classroom experiments

Making things up… during observed lessons

Last weekend I had a pretty scary lesson observation…

I’ve been observed more at British Council Thailand than in any other teaching job, which is to me a good thing. There have been formal observations twice a year, observations during training courses like the CELTA YL extension, short management observations during teaching/learning reviews, peer observation schemes, the list goes on…

Personally, I think there are things we can do to optimise our observation procedures. I touched upon one of these in this IATEFL-related post. However, I can’t argue with the amount of opportunities we have to get feedback on our teaching from managers and peers.

Anyway, about the weekend. I’m lucky – my current boss and I get on alright. She was my tutor on last year’s CELTA young learner extension course, and she’s well aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I like her feedback style and I welcome her comments as they are always constructive. She unnerves me a bit during observations with the way she stares, yawns and subconsciously shakes her head, but she never reads this blog so I can get away with saying that.

My rapport with the boss should have put me at ease – so why was this observation particularly scary? Well, because I decided beforehand that I wasn’t going to try and impress anyone. What do people learn about me as a teacher if they constantly see me trying to put on a performance? During peer observations I’m normally just myself, but whenever a manager comes to observe I feel like I’m being judged – like I have to ‘up my game’ or something. In particular, I feel I have to stick to the plan rigidly. (more…)

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Workstations for reviews (young learners)

I saw my boss use a simple workstation activity during a peer observation. It was a really good way to prepare students for their final task. I often include a quick 10-15 minute workstation activity in my YL classes now. Here’s an example from the other day.

The task was for my teens to produce a doctor/patient dialogue. During the lesson we reviewed vocabulary for illnesses, listened to a model conversation, identified important language (e.g. giving advice), and so on. As a pre-task students worked in groups of 4 and completed a short review task at various stations around the room:

workstation1

At station 1 students listed target language or other useful phrases that might help them when writing their dialogues.

workstation2

At station 2 students reviewed a dialogue from the lesson. They put the dialogue in the correct order and practiced reading it (text from Beyond A2+ published by Macmillan).

workstation3

Note: thanks to Rabia Ahmad who pointed out the spelling error in the above dialogue!

At station 3 students practised saying chunks of language, with a focus on how they sound in connected speech. During the activities this was the station I monitored as students required clear modelling of each phrase. On reflection, using a pronunciation task at one of the stations was problematic (classroom management-wise) but still useful.

At station 4 (the interactive whiteboard) students reviewed useful vocabulary by playing a game on Quizlet.

I could have used various different tasks during the workstations. The review game proved to be a bit of a distraction on a couple of occasions, but it was a fun feature to include. The activity at station 1 was probably the most useful as students had some good ideas to refer to while creating their dialogues.

Learning points

  • During the CELTA YL extension course we had an input session on workstations. Most of the workstation tasks seemed much longer or more substantial. However, there’s no reason why workstations can’t just be a short and snappy way to review learning and provide a change in classroom dynamic.

If you want to try something like this…

  • If you use the same set up then make sure each task is ‘stand-alone’. You can’t have one task as a prerequisite for another in the way I’ve arranged it here, but you could make some tweaks if you want that to happen.

Feature image: Puzzle by Davo Sime from the Noun Project

Noticing contractions

Contractions often come up as a pronunciation point in our Elementary level lessons. My students don’t have much trouble with ‘I am’ becoming ‘I’m’, but contractions with ‘you are’, ‘we are’, etc seem a bit harder to produce. I feel that if learners are struggling to produce it that’s one thing, but struggling to notice a contraction might be more problematic with regards listening. Context would help a lot anyway (especially with present continuous given Ving would follow), but I’m (contraction) trying out a few things to get learners noticing contractions more, and noticing whether or not they are actually producing contractions themselves!

This was my attempt the other day. The class have already done quite a bit on contractions, so I thought I’d test where they were. I made a load of cards with sentence on like these:

1709n

Etc. Nothing special. Students read a sentence to their partner and followed the instruction whether to use a contraction or not. Their partner guessed – ‘contraction’ or ‘no contraction’. To my surprise, genuinely as I thought they were pretty good at recognising these, they got a lot wrong!

We did a bit of drilling again, and students looked through the cards and tried to say each phrase in both forms (with/without contraction). Students tested each other again, but this time they chose whether or not to use a contraction themselves. Recognition improved – we eventually narrowed down the problem to the use of ‘You are/You’re’ which the students were really struggling with.

It’s nothing great, just some drilling and noticing. It was useful though. It was nice to hear students even at Elementary level trying to give reasons why they felt something wasn’t a contraction when there was ambiguity…

‘No, you still say two words. ‘You are’. Not one word. It’s more like one word. More like ‘YOUR’ – Y-O-U-R.’

Fair description I thought, especially for the level.

Feature image: imgur.com

I’m writing a series of short posts in response to Martin Sketchley’s blog challenge. You can view his new blog here.