Picture the scene. You are walking on the pavement when you notice there is somebody coming towards you. If one of you does not move, you will bump into each other. There is room on your left (and their right) for somebody to move to (see picture above). But who moves?
Do you move for the other person? Why?
Do you keep going and when they also refuse to move you stop and wait for them to walk around you – if, in fact, they do?
Do you keep your course and try to force them to move?
This is a fairly light-hearted discussion-based lesson about status, empathy for people we don’t know, etiquette, and personal prejudices.
You will need a set of cards for each group or pair. You can download these worksheets (PDF) below:
‘People’ cards (pink)
‘Appearance’ cards (blue)
‘Activity’ cards – two different sets (yellow)
‘Path’ cards (green)
Blank cards (white)
(Note: using card is not essential – you could also print the worksheets on normal paper. Card would be better if possible, and the different colours make them easily distinguishable!)
SS (students) could begin with discussion questions in pairs or small groups. Establish the proposition:
How often do you walk around your town?
Are you a confident walker or a nervous walker?
How often do you face the situation mentioned above during a normal walk?
What do you tend to do? Do you keep walking, stop, or give way? Why?
What factors influence your decision? For example: type of person, their appearance, their activity (what they are doing), and the kind of path you are on?
Have you ever been involved in an awkward ‘dance’ with somebody walking towards you, because both of you try to move out of the way in the same direction at the same time – and you keep doing it until one person finally stops?
Have you ever had an argument with somebody who bumped into you, or who wouldn’t get out of your way? What happened? How did you resolve it?
2. SS work in pairs or small groups. One person selects a random card from each of the four piles (blank cards are optional) and put them in a row. For example:
They ask the other person: ‘What would you do in this situation – move, stop, or keep going?’ Discussion ensues. The student should state the main factor that influenced their decision (e.g. they give way because the person was elderly) and the next factor too (e.g. the person was carrying something large). Then the next student picks the cards for the next person and the discussion continues. Here are some more sample scenarios:
SS can combine more than one person, appearance and/or activity. For example, there could be more than one person doing more than one activity. SS could add their own factors on the blank cards. Of course some of the scenarios may be absurd, e.g. you might select:
boy heavily pregnant throwing snowballs beach
In that kind of situation SS could pick other cards to replace the absurd element(s). SS could talk about what happens if you swap around factors, e.g. swap the places in scenario one and three. SS could add ‘conditions’ (e.g. weather: too hot, too cold; raining, etc.) and ‘time’ (e.g. early morning, 11pm, etc.) to each scenario using the blank cards.
3. When SS have discussed 4, 6, or 8 different people and situations, they pick two of them and decide what would happen if those two people met on a path. SS discuss which factors are stronger and weaker. Which person trumps the other person in terms of not having to move out of the way? Why?
4. SS look at a number of different factors in an imaginary person coming towards you and rank them from strongest (you definitely have to move) to weakest (the other person definitely has to move.) SS should justify their reasons. Which factors are dead certs meaning you would have to move, e.g. young people may feel they have to move when faced with an elderly person coming towards them, while somebody else may decide they will not move when a cyclist is coming towards them, since the onus is on the person who is moving fastest to exercise move care. A man may decide that he must always move for a woman, and so on. Which single factor is the strongest? This could lead into a whole group discussion. As a twist, SS could discuss different scenarios when walking behind one or more person and trying to get past them – e.g. trying to pass a family group with a pushchair, dog, etc.
5. SS create and write a dialogue based on one or more of the scenarios and act it out for the rest of the group. Some of the combinations may well suggest dramatic scenes, for example: ‘an ugly boy pushing an empty shopping trolley down a hospital corridor…’ could suggest a heart-breaking situation.
6. SS practise writing and saying questions and answers with 2nd conditional, for example:
A: ‘What would you do if…?’
B: ‘I would…’
7. SS go out into the street in pairs or small groups with their notebooks and write down what happens when they get into different situations with different kinds of people walking towards them. What are their natural inclinations? Who do they give way (defer) to? Who do they expect to move? What happens if they change their normal walking behaviour? SS could interview members of the public or other students/staff members at about what they usually do. (Of course, I’m not in any way suggesting that SS should walk into other members of the public on purpose and write down what occurs! Care may need to be exercised.)
8. SS write an essay about the little-discussed ethics of walking around in public without bumping into each other. How has this lesson related to their lives and touched on their habits and prejudices? What will they take away from it? What will they do differently as a result of studying this discussion topic? Why? If nothing, why not?
9. SS stand in a group in the middle of the classroom; T (teacher) says a factor; SS move to one or other side of the class to vote for either ‘move’ or ‘keep going’. T has the definitive answer for each factor. SS who are wrong go out and sit down and the game continues until one person wins.
This week I decided to hold a spelling bee with my classes. I’ve always liked the idea of spelling bees – in fact, I just like the phrase ‘spelling bee’, although I have no idea what relevance a bee has to spelling. (Yes, I could google it. OK, so I did!)
Despite being 14-15 years old and having studied English for, on average, probably eight years, I thought it would be very unlikely that many (any?) of my Polish secondary school students would be able to pronounce all the letters of the English alphabet. Why? Because in the evenings I teach adults and in general they can’t either. There must be a point early on in the learning process in Poland where the students learn the alphabet, but whether they return to it or not seems to be a moot point.
The two word sets that I used for the quiz. Easier (l) and more difficult (r)
Procedure for a 45 min. class:
Register and question: ‘Who can write the English alphabet?’ SS (student/s) came to the board and wrote it – invariably incorrectly. We went through the errors. We said the alphabet together. SS generally sang it too (to the tune of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’). I highlighted problematic letters, e.g. the vowels A E I O U, and also G/J, Q, V, and so on. (10-15 mins)
I wrote ten words on the board (20 for higher-level groups), checked and translated them, then asked the SS to practise spelling them – then there would be a quiz. SS were supposed to practise spelling the words in pairs or groups of three. Not all groups did this, so in those cases I fast-forwarded to the quiz. (5-10 mins)
Quiz: SS sat in teams of 3-4. ROUND 1: I asked one SS from the first team to stand up and spell a word from the list, e.g. JOURNEY. If they got it right, their team got 1 point. If not, I asked the next team to spell the same word. If they got it right, they got 1 point, and I asked the following team to spell a different word. ROUND 2: When I had heard all the words spelled correctly (by a trial and error process of SS correcting their wrong answers by listening to others’ right answers), I erased the 10 words from the board and SS had to answer from memory. Of course, this proved harder, but it was possible for most SS thanks to the previous round. ROUND 3: Time-permitting we played a third round, where the words were my choice and SS had to answer from their knowledge. I chose fairly familiar words like ‘computer’, ‘window’, and ‘chair’ – things that were in the round around us. With three rounds the quiz could expand or contract to fit the remaining time and the ability of the SS. The quiz continued for as long as 25 minutes, with SS building up points. The players in the winning team got a good mark (6) as winners of the quiz.
I ensured that the set of ten words in each group (easier and harder – see above) contained all the letters of the alphabet, so that each letter would get an airing. They were also fairly easy/familiar words, so not a lot of pre-teaching was required.
In general I enjoyed being the quiz master. There was a lot of pleasure in the tension of waiting for a SS’s next letter, for example: ‘Spell QUEUE.’ ‘Q – U – E – ‘… would they get it right? I sensed other people enjoyed this too. We were willing them on to get it right. Unfortunately, most of the time, they did not.
I quickly realised that this was more of a diagnostic lesson – a lesson where we established that there was a problem with matching the shape of letters to specific sounds. The errors were typical for Polish learners of English, and things that I have heard time and again during eleven years of teaching English in Poland: A, E, and I mixed up; c and s mixed up; short e (egg) instead of long ee; g and j mixed up; ‘ha’ instead of H; ‘key’ instead of K; missing Q, ‘air’ instead of R; and missing V or ‘fow’, like in Polish. No surprises, but I was shocked at the scale of the problem. During the first stage of the lesson – writing and saying the alphabet – I tried to use mnemonics, e.g. U sounds like ‘you’, Y sounds like ‘why’, Q sounds like ‘queue’, I = I (me), and so on. It was too little too late. We didn’t scratch the surface with learning the alphabet. It was just a diagnostic lesson – we found out that the need was there! I advised SS to learn it at home in their own time.
In some groups over-competitive SS tried to ‘throw’ other competitors by suggesting the wrong letters. I let them do it to an extent because it made the student who was spelling focus and think all the harder.
I created a PPT file to use to go through the alphabet with the SS. You can download it here: The English Alphabet (Powerpoint), but as time went on I realised that it was unnecessary and better to get SS to write the alphabet on the board and see their errors right from the beginning. Similarly, I made physical cards with the ten words on at two levels (see above), but it was quicker for me to simply write these words on the board. We had more time for the quiz, without trying to set up the projector and PPT and hand out the cards.
Even fairly innocuous words like CHAIR posed serious problems for the SS in terms of spelling. In fact, listening to SS spell CHAIR was particularly painful because every letter posed a problem:
C – pronounced S
H – ‘What is it?’
A – pronounced I
I – pronounced E
R – pronounced ‘air’
A few higher-level groups asked: ‘Why do we need to do this?’ ‘I want to see whether you know the alphabet.’ Some SS felt a bit sniffy, as if this was too easy and basic for their level. In the end I was proved right by most SS’s results in the quiz. I explained that it’s a basic skill and that they should know this at their level. I gave the example of filling in forms in the UK, since many of these SS may well be spending time working or studying there. ‘It’s so you don’t get the wrong name.’ One student, Dawid, protested: ‘But it’s normal name – Dawid.’ ‘OK. Can you spell it?’ ‘Yes. D-A-W-A-D.’
Towards the beginning of one lesson the SS’s form tutor poked his head round the door to check that some SS had arrived. He quickly noticed that we were saying the alphabet, with the letters on the board. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked, slightly suspiciously. ‘We’re testing whether the students can pronounce the English alphabet.’ ‘And can they?’ ‘That’s what we’re going to find out.’ ‘Hmm,’ said the teacher, and left. I understand that learning the alphabet is most associated with children’s lessons, but experience told me that they would benefit from this ‘reminder’ – and I feel that most of them did. Later I found the teacher and mentioned the results: that almost none of the students could spell all of the words correctly with the alphabet. We talked about what could be done. The problem is that when you’re tied to the course book (as he is) pronouncing letters doesn’t come up again after the first few lessons at beginner level.
The lesson time (45 mins) passed fairly quickly with this format. It was a nice simple lesson to run – without any technology or handouts (as in YATCB Method) – and it did feel like a change from doing the setup > preparation > presentation model of the previous few weeks. However, during the quiz I had to wonder whether it wasn’t a little bit, er, dull, compared with those previous lessons.
I feel it was worth doing – to diagnose the problem – but the question now is how to build on it and ensure they learn to say the alphabet. Perhaps I can return to it during future lessons and do a five-minute quiz, rather than spending a whole lesson on it.
Last week my students crash-landed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and swam for their lives from sharks until they reached a desert island. As luck would have it, a (watertight) container washed up on the shore beside them. It contained fifteen useful items from the plane (see picture below):
Laminated page with the fifteen items
Each group had to select six items and explain why they had chosen them over the other items. They also had to say what happened to them at the end of their story, i.e. escape, get rescued, make a new life on the island, or…
Well, that was the setup for the lesson! (They didn’t really crash-land in the Pacific Ocean. If they had, I’m sure our lessons would have been cancelled.) This was my take on the classic team-building problem-solving game.
Procedure for a 45 min. class: (14-15 year olds):
I set the scene in as dramatic a way as possible (involving plane noises, explosions, and swooping hand gestures), then outlined the task, as above.
I gave each group a laminated page with the items on (see above). We checked they knew what they all were and the name of each item.
I explained that there were no right or wrong answers, but they had to justify their choices. I stressed: ‘It’s YOUR story. The island and what happens is up to you. Use your imaginations.’
I explained that their basic aims were: FIRST – escape from the island; SECOND – survive.
SS (students) were allowed to use dictionaries and phone translators, as usual.
After the register and setup (10 mins), and preparation time (15 mins), it was time for the presentations (20 mins). Each group went to the front and presented their choices and their story. I asked questions, e.g. ‘Why this?’ / ‘Why not that?’ and so on. I asked SS about unusual items they had chosen, e.g. the mobile phone or the chocolate, which were both not popular choices. I also asked about life on the island: ‘Have you met any other people on the Island? Can you describe what you can see? How do you feel? What happens…?’ and so on.
Various attempts at putting a brief version of the instructions on the board:
Board instructions 1
Board instructions 2
Board instructions 3
SS could add drawings and sound effects, if there is time.
Role play key moments in the story.
Make and edit a film with phone video recorders.
Create a competitive version where you assign a value to each item – from low to high – and SS get points for their choices. The ones with the most points win. This would need a rejig of items to make it more difficult – more useful items and fewer low-value items.
There is lots of scope for using creative skills. The lesson could easily have lasted 90 minutes.
SS write up a diary with x entries, e.g. Day 1, Day 2, Day 8, and Day X (the day their story comes to a head).
It was another topic that engaged the SS from the outset, and a fairly simple activity compared with previous presentation tasks. The lesson plan worked like a charm and the planning and preparation time that I put in at the weekend paid off big-time. The lesson time flew by but it was really important to keep strict timing so that we could hear everybody’s presentation. On a couple of occasions we ran out of time and I had to hear the last presentation during the break-time.
It was a manageable task with an interesting theme that allowed for SS’s use of imagination, for example, one group imagined ‘cannibals’, another an island full of women, while one student wanted to cut the twelve plastic bottles in half and hang them upside down to (somehow) collect the moisture from the air.
It was a nice easy class for me to manage. I did the introduction, then SS worked in pairs or threes and I could monitor casually; then we had the presentations; then the lesson was over.
I could use the Q&A element as a filler by asking more questions, or ask fewer questions, depending on how the time was going. So, if there were still ten minutes of lesson to go but only two more presentations, I would ask both groups more questions to fill the time.
We had fun with the Polish word for axe, which is siekiera, and pronounced almost the same as the name of the popular singer Shakira.
It was interesting to see what each group had chosen, and what they valued. I was surprised that the water was so popular, because it could only be used once. There were only six litres, so a three-strong team would only get two litres each. Still, many groups valued it above items such as the tent, and thought they would get some use out of the plastic bottles too (as above), e.g. as containers; for catching fish/insects; for making a raft with floats, and so on.
We had a few discussions about boiling seawater. I didn’t think it was possible and it forced me to look it up online and discover that it would be possible to distil it by boiling it and collecting the condensation. However, I don’t think the SS had the right tools to be able to do this – pans, glasses, cups, and so on. Still, it was a moot point!
For those who tried to escape by raft or boat I challenged them – do you think you would get far by raft or boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? It would depend on the location. As I had said, it was their story, so some SS managed it because they imagined their island to be fairly close to Hawaii. I thought their best chance of escape would have been to use the mirror and signal for help; there were bound to be helicopters and planes out searching for survivors. Some SS groups preferred to stay on the island and many thought death would be their outcome: ‘We all died’ came the fairly defeatist statement from some groups. Of all the possible outcomes… However, a few SS realised that if they died on the island, or were eaten by sharks, they wouldn’t have to invent much of a story. One group of three guys began their story: ‘We found a knife and killed Kacper for meat, because we were tired of hearing about Martyna [his ex-girlfriend]! Then we killed each other.’ Me: ‘How did you do that?’
However, this lesson provided a breakthrough in terms of the problem of getting the SS to speak English during the lessons. As I got used to doing the lesson plan (13 times over the course of one week!) I realised that the longer I sat with the groups while they were preparing, the more they would have to speak English; also, the longer time I allowed for presentations, the longer I could do the Q&A sessions, where again SS had to speak to me in English. As the lessons went on I allowed less time for setup and prep and much longer for the presentations. This really felt like a significant breakthrough, and it is something I will do again in the future.
If I did this lesson plan again, I would definitely rethink the items. There are too many ‘weak’ items, like the chocolate, the sun lotion, the toilet paper, the newspapers, and the mobile phone, so many groups ended up choosing more or less the same six most useful items, i.e. the knife, axe, net, rope, magnifying glass, and water. There need to be mainly strong items to choose from, so there is more variety and more deliberation/explaining to do. That’s something to improve the activity for next time, but it didn’t spoil the lessons.
Early on I realised I had to explain what some of the items were. The mirror was mistaken for a frame a few times, and one group thought the newspapers were towels!
In the initial lessons, SS read out short stories, with a list of items usually at the beginning. I decided to ask them questions to try to break up the prepared answers and get some spontaneous answers. This ended up working really well.
There is a gap in the narrative / break in the logic, which none of the SS mentioned or seemed bothered about: why, if the washed-up container had fifteen items in it, did they have to choose only six. The task relies on selection, but why only six things from fifteen?! Nobody asked! Why were these fifteen items together in the container anyway? I remembered the mnemonic: KISS (keep it simple, stupid!). But it began to bother me. I didn’t find a suitable narrative. It would have to be that another person – from the plane or from the island – was limiting the number of items to six. Thankfully it didn’t matter! The SS accepted the activity for what it was and ran with it.
This lesson was a hard sell at 8am on a Thursday morning! It didn’t help when three students walked in late at intervals as I was trying to go through the setup…
Overall this week’s lessons were really fun. Being able to do this lesson plan with thirteen of my eighteen groups was really rewarding. The lesson plan was solid but it definitely improved as we went along, and can be improved in the future.
As a postscript, during one of the final lessons with this plan I finally realised that the term ‘desert island’ might have given all the groups the wrong impression! In Polish ‘desert’ is pustynia – like the Sahara Desert – while deserted is ‘opustoszały’ (abandoned/desolate). One student asked me in the penultimate lesson – ‘Is the island just desert?’ ‘No,’ I explained. ‘Desert island really means deserted island. The island can be big, with trees and lakes. It’s up to you. It’s about your imagination!’ I could have kicked myself: how I had potentially made it harder and more confusing for them because of the language barrier, and by assuming they know what the cultural concept of a ‘desert island’ is. What I had in my head was apparently completely different to what they might have been imagining. More planning required!
This week I based some of my lessons on the game called ‘What’s In The Bag…?’ (Click here.) I adapted this rather simple idea to make it into a competitive team game that could fill a 45-minute lesson.
I had been thinking about doing this activity with my students for a while, but earlier in the week I had impulsively bought a large blue plastic bucket for garden use (clippings and so on) and it occurred to me that this would be the ideal receptacle for this game.
So it became ‘What’s in my bucket?’ rather than ‘What’s in my bag?’ There had to be a way to keep the contents of the bucket secret as students dipped their hands in, so I covered it with a 120l bin bag (see picture above).
The language aims were:
to be able to discuss and describe everyday items
to practise using descriptive language
to have fun with English
bucket / bag
something to cover it with, e.g. a blanket or a bin bag
a spare bin bag in case SS (students) destroy or damage the original (they did!)
one or more sets of x (e.g. 10) interesting everyday items for SS to guess. I had three different sets which I could use in different lessons (see picture below). You could vary the number of items to fill the time you have
30 different everyday items that I could separate into three sets
Procedure for a 45 min. class:
As SS entered the class they could see ‘What’s in my bucket?’ on the board and the large bucket in a big blue bin bag standing on a table in the middle of the room. SS became a tiny bit interested in what the lesson was going to be.
After doing the register, I asked SS to work in groups of 3 (or 4 if necessary). The aim was to have 4 or 5 groups max. in each class. SS thought of a team name and I wrote them on the board. This was a fun way to identify the teams. Rather than ‘Team 1’, ‘Team 2’, etc. we had ‘Racing Team’ or ‘Damek’s Carrots’!
Warmer: I asked them straight out: ‘What’s in my bucket?’ SS had to guess cold, without feeling inside the bucket. If anybody had been able to guess cold they would have scored points. Again, the aim was to arouse interest in the activity – and, if I’m being honest, pad out the lesson content a bit.
I gave the SS the instructions: each group had one minute to feel inside the bucket and try to guess the ten items in there. I used a timer on my phone. SS could take it in turns, but it had to be one at a time. ‘You can’t look! No looking!’ (Of course, some did. In the case of some SS I had to hold the bag as a sleeve so that they couldn’t lift it up and see in.)
SS wrote items that they had identified on the board (under their team name – see picture below) – in English. (SS were allowed to use dictionaries and the internet to check words they didn’t know.) If one team had guessed an item, another team couldn’t claim the same item. SS had to be fairly specific, so for example in the case of the toy polar bear the word ‘TOY’ or ‘ANIMAL’ was not accepted by me, while ‘PLASTIC BEAR’ was. With higher-level groups I made them be even more specific: ‘Yes, it’s a battery, but what kind?’ SS feels in the bucket again: ‘AAA?’ ‘Yes, that’s right! But what colour is it?’ Seriously, you could give bonus points for correct guesses to questions like this.
Each group had a turn. After one round there were several items written on the board, under various team names. I said which were correct. After the second round (60 seconds each) the SS had maybe been able to correctly guess seven or eight items between them. Time-permitting we played a third and final time, but with only 30 seconds per group. If at the end they hadn’t guessed all ten items I gave clues and tried to elicit what they were until the SS guessed them. Or just told them, if we were in a hurry. With a few groups I helped them by removing the guessed items one by one (and eliciting their names from the whole class) to leave the last two or three items, making them easier to identify.
How the board looked at the end of a lesson. There were four teams: Shoulder, Rabbits, Nie wiem (‘I don’t know’), and Sebamobile
With one higher-level group I was able to use two sets of ten items in the 45-minute lesson, because they were so fast. It was necessary to have more than one set of items prepared, partly for this reason and also in the case of SS stealing or throwing the items. (One class inevitably did this!)
If you have time, you could ask SS to pick some items to put in the bucket for you to guess. Of course, don’t look when they are doing this! One of my classes did this and I had to guess the items, but I felt it was a bit boring for the SS and the focus was all on me, which I wanted to discourage.
It was really interesting that the hardest part of the game for the SS was not guessing the items, but finding the correct name for those everyday things. I had chosen things that we see around the home all the time, but don’t necessarily know in the target language (English). One example was the word ‘coaster’. In Polish this is ‘podstawka’ which basically means ‘stand’. In Polish this single word can mean one of half a dozen or more different items, so the SS came up with various names when they felt this item: ‘tea tablet’, ‘tea pad’, ‘tea stand’, ‘tea saucer’, ‘tea tray’… all of these words are served by the same word ‘podstawka’, while in English we have many different words, including ‘coaster’.
The SS were intrigued by the initial concept: ‘What’s in my bucket?’ I was able to use theatricality, e.g. showing a squeamish face as I gingerly delved into the bucket. Some SS remarked that there could be a snake in there. I hope it was a fun and unusual lesson that will be memorable for my SS, who are so often used to sitting still for 45 minutes reading the course book in class. (Not in my classes, I’m happy to say.)
It was really nice to see teamwork within the groups of three. Most of them naturally – without being told by me – adopted the dynamic of one feeling and speaking, one checking the translation, and one writing on the board.
There had to be a group who didn’t take the activity in the spirit in which it was given; I knew that they wouldn’t, but I wanted to try it with them anyway and see what would happen. So we got chaos:
stealing the items, keeping them, even after the lesson into the following break
hiding the items
drawing ‘rude’ pictures on the board
tearing the bin bag to make a hole so they could see in
throwing items around
pulling the ring pull off the can of sweetcorn, then near the end of the lesson, when they felt hungry, trying to open the can by smashing it on the corner of a desk. They now owe me one can of sweetcorn!
And yet this class were still able to guess six out of ten of the items. In hindsight, should I have played this game with them?
In terms of the language goals it’s debatable how much English the SS learned from doing this activity. It wasn’t really a communicative activity and SS used Polish throughout, apart from to say/write the names of the items. There was no presentation element, unlike the previous few weeks’ lessons. However, it was undoubtedly fun for each group. Next week we will have to work harder on speaking in class.
So this happened to me on Monday. It was the last lesson of the day and I’d already enjoyed success with my ‘wonderful and imaginative’ lesson plan (my review) five times – including with a couple of difficult groups – and I was looking forward to winding down with the same lesson plan with a high-level group who are usually personable and intelligent people.
I took the register – about eight students were in attendance. It was too hot in the room; the blinds were down and the windows open to allow a meagre wisp of cool air to enter when it chose. I stood in front of the class and introduced the topic: ‘We’re going to discuss social networks!’
I was astonished to hear a chorus of ‘NOOOOOOOOO!’s from the students. Again, I repeat, my lesson plan involved starting with discussion in pairs about social networks. Not a grammar exercise. Not a review of present perfect, or – heaven forbid – future perfect. Not a spelling test, or a written composition ‘na ocena’ – ‘for a mark’. No, discuss social networks in pairs. I had chosen a topic that I knew my students (aged 14-15) were not only interested in, but absolute experts in. They didn’t know but my secret weapon for the second half of the 45-minute lesson was a Kahoot quiz where they were to answer true/false questions about social networks on their (normally forbidden) mobile phones.
So what do you do when the students reject your (fun) lesson plan out of hand at the beginning of the lesson? ‘We want to go home!’
‘OK, but you can’t go home.’
‘We have to do the lesson.’
‘OK, but this will be fun. Let’s try it.’
I persuaded them to discuss the simplified version of this set of questions, that I had written on the board. Then I led group feedback. IMHO it was interesting and they were more engaged and made some intelligent comment about social networks. (Although they refused to believe that they are, in fact, only ‘free’ with air quotes, as opposed to free without air quotes.)
Again – a chorus of NOOOOOOOOOs. What part of my sentence provoked this reaction from the heart – from the belly – ‘NOOOOOOOOO!’ Was it the word ‘quiz’? Did they associate it with ‘test’ and ‘exam’? Did they still not believe, after months of evidence working together, that I only wanted to engage them with interesting and relevant content? I hurriedly put the quiz up on the whiteboard via the projector and asked them to get their phones out and log in with the Kahoot PIN. This kind of quiz is really fun because it’s interactive – you watch the quiz unfold on the big screen and participate by pressing the answer on your phone. I think it’s cool. My other groups had enjoyed it…
The real knockout blow for me came when the students were entering their screen name or nickname for the quiz. This appears on the big screen and everyone can see it, so there is plenty of potential for writing ‘naughty’ nicknames and getting a bit group laugh. In this case they didn’t use swear words (as other groups had done previously) but one student chose the nickname ‘chcę do domu’ – which means ‘I want to go home.’ Like a child in a pre-school or first class of primary school: ‘I want to go home.’
We did the quiz – all twenty questions – but the wind had been knocked out of my sails and I left the school after the lesson feeling a little sad.
How do you engage students who have rejected your lesson plan out of hand before they know what it is, because they want a ‘fun’ lesson – when actually your lesson plan IS the ‘fun’ lesson? (This is the key question for me, but it was too long to be the title of this post!)
How do you engage students who want to go home? ‘Wolny lekcja!’ – ‘free lesson!’ they chorused. They wanted to be allowed to sit and do nothing but chat in Polish for the last lesson of the day. I couldn’t allow that, but then I realised that maybe other teachers do. Can it be true? Perhaps they baulked at having to use thinking and speaking skills when they would have found it easier to answer a reading comprehension in the course book – which I’m briefed not to use in lessons. Did they think I would be a soft touch because my lessons ARE usually more fun and communicative – or because I’m a naïve foreigner? – so they thought they’d try their luck with getting a ‘free’ lesson?
In this blog post I don’t have the answers, just questions, so if you have any tips for how to deal with or avoid the NOOOOOOOOO!s I would be more than grateful!
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.