Another one for you Americans.
Another one for you Americans.
On Wednesdays, I (often) share a worksheet or lesson that I’ve used in my ESL classes. You are always free to use and modify these as you like. If you do, please include attribution to me and don’t even think about selling it. This week, the worksheet was designed for intermediate (B2+/C1) students.
One of the objectives slated for this week was a review of relative clauses ahead of teaching reduced relative clauses. This seemed like a great opportunity to put some of my ICELT training to the test, and to incorporate material from a great workshop on using speechless video in class given by my colleague Kendra last year. The video I chose for this lesson was a very well-made piece called The Scarecrow from, of all things, Chipolte. But don’t worry, there’s no advertising in the video. It features great visuals and a lot to discuss.
This lesson can be used to review relative clauses, if you follow my worksheet. But, it can also work for any number of other skills and language. The lesson starts with a vocabulary elicitation exercise; students generate some useful words based on several pictures. Then they discuss a few questions to warm them up and activate schemata. Then they predict what the video might be about. While they watch the video, they are encouraged to take notes, using a prepared note-taking box with space for characters, settings, things, events, and notes. After watching, they check their predictions (we learned in our ICELT class that most teachers forget or just skip this step, so don’t do that!). Then they are asked to write a brief summary using their notes, which I had them do with their partners. From that, we move into a few comprehension questions, but the questions are actually nudging them into the real objective: relative clauses. Each of the questions is written as a relative clause, which many of my students didn’t notice until I asked them what the sentences had in common.
Then there is an exercise centered around identifying the relative clause and its components. That’s followed by an error-correction exercise and then a return to the summary they wrote earlier, which they will rewrite using relative clauses.
That was all the time I had for my lesson, but if I had more, I would have included a speaking activity, where the students would write their own questions and quiz each other, all the while using relative clauses. With even more time, I would have loved to have used this for a group discussion activity, since we just set the group discussion assessment criteria and tasks in my class. C’est la vie.
As I said, you could easily re-work this lesson to cover many other grammar topics or receptive/productive skills. The video could easily lead into a group discussion lesson, debate, essay writing, surveys and presentations, and much more.
Download the worksheet: the scarecrow – relative clauses
The Scarecrow: Relative Clauses by Chris Sanders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
My American teacher friends get this, I’m sure.
“Hello, how are you? It’s so typical of me to talk about myself. I’m sorry.”
It would be fair to say that I was, until recently, a ‘context’ skeptic. It’s not that I didn’t see the value of establishing an overarching narrative or theme when teaching grammar or vocabulary or what-have-you. It’s just that I didn’t feel it was necessary. My worry has been that doing so will tend to encourage students to focus on that story or song or video clip or cluster of realia, perhaps at the expense of the target grammar or vocabulary. Or, if the learners do grok the objectives, then they may associate with the context of that lesson rather than seeing how it applies universally. Moreover, the way they will be expected to use it come assessment time will generally be devoid of context, even if there is some contextualization on the test – our listening assessment and writing assessment are complimentary topics, for instance – that context will almost never be the same one in which they studied the material.
What I’ve learned in ICELT, however, challenges my preconception about context. According to our instructors, establishing and staying within a context anchors the learners in a (hopefully) familiar frame of reference, allowing for the all-important activation of background schemata. Without such a framework, it can be difficult for the learners to understand the utility of the target language. As our tutor said, absent context, it’s all just random words and sentences. This is why coursebooks always have themes around which their vocabulary and grammar are centered. It is also why, perhaps, so many students buy texts like English Grammar in Use and never get more than a few pages into it. All those cloze exercises and transformations are devoid of any familiar meaning.
I still believe that there should be activities that provide more test-prep and universalized practice, but I am now more amenable to using context for my grammar and vocabulary lessons in the future. If only I’d come to that realization before I had my assessed observation.
A couple of weeks ago, I had 2nd teaching observation, the first one that would actually be assessed. The objective of the lesson was a notoriously difficult one, in my experience: infinitives of purpose, such that, so that, such…that, and so…that; an annoying cluster of grammar and functional language that only sort of go together. In the run up to the lesson, I spent a crazy amount of time on the lesson plan. Hours and hours. I wrote up stages, made materials, scraped the stages, and archived the materials. Why? I don’t know. It was not a pleasant experience, but it was an educational one, though mostly in hindsight.
Structurally, I opted for a PPP framework: presentation, practice, production. A solid choice, I felt; going for a task-based learning approach would have worked too, but it’s a style that I’m not as comfortable with, so not what I wanted to do for an assessed lesson. One of the things we’d studied in our ICELT course is the value of elicitation. Instead of just having the teacher show the learners the target grammar or vocabulary, it’s better to get the students to produce as much of it as possible and then nudge them in the right direction. Thus, I included a stage for elicitation of the target grammar.
But first, I wanted to do something a little fun and interesting. You know, lower those pesky affective filters. For the lead-in to the lesson, we listened to Adele’s Hello while students filled in the missing words in the lyrics on a worksheet I prepared. That stage of the lesson worked well, though there was a little technical glitch at the beginning of the lesson. I then used the lyrics to move into the first main grammar point, the infinitive of purpose.
Where I think I screwed up is in the next stage. The Adele song was a good, fun way to ease into the topic; unfortunately, I didn’t continue to use the song as we moved on to the next stages. Instead, I used a series of interesting but random pictures for elicitation of the other grammar structures – such that, so that, such…that, so…that – and unconnected sentences for a series of rewrite activities. The song should have been the context of the entire lesson. Had I started the hour off with some predictive activities and/or lead-in questions, then played the song and done the gap fill, then the target language presentation, and elicitation using elements from the song and the story the song presents, it would have been a far more cohesive, grounded lesson. Context, man.
The rewrite activities were another thing that was not as effective as they could have been, mainly because there were too many of them, and too frequent throughout the assessed part of the 2-block lesson. My thinking was that the students often do poorly on rewrites during the mid-term and final test, so the more practice the better, since the final was just a week away. My intentions were the best, but the lesson was not the better for them.
Another unfortunate part of my lesson was the amount of TTT: teacher talk time. When I was designing and redesigning my lesson plan, I thought I had minimized TTT. In practice, though, I found that the class was actually much more teacher-centric than I realized. In retrospect, some of the activities that I scraped, such as a running dictation, would have centered the class much more on student-student interaction. The main culprit was the PowerPoint I used. I know some teachers are totally against PPTs. I think that they are useful, it used correctly. In this case, I used it for highlighting text from the Adele song, for paper-reduction, for showing photos, and similar things. The PPT itself wasn’t bad; there was just too many stages that utilized it. Have a variety of different kinds of activities would have mitigated this issue.
In the end, the lesson was fine; I passed the assessment. Though the students learned the grammar points pretty well, I felt disappointed that the lesson didn’t live up to my expectations. Thankfully, though, I was able to recognize the mistakes I made in it and will be better able to avoid them in the future. “At least I can say that I’ve tried.”