One word lessons

Andrew Pickles recently wrote a great post about a one word lesson at Idle EFL thoughts .  His word was “hot” and the lesson that grew out of it is described here .

It got me thinking about a blog post that I’d left languishing in my drafts box.  I decided to dust it off and tell the story of my “one word lesson”.  A lesson which required zero preparation, the support of a couple of dictionaries, and relied almost entirely on the students’ input.

My one word lesson was a standby lesson I taught years ago.  I was given the page number in a coursebook as the lesson plan.  It was a functional language lesson and the focus was giving advice.  The lesson was well structured and thorough, but I just didn’t have the time to sit down, go through it and make it my own.  So I decided to take the key word and start from there.  The students could refer to the coursebook work later.

I wrote “advice” on the board and asked the class of intermediate Spanish students to look at the word and think about what they knew about it.  What did it mean? What part of speech was it?  How did they say it in Spanish?  Having established that it was a noun, I asked for the verb and we noticed the difference in spelling.  I asked whether the noun was countable or uncountable and we talked about the grammatical repercussions of this, comparing it to its Spanish “equivalent” (consejo which is countable).  We also compared it to its Spanish false friend and established the potential for confusion (aviso = warning or notice).  All this information came from the students, though at this stage the lesson was still very teacher-directed.

Slowly we started to create a mind map around the word “advice”.   I asked them to think of verbs and adjectives that could be combined with the word.   They came up with give, take, ask for, listen to and good, bad useful. This was added to the mind map.  We then consulted dictionaries to see if we could find more collocations.  We came up with follow, offer, ignore and sound, practical, legal and financial. These were duly added to the mind map.

We moved away from issues of form and on to the functional force of the word. I asked the students to brainstorm a list of situations where people might ask for advice, and what kind of advice they’d ask for.   We shared this information and discussed who might be most suited to giving the advice in each situation. All this information we added to the mind map.   At this stage I was very much secretary (and, at times, living phrase book) and the ideas and input were coming from the students, though of course, the questions and direction of the activity were still coming from me.

I then asked the students to think about an example of a time when:

a) they had given someone some advice

b) someone had given them some advice

Then I asked them  to  think about whether or not they thought the advice was good /useful and whether they(or the person at the receiving end) had followed the advice  and why/why not.  We did this in silence, each gathering their thoughts before sharing their anecdotes with a partner.  From the brainstorming stage it was clear that they could choose to talk about something trivial or something important, it was very much up to them.

All the students reported back on their stories and we listed the situations on the board.  I then asked the students to think about each situation and how exactly they would word their advice in each one.   This took some time, and some discussion.  Quite a lot of L1 was used, quoting phrases and expressions, but the activity was being  managed in English. I monitored, again acting as a phrasebook where necessary, offering reformulations and discussing register and appropriacy when required.

We pooled the most useful exponents on the board, discussed issues of register and appropriacy and then the students worked in pairs, preparing a simulation of one of the situations.  They acted these out in front of the class who were asked to answer the following questions: what’s the relationship between the two people, do you think the advice given was good? Why/why not?   Do you think the advice will be followed? Why/why not?

We discussed the questions as a final round-up whole class activity and the lesson came to an end.  As a follow-up I asked the students to look at the language in the coursebook and compare it to the language we’d come up with in class. I also suggested that they might want to either write out one of the role play dialogues from the lesson, or write about an experience of giving or receiving advice.

That was it. A one word lesson plan.  I tried it again with “sympathy” with another class.  Another false friend, another succesful one word lesson.  Can you think of any other words that might lend themselves to a one word lesson?  I’d love to try another one.

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22 Responses to One word lessons

  1. Richard says:

    Thanks Ceri, sounds like a great lesson.

    It has made me miss the classroom as I’m not teaching at the moment! I’d love to get in there to try out a one word lesson.

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Richard, thanks for calling by.
      I know how you feel as I’m only just getting back into the classroom now after a couple of years of very little classroom teaching. And I’m loving it :). What are you up to at the moment? Taking a sabbatical?

  2. dingtonia says:

    Absolutely LOVE this! It works on every level and is just a great way of teaching. Many thanks for the idea!


  3. What a fabulous account Ceri. You gave us great ideas on many activities that can be done, as well as how to do the transition from one to the next one. Thanks for sharing!

    As for ideas for words… What do you think of guilty/guilt? Or perceive/perception?


  4. Ceri Jones says:

    Hi Cecilia, nice to see you here!
    I’ve tried guilt or guilty. There are some nice collocations to explore and it can work really nicely, but you have to tread carefully! We usually try and keep it light and breezy 😉 and it can lead to some great fun role plays – one of the fun things to explore is how best to make amends, and what not to say when apologising 🙂 – or exploring the gap between what is said and what is actually meant.
    I haven’t tried perceive or perception. How would that work, do you think? Mmm … going to mull it over!
    Thanks, Cecilia!

  5. Hi Ceri!

    What a great lesson you taught us! Congratulations for your one word lesson. Indeed , it is a fantastic way for a brainstorm with the students. I’m sure, once they start thinking about the word, their imagination go to the “infinity and beyond”. Thanks for sharing with us this fantastic technique!
    Luciana Podschun, Brazil

  6. Great stuff, Ceri. The class has a wonderfully organic shape to it, evolving as the leaners want it to evolve. I love the way that translation acts as a tool at times, your job being to manage its use and reformulate where necessary. Other words that might work: ‘hope’, ‘dream’?

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Ben! Thanks for calling by 🙂
      Yes the role of the students’ L1 and the attempt to negotiate exponents that do justice to the students’ culture (both personal and wider) is the aspect that interests me most. As well, of course, as the fun and energy provided by the role playing stages.
      Hopes and dreams are definitely great starting points for a lesson! Though I think it’d be much more difficult to predict/control the shape of the lesson (no bad thing perhaps 😉 ) and would move away from the functional focus of the lesson on advice.

  7. branka says:

    Great idea, great lesson!

  8. Tom says:

    Nice description of a lesson that demonstrates how effectively we language teachers can use our participants as a resource. What’s more, you are to be congratulated for avoiding the word ‘dogme’ in your description!

    If like me you are teaching business students, try starting with the word MONEY on the board!

  9. Enda says:

    Oh I like this! Thank you Ceri.

  10. David Warr says:

    A wonderful lesson.

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  12. Pingback: Red River Press News » ESL-Library » From the Archives: Ceri Jones’ post on One Word Lessons

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