every board tells a story?

This is the third post in a short series about teaching beginners. You can see the first and second posts here and here.

This was our board at the end of the second lesson. ( Click on the photo to hear a short description on voicethread of how we’d got to this point – and apologies for the quality of the photo!) This was what I used to help jog my memory in preparing my third lesson.

beginners lesson 2There was a new student so the lesson kicked off with introductions (this is … ) and a perfect opportunity to recycle good/nice/pleased to meet you.  One of the students wanted to know if he could say “this is my wife” and we brainstormed some more relationship words:  this is my student, my teacher, my friend, my classmate, my good friend and a few more.  This list went onto the board in the right-hand column and stayed there to be reviewed at the end of the lesson, though it didn’t actually turn out to be central to anything else we did.  From there we turned to the useful language on the left-hand side of the board above.  I had prepared a very simple word ordering task on slips of paper. It was actually challenging enough for one of the students to give a sigh of contentment on completing it!

say    you    How    do    “too”    Spanish    in?

mean     What     “in the mountains”   does ?

repeat,    you    please?   Can

understand.      don’t    I    sorry,     I’m

We wrote the sentences out in full on A4 paper and left them on the table for use during the lesson.

The next stage was to look back at the alphabet.  I wanted to review the phonetic symbols we’d used the class before (also on the board above) but vary the presentation a little, so I used the old favourite of categorizing the letters according to their vowels sounds.    I wrote the phonetic script on the board and we remembered and practiced the sounds, then the students worked in pairs to sort them into columns and took it in turn to board the answers.  This was the final product as recorded in the class summary:

alphabet (3)

So far so good though it had taken a little bit of pushing and re-explaining (from me and some of the students) to get everyone on board!  In the last lesson we’d role played a scenario at a hotel reception to contextualize questions asking for names, surnames, phone numbers, addresses etc  and to practise spelling.  It had all been oral, there was no written record, except the one the students were to write for themselves at home.  So, along with the summary from the previous lesson I gave them a script of their role play.  It’s such a simple thing to do, but students really seem to appreciate it. It shows them you’ve been listening to them, paying attention, and that you’ve taken the time to write up their work.  It also worked really well for supporting the new student.   The students read the script in pairs, including their own details, or inventing them, as they preferred.

hotel role pay

Of course, the script wasn’t word perfect and I had slipped in a couple of new expressions.  All the changes (e.g. can you spell that? rather than how do you spell that?) were picked up on and there was discussion of the different pronunciation of K and key.  That made the effort worth it for me.  It was good to see the students noticing the language at work in the dialogue and picking up on it.

The next thing I’d planned had been to watch a youtube vox pops type clip where people on the street are being asked to give their names and spell them. A totally inauthentic task, but they do seem to be real people. I choose it because of the repetition, the variety of voices and accents  and the fact that the students could access it at home if they wanted to.    At the beginning of this lesson we’d talked about the clip I’d shown them the lesson before (greetings). They’d all watched it and liked the exposure and repetition.  There may be many faults to pick in the clip (the intonation and use of full forms instead of contractions for example) but it seemed to fulfil its purpose in giving the students a chance to revisit and extend the language from the previous lesson. My plan was to watch the first interview on the clip with the subtitles, and then using the zoom on the projector, blank out the subtitles for the next couple of interviews and get the students to listen and write the names. It didn’t quite work out like that!  

First a quick note on subtitles.  My natural preference would be to use clips without subtitles, but in my brief searches on youtube all the clips I had found with the language I wanted to practise/revisit had subtitles*. My two main aims with these initial clips are to 1) provide the students with material they can access at home 2) build confidence in listening to the language. I figured that subtitles wouldn’t hurt, and I found out quite quickly that for the least confident students they really helped, especially with my second aim.

(* in going back to find the URL for this clip as I wrote this post I actually found a version without the subtitles!  I’m going to be sharing this link with my class next lesson.)

So, back to the lesson. We watched the first interview. No problems, the students repeated back the names and the spelling. I zoomed in on the next one and played it. I realized straight away that it was way, way too fast. There were blank faces and frowns.  I stopped, zoomed back out and revised my task.  We watch a handful of interviews with the subtitles, smiles spread back onto faces, when I was getting bored, about ten names later, I paused the clip and asked the students in pairs to recall as many of the names as possible and write them down.  They could remember a lot but not all by any means. They were checking the spelling for some of them – in English!  We watched the clip again, the students were mouthing along as the names were spelled out.  We had a tangential conversation about the use of accents on names.  One of the people on the clip was called Jésus, but he had spelled out his name without the accent.  We talked about accents not existing in English and practised the chunk “with an accent on the ‘e’”.    

I quickly scribbled out some of the names on pieces of paper and dropped them in a bag. The bag was in the middle of the table and the students reached into it for names as they repeated the interviews on the clip.  My fear of dumbing down too far by supplying the subtitles, of under-challenging my students, had been unfounded. I learnt that they don’t need pressure, they need support.  And it’s in the practice and the production that the challenge comes through. That was the body of the lesson. We went on to look at numbers from 11-20 (some of these were totally new to some of the students, which surprised me). Then following a question from one of the students we looked at the possessive adjectives his and her in the questions What’s his name?  What’s her name?  That’s definitely something we’ll need to look at in much more detail, and with a lot more practice next lesson.

I’ve just realised that the end of the second post I’d said I’d be looking at the balance between input and output and the use of L1 in this post, but it just hasn’t happened!  I guess that’ll have to wait till the next lesson too!

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6 Responses to every board tells a story?

  1. sabridv says:

    I really enjoy reading this series of posts. I would be really greatful if you can continue sharing your experience. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you for sharing this, we come to the same concerns as regards teaching beginners, I myself have a group of adult beginners and my daily struggle is to make them feel confident that they CAN learn, so I´m working on that. Contact me if you want to join forces! And keep up the posting!

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Oh yes, that’s so important, helping them feel that they can learn. That was one of the questions I asked myself today before class. Am I giving them enough chances to feel good about themselves? I’ve set myself the (modest) challenge of trying to engineer at least three feel-good/aha moments per class for each student. I think today we got there. And as for teaming up – that would be great! Let me get my students a little bit further along the road to critical mass and then maybe we can talk about joining forces – what a great idea!

  3. Sandy Millin says:

    Another great post Ceri. It was particularly interesting to hear you talk about how you’d structured your board work and to see how clear it all was.
    Your comment about subtitles is interesting too. I think as a beginner I would always prefer to have the option of subtitles, knowing that I can turn them off/watch it without later if I want to.

  4. Pingback: Every board tells a story? | English Teacher's ...

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