This week – before we broke up for Easter – I was doing weather presentations with my students.
I work in a middle school in Poland with students aged 14-15 years old. I have quite an interesting situation in that I have eighteen different groups and teach each one for forty-five minutes per week. That gives me eighteen ‘hours’ a week at the school, which is fine. I’m tasked with ‘getting them to speak’. I don’t have to teach the course book – great! – or set tests and exams – other (Polish) teachers do that. I have to ‘get them talking’. This would be great if they were able to produce something! Unfortunately, I found out quite early on in the contract that my students weren’t going to be able to ‘sit nicely’ in pairs and ask and answer discussion questions together, then give feedback to the group.
Another tack is required and I have tried various different activities with them since December, when my classes began. I’ve done things like: team quizzes with an English text (realia: a fish and chip shop menu from my favourite fish and chip shop); class surveys – asking other students about a topic; a reading race – which is one of my favourite activities, because it practises all four skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening; info exchanges (from Talk a Lot Elementary Book 2); and plenty of games.
As I said earlier, I only have each group for forty-five minutes per week, which on one hand can be good (if they are a tough group) and on the other limits what we can do. I ensure that each week there is a fresh topic or concept and a different kind of activity. Luckily I know lots of different things they can do! However, the best would be discussion in pairs – which none of the groups are able to do. It’s no good asking somebody ‘What’s your favourite book?’ and then expecting them to give you a long and detailed answer when they just can’t.
My ideas have all worked with varying degrees of success. Of course games and team quizzes are popular because they are fun, but how to ‘get them talking’? Surprisingly, this week’s activity went much better than all its forerunners, which is why I wanted to write about it.
I had been doing info exchanges about ‘Weather’ with some of my groups. The beauty of my arrangement is that I can repeat lessons and kind of fine tune them. (This doesn’t work with the more challenging groups, of which there are three or four out of eighteen. I have to do something easier or completely different with them.)
I was getting bored with the info exchanges so I decided to get them to do presentations and I wrote the instructions on the board (see image above). The fifteen students and I were working in a computer lab, so everybody had access to a laptop with internet. I realised that they could work in pairs to research the weather forecast for the weekend and put together a spoken presentation, that I could mark and give feedback on. It worked so well with the first group that I persevered and found that, sure enough, each group were able to research and give presentations (weather forecasts).
I will definitely try to use this model again (not with Weather, but with a different topic) because it definitely got them talking, using information that they found out via the internet, rather than having to delve into their own rather limited stocks of English language. Here is the model. The timings might have to vary, depending on what we do:
- Warmer (10 mins)
- Grammar and/or vocabulary point(s) (5 mins)
- In pairs students research info on laptops (15 mins)
- Presentations at the front (‘on the stage’) followed by feedback for each pair (me and peer feedback) (15 mins)
- There was a nice level of variety in the forty-five minutes: a game about the weather as a warmer (students acted out weather for the group to guess); a short grammar presentation about using ‘it will be + adjective’ and ‘there will be + noun’ (see image above); working in pairs and writing notes while using the internet; giving presentations at the front of the class.
- Students worked in pairs.
- Students spoke in English in front of the group and gained feedback from me.
- Students used the laptops and internet – which they of course enjoyed.
- I could vary the number of places depending on the level of the group and the time we had: weaker groups did three places while the better groups had to do five.
- Students worked independently of me for a big chunk of the lesson.
- Students enjoyed watching each other’s presentations at the front of the class.
- The task was something they knew about – a TV weather forecast. They knew the kind of tropes to include. Some pairs did this better than others.
- It was interesting and relevant to them – we all discovered what the weather would be like in Poland for Easter weekend.
- I quickly realised that it was working well – better than anything I had tried to date – which made me feel more relaxed! The balance of the elements of the lesson felt right.
MINUSES (and ACTION PLAN for future lessons);
- Because everything has to be done and wrapped up in forty-five minutes timing is everything! At times there wasn’t enough time for adequate feedback; the bell rang and the students gathered their bags and left. Decide on the schedule of the lesson (maybe the one above) and stick to it as strictly as possible.
- We couldn’t log on to all the laptops. Around a third of them or more had passwords that nobody knew, because previous users had changed them and not told anybody. That was frustrating. I need to contact the company who loaned the laptops and ask them to reset all the passwords. This could be challenging for my level of Polish, but I will try!
- Students spoke in Polish while preparing their presentations. We need to work on this and try to use English throughout the lesson as much as possible.
- Some students were shy and did not want to do a presentation (a few of them). I will work with those students and encourage them to talk in class.
- Some students misused the laptops by accessing what we can call inappropriate music and videos on YouTube! I have to be vigilant in class, while understanding that using the laptops during a lesson is unusual and exciting for some students. I need to teach them that technology can have an educational purpose, rather than just Facebook and YouTube.
- Students are not used to giving peer feedback. I need to encourage this and work it into each lesson so that it becomes normal.