, , , , ,

The second lesson is always tougher than the first, don’t you think? But I was keen and anxious to face the challenge, slightly perturbed by an expected reduced group as two of them had told me they wouldn’t be able to make it. So, I was happy to be told that there was going to be a new addition to this group; unfortunately, he would not be able to attend this week’s class. To my surprise, however, one of the two girls who weren’t coming turned up, so that was very welcomed, and so…there were five!

Aula10 Triana CAE

Image by Chiew Pang; available for request to licence

As soon as the tables were rearranged to our liking, I set them the first task: discuss, among themselves, the activities set in the class Doc. To know more about this Doc, see previous post. I told them to talk about what they did or didn’t do, what they thought of them, did they find them useful, if there were any changes they would like to see, etc.

Compared to other groups with whom I’ve used this class notebook system, this group is very encouraging. My premise is simple: the more you do, the more I give. Learning and teaching are two sides of the same coin.

So, although not everyone had been active on the Doc, it was filling up nicely after the first week so much so that a suggestion was made to have one per lesson. For the time being, I’m against the idea, and have tried to organise it better – with more indexed headings – so that they can get to where they want much easier.

They completed their profiles, answered my feedback questions, did the Flo-Joe exercises I pasted, and did some writing assignments. The feedback was very interesting, to say the least. They enjoyed the conversation, getting to know their classmates and there wasn’t anything they didn’t like from the first class 🙂

They expected me to guide them along the path of enlightenment, so to speak: their goal is to pass the exam, so they wanted me to guide them towards this goal, which is fair enough. The one thing that stood out was that they wanted grammar work!

So, I clarified this with them; I asked, “What does “grammar” mean to you?” Basically, they were referring to proper usage of language. So, I reassured them that although I didn’t tend to ‘explain’ discreet items of grammar, we would, from time to time, take chunks of emergent language and analyse them.

A few ideas came out of their discussion:

  • they suggested constructing sentences using the phrasal verb of the day exercises – I was glad to hear this coming from them and not from me.
  • they thought a good idea for the class to read a book and discuss it in class – this was fine by me.
  • some of them expressed a certain lack of confidence in writing tasks – so I reassured them that only by making mistakes could they learn. If they were committing errors, it meant that they were pushing themselves that much farther, and that this was positive.

Feedback done, I moved onto some PACS based on what they’d written in the Doc. They did a matching-words-to-their-definitions exercise: salesman/person, door-to-door salesperson, pedlar, sales assistant and hawker.

This was followed by a selection of 7 sentences, where we analysed the weaknesses and suggested ways of improving them or different ways of expressing the same thing.

Then, I quickly ran through the phrasal verbs exercises just to clarify any doubts they might have.

This took us to round about the halfway stage, when I asked them if they wanted coffee (a resounding yes!), so I told them to make it. While we were having coffee, Mavis Staples came on and I started my party time anecdote activity.

Scott Thornbury has always claimed that dogme and TBL share many core principles (if you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend his post, especially the very interesting discussion in the comments), and this activity, I guess, is sort of a combination of both.

The activity went like this:

  • I read them a short personal anecdote of an embarrassing moment, backed up by appropriate dynamic visuals, timed to coincide with the key lexis (this saved the need for explicit explanation)
  • They re-told my anecdote to their partner
  • They thought of a personal embarrassing moment for a minute and told it to their partner (it’s almost guaranteed that while I was telling them mine, their minds would be rewinding through their memory searching for something similar)
  • I handed out an activity where they had to match two halves of sentences I’d used in the anecdote. Following the +1 principle, I’d added an additional possibility (not used in the anecdote). For example, “In the end” would be matched by “the landlord came and fixed the problem” (used) and “I realised it was just a bad nightmare” (not used).
  • They conferred with their partner and then compared theirs with the right answers, which I revealed were on the other side of the handout.
  • I gave them a second handout with more examples of the chunks I’d used, laid out in a substitution table.
  • They then wrote out their personal anecdote, using most, if not all, of the chunks seen previously, while I monitored and corrected.
  • Being a small group, I got them to tell their anecdotes to the whole class. If it were a bigger group, they would have first told it to a partner, then would have changed partners, repeated the story, then again to a bigger audience or the whole class, the idea being that by the end, they wouldn’t have had the need for their notes to recount the anecdotes.
  • More PACS, if necessary.
  • Homework: they were to rewrite their anecdote in the form of an email to a friend and post it to the Doc.

I will then select sentences from their output and do a PACS session in the following class.

Aula10 Triana students speaking

Image by Chiew Pang; available for request to licence

This left me with 30 minutes, which wasn’t really enough for the following activity, but I went ahead anyway.

I showed them two titles “Might I not?” and “Longing“, then two images, trying to elicit “poetry” out of them. This didn’t work too well, I’m afraid. I think I had to be more specific, perhaps. In any case, it got their minds thinking in the direction I’d wanted.

I showed them the two poems, split the students into two groups, allocated one to each. They were to discuss them with these guiding questions:

• Why you like it or not
• What’s your interpretation of it? Summarise it.
• What feelings do you get from reading them?
• How does the writer feel?
• What can you see happening? What would you like to see happening?

This went quite well. I then got them to read the other poem and repeated the discussion with the added task of stating their preference and reasons for it.

We discussed the poems together as a class, looked at some problematic words, tried to uncover meanings behind and between the words.

The class ended with another writing activity set as homework. They had to add another verse to one (or both) of the poems.


They had wanted more writing practice, and this was to give them that, starting with the fairly easy and informal anecdotes. One of the problems of most Spanish learners is that they tend to be long-winded, and need a lot of words to express themselves. Looking at these poems, I intended them to see the power of fewer words, that the choice of words is more important than the quantity. Getting them to add another verse provides them with practice – I’d also told them to try to follow the same metric used in the poems. Trying to write poetry is a powerful tool in ELT. It’d encourage them to think of pronunciation, stress, intonation, choice of words, among other subtle nuances of language.

What is your opinion regarding these activities? Are they not exam-oriented enough? Your comments will be most appreciated!