Hey Everyone! Thanks for hanging on so long without a post! Tim and I have been navigating an international move and trying to get adjusted in California again, and unfortunately, our posting frequency has suffered. We'll be back to posting again soon!
Saturday, June 2, 2012
On Wednesday nights, I have a class with two students (around a CEF level B1, I would estimate). The course they are taking is designed to be communicative, but text/material driven, and at the end of the course, both students will be tested on vocabulary, grammar, and ideas directly from the text. Normally, I incorporate a lot of discussion and vocabulary building activities into the lessons, but last week, I tried to to be purposefully more “Unplugged.”
I walked into class, and like every week, asked the students how they were, etc. One student said that she went to the dentist last week and that her face was sore. Instead of saying, “Oh, I'm sorry to hear that,” though, this time, I tried to run with it. I had her tell me what happened (she had had her wisdom teeth removed). I asked the other student if she had had her wisdom teeth pulled also, and she had.
We ended up having a wonderful 20 minute conversation about wisdom teeth, dentists, oral surgery, and recovery, and we filled up the whole board with new vocabulary. Both students were able to tell their stories, compare experiences, and talk about funny situations related to dentists offices. They wrote down the 10-15 words (out of 50?) that were most relevant to them (for example, some teeth vocabulary and the difference between 'to miss' and 'to avoid').
This lesson, and the other lessons I've been trying to unplug lately, have made me wonder how many other situations students have brought to the classroom in the past that I haven't noticed or exploited, and it made me more aware of the teaching possibilities present in daily life.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
My Monday morning course is a “technical” English course that is actually very free. As long as the students are happy and learning English, there is no text or material requirement and no test at the end of the course.
Usually, in the class, we read target-language articles about new technology in the students' field and then have a variety of activities for discussion. The problem with this set up is that we usually have to read two pages of text before we can get to the fun, communicative activities (instead of the summarizing and predicting). With this is mind, I have been looking for a way to make the process of going through the text more interesting and making the language more accessible.
I used an activity based on the “Textplosion” activity on page 66 of Teaching Unplugged, along with a modified dictation activity. I printed the first sentence of an article we were going to start on to individual word-cards, and then I mixed them all up. I gave them to the students and asked them to tell me, based on the words they saw, what the article would be about. One student pointed out that it was a little difficult because there were so many “small words,” and not so many “important” words. So, from there, I had them separate the word cards into “small words” (or “grammar words”) and “important words” (or “content words”). Once they had done that, I read the original sentence out loud and had them put the content words in order. After, I read it again, and they filled in the grammar words.
This activity worked really well on the day I tried it, because the two students who showed up were the least advanced, and usually, they have a little trouble keeping up. This activity made the text very accessible, and helped them feel successful about their language. Since it didn't require as much instant comprehension, and because we worked with the same text for the entire class period, they were able to process it and understand it by the time they left.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
One of the course books that I use for my conversation classes has really simple paragraphs and dialogs, and I think that it's a little boring to read them out loud in class. However, the information that they present is really helpful for solidifying the lexical terms in the chapter.
So, with this in mind, I decided to try an activity based on the “Predicting the Original Text” activity on page 58 of Teaching Unplugged. The text was a collection of three short monologues, where people were talking about their pay and benefits at work. I wrote the first sentence of each (something like, “Hi, my name is John Smith, and I work at a bank”), just to give students an idea of what type of person was there, and then I told them that the text was a short paragraph where the person talked about his or her pay and benefits. I also wrote some helpful vocabulary words on the side, and told them that these words were in the text somewhere. We quickly talked about the meaning of the words, and then they were off.
The activity went pretty well, and since the texts were so simple, the students were able to predict them fairly accurately. We took a minute at the end to look at the differences between the student guesses and the real text, and to see if the difference were “wrong” or just “different.” With a different text, the activity could have been more interesting, but all in all, this activity met the goal I had for it: to present a more interesting way to deal with the text containing the chapter vocabulary.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Every week, I have two conversation courses with different groups at the same company. The groups are about the same level and they use the same material, but due to a Holiday-Monday heavy month, the Thursday group is about 2 weeks ahead of the Monday group. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but there is a possibility that the courses will be combined because of attendance issues, so it's important to get them both on the same track.
For this reason, I've had a little leeway lately with the Thursday group, and I tried out an activity based on the “Up and Down” activity on page 40 of Teaching Unplugged. Basically, it's an activity where the students draw a chart depicting the high-points and low-point of their weeks. I did mine first on the board, in front of the class to model it. Then, the students generated their own, and one-by-one, came to the front of the class to plot their lines on the same chart as mine.
The activity went over way better than I thought it would. I encouraged the students to ask questions, but they really were interested in each other, and they asked more and more questions. They also started making jokes....about me. One of the low points of my week was that I burnt a pot of lentil beans on Tuesday. (I don't know if any of you have burnt lentils before, but burning lentils smell really really strongly of weed, and this is a smell that makes me start to dry heave). So, for the rest of Tuesday, my entire apartment smelled like marijuana. I shared this information with my students, and they made jokes about how the rest of my week went up from there, and was I sure that they were lentil beans? They also suggested to the other students that they should have burned lentil beans at the low points in their week.
Anyway. The activity also gave the students a chance to vent about some of the more difficult parts of their work (nothing is going right this week, too much overtime) and to share some outside information with us (for example, I learned that one of my students has a chicken farm, and that another one fishes and sells his catch to a local shop). I found it to be a very enlightening activity, and the students really enjoyed talking about themselves and sharing with the others.