January 20

Interviewing Trump

OK, I couldn’t resist a lesson about Donald Trump – he does have a way of making reported speech great again 😉

With my FCE group, we were doing a review of reported speech, reporting questions and reporting verbs.  Having elicited in the previous lesson the changes which take place when using indirect speech, the first activity of the lesson looked at reporting verbs – namely categorising them into their patterns, such as RV+object+infinitive, and so on.  As I said, this was a review session and learners had already seen reporting verbs previously and done more controlled practice exercises with them.  After feedback on the reporting verbs, I told the learners that we’d come back to them later and put a wordle on the board:

To be honest, they didn’t really even need time to confer with a partner as the lexis was familiar and it was fairly obvious who the words related to!  I then set up a listening task using Sean Banville’s famouspeoplelessons.com and gave the learners the following numbers to listen out for: 1946, 45th, 324th, 70/7/6.  After listening they had a couple of minutes to share with a partner what they had understood the numbers related to – again, not too tricky, though it did throw out the word ‘wealthiest’ which they were unfamiliar with, but understood in the context.

I could have done more with the listening – and indeed, Sean prepares a wide variety of tasks to do for each of the biographies he presents – but I got the sense that nobody was particularly interested in learning more about the 45th President of the United States…there were some stony faces around the classroom just at the mention of his name!

So, we moved onto the next stage and I asked the learners to write three questions they would like to ask Donald Trump, any three questions.  They were quite creative and I was surprised that some of them were using more emphatic language in their questions, like:

“Does your wife actually love you?”

“Do you really think the USA can survive without immigrants?”

Whilst they were writing their questions, I’d written up a quick review on reporting questions on the board, with a couple of examples which we went through together.  I then put them in different pairs and set up the freer practice activity.  I explained that they were journalists who had interviewed Trump and were going to report back on how the interview had gone.  They had to work together to re-phrase their questions into indirect speech and then write Trump’s answers, including at least three of the reporting verbs we’d seen at the start of the class.  Although this is an activity they could have done individually, I found that they were able to support each other more working together – correcting each other as necessary when writing indirect questions and chatting about what his answers would be.

All in all, that took about 60 minutes and a similar activity could be done for any famous person – I found that using someone who the learners were less keen on meant that they wrote more creative questions, but the plan could work equally well with another celebrity.  You could also adapt the plan for lower levels by just focussing on reporting questions and indirect speech (He said…) rather than using reporting verbs.

October 10

Don Quijote – a short play

One of the new challenges I have this year is teaching 4th Primary Social and Natural Science as part of the school’s bilingual programme.  I see four groups once a week – which is fantastic in terms of planning as I can pretty much repeat the same lesson four times (tweaking it as I go and reflecting on what worked well from the first lesson of the week!).

A couple of weeks ago, the whole year group was involved in a project about Don Quijote – all their lessons in different subjects were themed around the story and so I also offered to prepare on the topic for my class.  Having never read the book, I wasn’t really sure which direction to take, so I read up about it (and watched some children’s cartoon versions of the story) to get some ideas.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to cram the whole story into an hour-long class, so picked out one of the more famous scenes of Don Quijote attacking a windmill, which he believes to be a giant.

Lesson Stages:

  1. Elicit from learners what they know about Don Quijote – where does he live? what does he do? what’s his friend’s name? does he have any animals?  During this stage, it’s helpful to elicit some of the lexis which learners might be unfamiliar with from the story (e.g. helmet, fight, windmill, etc).
  2. Divide the class into small teams (in our classes, they are grouped around tables of four or five).  Hand out the prepared story, cut up into sections.  I had eight envelopes, each with six pieces of paper in.  Tell the group to order the sentence.
    1. My name is Don Quijote and I’m a very brave
    knight. This is my faithful servant, Sancho Panza.

    Couple of quick hints:
    Think beforehand about where you separate the sentences as we don’t want learners to get bogged down with unknown lexis at this point.  For example, the sentences above can be ordered without needing to know the word faithful.  Secondly, try to prepare enough envelopes so that there are a couple more than the number of groups in the class.  That way, when a group finishes ordering the sentence and you check it, you can give them another envelope without needing to wait for another group to finish.  Also, you can write on the table with chalk so you remember which sentences the group have completed.

  3. When groups have completed a number of sentences, do whole group feedback by asking groups to read out the sentences in order.  If you have a projector, it also helps to project the story and (another quick tip) if you prepare the text as a Word document, you can make the text white, then highlight and change the colour when they read out the sentence – this allows you to effectively have the whole text on the board, but means learners can only see the sections you want them to.
  4. As you reveal each sentence, drill it and check lexis and pronunciation.
  5. Divide the class into groups of three – Don Quijote, Sancho Panza and the narrator.  You might like to do some further drilling of the story once everyone has their roles assigned.  Give them a few minutes to practise the story in their groups, then invite them to the front to act it out.  If there are any pronunciation problems during a group’s performance, do a quick review of it before the next group performs.

Things I enjoyed about this activity:

The sentence ordering activity was quite kineasthetic which I think is important for primary-aged learners.

Drilling the sentences as a group meant that we could work a little on rhythm and intonation, as well as the pronunciation of tricky vocabulary.  Also, because of the content, you could get quite theatrical with the drilling.

In all the classes, learners were keen to act out their story.  I found this quite motivating as I know within the group there are varying levels of confidence with English and so the fact that they all wanted to participate was great.

Some disadvantages:

You do a fair amount of running between tables during the sentence ordering activity.

Also, it’s sometimes hard to ensure that everyone is equally involved in the ordering task.  Perhaps a way to overcome this would be to nominate a learner from each group to be in charge of a sentence – so the others can help, but only that individual can touch the cards and must also read out the sentence to you when it’s complete.

With a group of 25, learners can get a little restless watching other groups perform – in the past I’ve given teams points for their pronunciation and theatrical performance and also for listening to others.

If you fancy trying the lesson yourself, here are the story cards and the boardwork.

September 24

A materials-free PET lesson

Eeeep, I’ll admit it – I’ve still not got my routine sorted in terms of when lessons get planned and so on Thursday, I had focussed far more on my YLs and twenty minutes before an afternoon of classes suddenly thought, “Aaah – what am I doing with my PET group?!” Unfortunately, teaching two groups of little people and another YLs class during the afternoon, I didn’t have much time to plan whilst lessons were going on and five minutes before the class was due to start, still didn’t have it quite clear in my head. So, here’s a materials-light (possibly even -free) lesson for learners preparing for the Cambridge PET exam.

Start with StarWord – an easy game which activates schemata.
Draw a star on the board. Explain that you’re thinking of a word related to the topic of (At the beach). Give them a minute to brainstorm in pairs.
Nominate a learner to say a word (then, as was the case on Thursday, have a moment of panic when they get your word – towel – in the first guess and you realise you can’t think of anything else at the beach. Congratulate them on being so clever, writing their word below the star to show they got it correct, then recover with ‘bikini’ in mind and start again!).
The star on the board represents where your word lies alphabetically, so as learners guess, add their words to the board in the correct position (before/after, closer/further away).

**If I was doing this class with a group of teenage learners I was more familiar with, I’d do this stage next. As it was only our second lesson, I decided to do this guided visualisation after the speaking exam practice stage.**

Tell the group to close their eyes and do a guided visualisation of being on the beach. Here are some questions to put to them…
Are you on a beach you’ve been to before, or are you imagining a new beach?
Are you alone? Are you with friends or family?
What can you see around you? Are there children playing? Is the beach busy or empty?
What can you hear? Think about the sound of the sea – are the waves crashing on the shore or is it calm?
Can you smell anything?
Think about where you are – are you standing on the beach with the sand between your toes? Are you in the sea – is the water warm or refreshing? What’s the weather like – can you feel the sun on your skin?

In pairs, learners tell their partner about their beach – remind them to think about what they could see, hear, smell and feel. Then, as whole group feedback, ask each learner to tell you three things about their beach. This is a good moment for error collection/correction – a typical issue here in Spain being, “I was in the beach.”

Next, elicit three or four beaches which your learners may go to and ask them to work in pairs to think of an advantage and disadvantage of each. It can help to say that they can’t repeat the same information more than once and, if you wanted to add an extra level of challenge, you could say that they can’t use opposites to talk about different beaches, e.g. “An advantage of beach A is that it’s clean. A disadvantage of beach B is that it’s really dirty.”

Nominate learners and board their ideas – don’t limit yourself in feedback to just one advantage/disadvantage for each as it’s likely that pairs will have come up with different points for different beaches.

Then, as a bit of an aside, check their knowledge of the PET speaking exam and elicit timing, interactions and the different phases of the exam.

For the next stage, it may help to have some typical language for part 2 (the interactive phase) prepared on cards – phrases for making suggestions and agreeing/disagreeing, such as, “Why don’t we…?” or “I don’t think that’s a good idea, because…” If you have them prepared, hand out a set to each pair and ask them to divide them out; if you don’t have the cards ready, you can elicit this language from the group and board it.

Set the scene for part 2 of the speaking exam:
“You’ve decided to go to the beach this weekend. Talk together about the different beaches you could visit and decide which would be best. I’ll say that again…”
In pairs, learners discuss the topic, using the cards in their hand. This is another good opportunity to monitor and collect/correct errors.

**I now did the guided visualisation.**

Finally, set up a homework task to write a letter to a friend who is coming to visit your city/region and has sent a letter to ask your advice on which beach to visit.  Elicit the layout for writing a letter and word count.

Here are some other topics which could work with this plan:

*Being in the countryside. They could think of activities to do such as horse-riding or rock-climbing for the interactive and letter tasks

city*Going shopping. They could think about different shopping areas in the town (for example locally for us there is a small shopping centre, an enormous shopping centre out of town, a department store or the high street).  For the letter task, they could respond to a friend about their shopping habits

*Learning languages.  For the interactive tasks they could think of advantages and disadvantages of the different ways people can learn languages (online, going to class, reading, audio classes, etc) and then for the letter task, give a friend advice on learning a new language

*The future. For the guided visualisation, you could talk them through their future job; then for the interactive task they could talk about possible summer jobs and in the letter task, either write a letter imagining a job they had in the previous summer or talk about their plans for their future career

October 19

Adapting the classics to lower levels

I started a new class yesterday – an A2 group, many of whom studied English many years ago at school or in the government-run language school.  I wanted to do some kind of a mingle as a getting-to-know-you activity and thought about doing a ‘Find someone who…’ activity.  However, when I was thinking about the actual development of the activity, I felt the mingle stage would be too heavily preluded by a stage on adapting the statements to questions and question formation, which led to doubts about whether we would get bogged down by different tenses and the use of auxiliaries and modals.  I was trying to think of a way in which I could adapt the activity so that learners would still get the communicative element of questioning different classmates, without the heavy grammatical focus beforehand.

In the end, I opted for the following stages:
1. Prior to the lesson, print a number of cards with questions on
2. Give each learner four cards and tell them to write their answer, but not their name
3. Whilst they’re doing this, monitor to check everyone’s on task and help with any queries and at the same time, write up some difficult-to-pronounce lexis on the board (for my lesson this included usually, favourite, child/children and husband)
4. Take in their slips of paper and work through the lexis on the board – this was also an opportunity to check their knowledge, e.g. which other adverbs of frequency did they know
5. Give instructions for the next stage: learners will be given four cards and must find who each card belongs to. When they find the match, they should ask a follow-up question
6. After shuffling the cards, give each learner four cards, making sure they don’t have their own
7. Learners mingle – at this point you can either be involved if you’ve written on cards yourself or simply monitor
8. As a feedback activity, ask each learner to make a sentence about a classmate. You can also ask further follow-up questions
9. Do any error correction work which you picked up on during the activity or in feedback

February 25

PET Writing Part 3 – A Story

I recently attended a talk on writing, given by Chris Johnson who’s currently based at St. James in Sevilla. He gave some excellent tips on better preparing learners for writing and I decided to use some ideas from his talk in my B1 lesson today.  Here’s the plan:

As most learners are familiar with Little Red Riding Hood, I used that story as a starting point, as Chris did in his talk, and asked the group to work in pairs and tell each other what they could remember from the story. We then briefly analysed the story using Hoey’s SPRE formula:
Situation – the where and when, setting the scene and introducing the main character
Problem
Resolution
Ending (originally this is Evaluation, but I felt for the purpose of this activity it would be better to use Ending)

We discussed how this formula can be useful when writing texts and compared other stories in which it has been used.

Learners then looked at two sample answers from the PET handbook in which the candidates had written stories with the title A Lucky Escape and linked each SPRE stage to the text.    We discussed how the SPRE formula is a good basis for writing a plan before producing a text and talked about what notes the candidates could have made against each stage to help them construct their texts.

The production stage has been set for homework and learners took away some linking devices to further help them organise their texts.

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