan and take a photo of it!