First impressions – a guest post by Sandy Millin

I am delighted to be able to welcome back Sandy Millin as a guest blogger to Close Up.  I met Sandy through Twitter and we’ve worked on a couple of things together already, including a joint post on using cuisenaire rods.  Sandy has always impressed me with her enthusiasm, commitment and energy. She runs two fantastic blogs,  her main blog,  Sandy Millin, where she writes about her teaching experiences and  (Almost) Infinite ELT Ideas a great crowd sourcing initiative where Sandy posts potential lesson materials/prompts and challenges teachers to add their ideas for how to use them.  Both blogs are full of fantastic practical teaching ideas, showcasing real examples of how web 2.0 tools can enhance face to face teaching and take our lessons beyond the four walls of the classroom.

Thank you so much, Sandy, this really is a great birthday present for my blog!

First Impressions

I’ve just started a new job at International House Newcastle, where I’ll be working for the next year. My first class was on Tuesday, and all of the students were new to the school too. We’re together for four hours every day (11-1, 3-5), so it was important to create a friendly, cooperative atmosphere right from the start. Having spent the first session doing needs analysis and general getting-to-know-you activities, I wanted the second lesson to be a bit meatier, as well as actually teaching them something! They’re a mix of Germans, Swiss, Spanish, Russians, Turkish and Japanese, all Advanced (C1) level adults.

‘First impressions’ seemed like a great topic to get the students thinking and talking. When I was planning the lesson, I thought it would be a good idea to read about somebody’s first impressions of a person or place. Imagine my surprise when this post from Ceri came up on the first page of my Google search 🙂 I asked Ceri if I could get the students to come up with some questions for her, and set about deciding how to work it into my lesson.

I started off with the top half of this collocations sheet, asking students to decide which noun would collocate with all of these adjectives:

I had to give them a couple of clues, but it got them talking and working together straight away.

While chatting to Ceri before the lesson she suggested eliciting the students first impressions of Newcastle using the five senses under the headings:

  • Sights
  • Sounds
  • Smells
  • Tastes
  • Sensations

They brainstormed their ideas, then mingled to find out if others had the same feelings. The one that will probably always stick in my mind was from a Russian student from Moscow – his smell was ‘shampoo’. We had a discussion about the roadsweepers in Newcastle, as for him it smells like the streets are cleaned with shampoo. 🙂

Next, I gave them the title of Ceri’s post to predict what they thought they would read: ‘Mental Snapshots’ Once they had some ideas, I gave them this to check:

Inspired by Jason Renshaw’s post on encouraging students to create their own questions more often, I asked small groups of students to write 3-5 questions for their classmates based on information or impressions from the post. Once they were ready, they mingled to ask and answer the questions, trying to do it without looking at the text again.

The final steps of the reading were to write one question each for Ceri, although I didn’t tell them that she would answer them – that was a surprise for the next lesson – and to tell their group if they had any similar routines when they arrived in a new place or met a new person.

We then returned to the collocations mindmap (the first sheet above). None of the students had ever used a collocations dictionary, so I took the opportunity to do some learner training. We talked about how and why to use them. I recommended the Oxford Collocations Dictionary for Learners of English, which can also be found online. We searched for a couple of other words using the online version so that students could get the hang of it. I posted the links to both the online and paper versions on Edmodo, so students can play with it at home.

Returning to the sheet, we went through the pronunciation of each word, and discussed the meaning of a couple which the students were unaware of (spurious, overwhelming). They then wrote a few sentences using the collocations. We didn’t have time to do anything else.

The next day we started off with a revision race. Individually, the students had to remember as many of the adjectives as they could. They then compared lists in pairs before looking at the mindmap for one minute. They then had their final chance to add to their list. When asked, only one student (of 13) admitted to looking at the words between classes. I showed them a rough example of the ‘forgetting curve‘, which I think is a very good visual aid to help persuade students to look over their work regularly.

We then looked at whether the words were positive, negative or neutral, highlighting that this is an important thing for students to take note of when learning new words.

To round off the topic, I gave the group the answers which Ceri had shared with me based on the three questions they had set. But there was a catch: they had to put the answers in the correct order. This is the sheet:

We talked about the similarities between this task and the FCE/CAE Reading Part 2, where students have to replace paragraphs in a gapped text.

Overall, the students were engaged and enjoyed the fact that the lesson continued outside the classroom. They were surprised to see real answers from the author, and asked about Twitter once I told them that’s how I got them. This gave me the chance to promote Twitter as a way of using their English, although with a sporadic net connection I couldn’t give them a first-hand demonstration.

To finish this post, I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to Ceri for all of the help she’s given me over the past couple of weeks, and for being willing to take part in my lesson at a day’s notice. This post is only one little way of repaying her 🙂

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5 Responses to First impressions – a guest post by Sandy Millin

  1. This is amazing Sandy – you combined different elements into an awesome lesson! You are certainly combining attention to a nice atmoshpere and learning material!
    And thanks for pointing the way to Ceri’s post – that was posted before I found this gem of a blog!

  2. Pingback: First Impressions « Sandy Millin

  3. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Naomi,
    Ceri’s blog is full of great ideas! I’ve used the reader response codes, her Tefl del Sur workshop (the alphabet game I think) and her ideas about images. I really enjoy reading her ideas and it’s great to be able to share mine here too 🙂

  4. LizziePinard says:

    More great work 🙂 I look forward to the time when I can put your ideas into practice and melange them with my own and generally share in the whole creative vibe that runs through twitter and these blogs!

  5. I echo Lizzie’s thought on “melanging” and incorporating into class one day soon.

    This post is great for ideas, but I love to see how the community we know flows through it. PLN power is truly something else, and something that I would’ve given a toe for just a few years ago.

    Cheers, b

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