We know from our experience that it doesn’t really help much when somebody we care about is crying their heart out and all we can think of to say is ‘Stop crying’. Want to be more helpful? Try the approaches in this useful infographic from Happiness is Here Blog:
This week most of my groups have worked with the topic of planning a holiday on another planet.
I projected the instructions above on the board (or wrote it on the whiteboard, depending on the classroom I was in) and informed students to take out their notebooks and pens and work in groups of three. I informed them that they would have to do a spoken presentation, with all students speaking, which would be assessed.
I told them: “The year is 3018!” I made a kind of swishing noise and waved my arms for a while. “You’re in the future!” I clarified. Generally the students laughed. They settled into their task.
Each 45 minute lesson split roughly into thirds, with 15 mins to do the register and set up the activity, 15 mins for SS (students) to prepare their presentations, then 15 minutes for the presentations. As they prepared I operated some sound effects on an app called myNoise (iOS / Google Play), which I played on my phone through a (hidden) Bluetooth mini speaker. The ‘Warp Speed’ sound effects were great – bleeps and whooshes and pulses that you might hear in a spaceship (or on another planet) – as far as I know, anyway!
I had fun by starting the sounds off low and then increasing the volume, to see how many SS – and who – would notice. When they looked up, I reduced the volume again or denied that there was any noise. Some SS were more aware than others. I feel it helped to set the ambience of a future-themed lesson about space travel.
About 15 minutes before the end of each lesson, the SS gave their presentations in groups and we clapped each group. I was pleased by how much imagination was shown and how much they had been able to achieve in just around 15 minutes prep time.
I did this lesson with ten of my groups and sometimes, due to the lower number of SS in a group, we had time for extension activities:
After a presentation: I asked the group some additional questions about what they had just said, e.g. ‘What colour was the alien? Describe him. Was it a him? How could you tell?!’ etc.
After we had heard all the presentations: if there was time, I switched on the sound effect of the spaceship/space noises again and asked the SS to close their eyes. I asked the group questions, e.g. what can you see? Where are you? What is happening? and so on. A little bit of a drama game.
The sound effects app was quite amusing for me. I’m not sure all the SS appreciated it – or how many of them even noticed it above their (work-related) noise! When SS did notice the weird noises or ask about it, I pretended not to have heard it.
I’m not sure why, but lower-level groups seemed to respond better to this activity – with greater enthusiasm and more imagination. Maybe they didn’t overthink it, unlike some of the higher-level groups.
I asked them to work in groups of 3, in order to break up some established pairs and force them to work with different people. Some SS begged me to work in groups of 4, so I asked them why I didn’t allow it: ‘Because students will talk in pairs,’ said one person. Exactly, and if they work in groups of 4 there will be sure to be at least one, and probably two, students doing nothing, while the other two work.
SS learned new vocabulary, including ‘adventure’, ‘aliens’, and ‘dangerous’.
I noticed that some groups of 3 achieved more than others in the meagre 15 minutes that I allotted. Some presentations were fabulous, with really detailed scenarios, while others were more perfunctory, e.g. ‘On the way home there was a battle. The end.’ I guess this is to be expected in terms of differentiation, although some SS worked harder than others, in my opinion.
It was great, as always, to watch the SS working contentedly on the task – the ‘happy hum’.
This lesson structure is still working well: setup > preparation > presentation (see previous Teaching Blog posts). What is the lesson plan (above) in a nutshell?
Give SS a clearly defined task with several objectives to fulfil, on a topic that is of interest to them.
Give them a fair amount of time to work together in pairs or groups to prepare their response. Offer help and assistance as required, but let them get on with it. In English, as far as possible!
SS show what they have done to T and the rest of the class.
The content has to be interesting to them. When I planned this week’s topic last weekend I was originally going to ask them to talk about a normal holiday. Then I was playing with the new app and I noticed the space sounds and realised that a holiday in space would be so much more fun – and good for the imagination! Serendipity at work.
I enjoyed imagining the future along with the SS. They conjured up a time when intergalactic space flight is not only possible, but absolutely commonplace; when aliens and humans co-exist and intermarry on earth and on other planets, like Mars, Mercury, and their own made-up planets (e.g. ‘Unique Planet’ and ‘Princess Planet’, where some SS went to find out about the beauty effect of magic coconuts); when space travel can involve a ‘space tram’, ‘magic carpet’, ‘flying car’, or ‘a bike in the sky on the Milky Way’; when spaceships can break down, but be fixed; when humans can go on a rescue mission to the sun – which is being robbed of its heat by a dastardly heat-absorbing alien race… It takes just 15 minutes to get all these scenarios – and more – out of SS who are by no means at a high level in English. Bravo! I salute them. I smiled, I laughed, and I played weird sound effects.
I think that having the instructions on the board for SS to refer to at any time while preparing was a big help. It meant I didn’t have to keep reminding them of what to do. It was clear, once we had gone through it at the beginning. This time I included an image to help to stimulate the imagination.
Other positives: group work; variety of focus; not teacher-led lesson, but teacher-controlled; low teacher talking time; after doing this kind of lesson a few times the SS know more what is expected of them; SS take responsibility for their work and their marks; at the end of one of the lessons one student seemed genuinely surprised that it had gone so quickly (a great sign of engagement!): ‘Juz koniec?!’ (in Polish) = ‘It’s finished?!’
Challenges that are familiar from previous weeks with this lesson outline:
Getting SS to do the preparation stage in English is difficult – even with the highest level groups.
SS listening to each other during the presentations – this is getting a bit better.
Limitations of time – 45 mins to start, work on, and complete the activity, with no rollover to next lesson. I have to be very strict on the clock.
I’m concerned – as a teacher – that there is still little or no time for grammar correction, e.g. one group wrote: ‘My friend meet a very preaty girl, and now they have one kid.’ and ‘Adventures – Swimming with Delphin.’ (In Polish ‘dolphin’ is ‘delfin’.) Should I take in the work and mark it at home, then return it with written feedback? How helpful would that be? In the next lesson we don’t have time to return to the previous week’s lesson, because there is a new epic to be created. Focus on speaking becomes focus on writing and grammar? My job is to get them talking, but what about accuracy? Is this a speaking activity or a writing/grammar one? Can we have speaking and presentations without writing and grammar? Without writing, yes, but without grammar, no!