Well, about the weeked, actually...
Three hour session with low level learners (15 in attendance), mixture of migrants and refugees. The session was broken into three main lesson stages of 50-55 minutes each, with 5-10 minute breaks between them.
1) Hellos, welcome and general chit-chat with several new additions to the class.
2) Chat about the weekend (this being first thing Monday morning). I used (and later demonstrated the reduction elements for) two stock-standard (Australian English) questions:
- How was your [Howazya] weekend?
- What did you [Whadja] get up to [ta], then?
After a couple of interactions between teacher and students, the learners paired up (one group of three) and asked each other about their weekends. I circulated, listening, thinking.
I then asked each students to tell the group what their partners (in pairs or groups) had done on the weekend. In some cases clarification was obtained from students about the particular activities they had mentioned.
The lesson finished with some general culture notes about:
(a) Australians' passion for weekends, and spending a fair portion of Monday mornings at work talking about them;
(b) How a willingness to talk and ask about weekend activities helps for developing social relationships in the Australian workplace.
Those students currently employed (or with past experience employed) in Australia were invited to contribute their thoughts to these observations, verifying, exemplifying, and/or comparing to their own countries' workplace cultures.
[Break time: I considered some sort of task-based activity, or going directly to emergent language and language development. Based on the language I had heard in the previous lesson, I decided to go with some communication strategies and emergent language in the next lesson, and see how far it would take us]
I wrote out the initial questions on the whiteboard again, and demonstrated how to use the quick, natural responses typically used by Australians ("oh, not bad", "pretty good" etc.) as either a whole response (indicating "friendly distance" -- friendly response but desire to disengage) or as warmer/prelude to giving more information.
I then asked students, in turn, to relate some of their weekend activities. When one answered in simple (one word or noun phrase) terms I demonstrated this on the whiteboard as a simple, but effective strategy for answering the questions.
"What did you [Whadja] get up to [ta], then?" -> "Cleaned", "shopping", "sleep", etc.
I then pointed out how this, while effective, could be taken to mean reluctance to "talk on", perhaps even slight unfriendliness. I demonstrated the simple strategy of a preceding "Oh, you know..." or "Not a whole lot, actually..." to enhance the delivery of simple one word responses, as well as the follow up "And how (a)bout your(ya)self, then?" to turn the responsibility back over to the questioner (but also show mutual interest).
After that, the rest of the lesson involved eliciting learners' activities and working on accurate use of the past tense. As verbs were given in responses, they were written on the whiteboard in base form, then converted into past tense. As more words appeared, patterns in past tense application were identified and linked. At a given point when enough examples had been generated, phonological aspects were highlighted in terms of indicating when a past tense [ad], [d] or [t] sound was called for. Irregular verbs were placed in their own section of the whiteboard. Students were regularly invited to guess and add new verbs that reflected the same patterns to those already generated from the "weekend conversations". Chunks and particular "packaged" (but patterned) terms for actions were demonstrated when/where relevant (for example "did some cleaning / did some washing / did some shopping / did some thinking" or "went for a walk / went shopping" or "got some rest / got some sleep").
Students were very active in this process, providing all the initial verbs, regularly experimenting or guessing about their past tense forms or chunking/extended forms, and writing everything out in their notebooks.
Towards the end of the lesson, I did a tour of the students' notebooks and gave some advice about some more effective ways to present the information we had covered in their own notebooks, pointing out why and how some methods of note-taking (and spacing, layout, underlining, using arrows, etc.) might be better for their own reference and review following the lesson.
At the conclusion of the lesson, I asked students how they were feeling about the lesson so far. "More grammar...", "Like the grammar", "More like that, please" were prominent remarks.
[Break time: The students were indicating a strong preference to go on with a grammar/usage style lesson. I debated whether to go on with and expand this idea of past tense usage, or go back to our general communicative them of talking about the weekend and adapt it in some way to facilitate new situational language which could then be treated (grammar/vocabulary-wise) in a similar way to what had happened in Lesson 2. I eventually opted for the latter, but also decided some sort of consolidation activity was going to be called for.]
We returned to the theme of the weekend, but "moved the day" to imagine it was Friday instead of Monday. New casual workplace questions were posed:
- Anything planned for the weekend?
- What are you [Whatcha] up to [ta] for the weekend?
Through simple calendar depictions and arrows, I helped the students come to the conclusion that we were now going to talk about the future, as opposed to the past.
The strategies of one word answers, and "distancing" through shorter answers, were reintroduced and reapplied. It was, at this point, stressed that learners shouldn't be afraid to distance themselves if they weren't comfortable with sharing much information about weekend plans with workmates, while at the same time not being afraid to talk a little more if they felt confident or friendly towards the particular questioner.
Basically, a very similar process as to lesson 2 got underway, focussing instead on actions with future tense, simple explanations of "will/going to" and also present continuous for future meaning. Things progressed faster given students already had the rhythm from the previous lesson. In terms of the three forms of "future" marker, given the level, not too much time or detail was invested in separating or analysing them. Learners -- for this stage and level -- were simply encouraged to use the forms they felt it easier to grasp and remember and use. I also became slightly concerned that, as interested as they were in having me demonstrate so much grammar, we were getting to a point where perhaps the amount that could be absorbed and remembered was becoming a bit untenable.
The final 20-25 minutes of class time were spent doing a simple writing activity, with learners writing out -- in as much detail as they could manage -- their personal responses to the questions:
1. What did you [Whadja] get up to [ta] last weekend?
2. What are you [Whaddaya] up to [ta] this weekend?
While they wrote, I circulated, coming back to each student 2-3 times in an ongoing circuit, checking to see how well they were applying the grammar we had learned so far for each situation (past or future) in reference to their own personal actions, giving advice or hints to encourage noticing and self-correction. At a guess, the learners were using the language correctly in 50-75% of cases, basically with some extra 'polishing' or prompting from me to find ways to quickly fix the minor errors.
[Post lesson/session reflection: a great, busy lesson with the learners very attentive, obviously interested and very receptive... HOWEVER, for three hours I think there was just that little too much emphasis on usage rather than using. Problem: Learners are thanking me, saying it's great, saying they get it, saying this is what they WANT more of in their lessons. What to do...?]