This unplugged lesson entry continues on from the one started yesterday, involving a group of elementary level migrant and refugee students (16 attending today).
As a prelude, at the end of last lesson I was slightly concerned that we were getting a little too tied up in emergent grammar, and I wanted the next lesson to involve more interaction, more doing with language rather than analysing it. I had also set this lesson up to apply a version of the "Learner's Notebook as Coursebook" activitiy sequence demonstrated here. I had asked the students to find a small news article at home and copy it into their notebooks. Based on the texts that came to class, I had a rough plan to engage in some general reading and listening skills, a dictogloss activity, and some sort of communicative task work.
Today's lesson turned out to be a brilliant illustration of how completely unexpected texts can come into the classroom when learners are the ones choosing them, but also a very good example of how things don't progress quite the way we might have initially planned. As you will see, as the lesson progressed I had to scale back and apply some of the activities in more feasible/appropriate ways.
As with yesterday's class, the three hour session was broken into three separate lessons of 50-55 minutes, with 5-10 minute breaks in between.
1) General hellos and attendance paperwork. Getting to know two new students who were not present the day before.
2) Students were asked to get out the news story texts we had agreed they would find and copy into their notebooks the day before.
Of the sixteen attendees (fourteen of whom had been there the day before), only four students had actually found and copied down texts. Of those four, three were stories copied from books about fairy tales (case of misinterpreting the homework directions!), leaving me with just one short entertainment article from a Russian lady -- talking about an upcoming movie about Marilyn Munroe.
Hence, we only ended up with one text in the class that fit the requirements of a news story, but also only one that was of appropriate length and audience to use in class.
So our text about the Marilyn Monroe movie was it! With only one text to use in class, I immediately ditched the idea of doing reading comprehension questions and skillwork and went straight to the dictogloss, using our Monroe text.
3) Dictogloss application
I decided to read the text out myself, considering this was the first try at a dictogloss for the class and the learners are still relatively low level. Based on the example portrayed here, I had the students rule up a notebook page with two columns and three boxes in each, with the top box on either side being relatively small.
The learners initially reacted to the dictogloss the way all new students exposed to it react... panic and confusion! With a lot of gentle examples and coaxing and encouragement, they finally got into the swing of it, and in their paired groups actually did a pretty impressive job with it (considering their level). Towards the end, I explained why and how I was using the dictogloss in class to help them improve their integrated listening skills.
Being a first time application and a relatively low level, following the note-taking and collaboration in pairs, I skipped over the text reconstruction stage and instead elected to ask a variety of questions to the class about the text. The lady who had provided the article became my assistant, and indicated whether students' answers to my questions were right, wrong or "close".
Students really appeared to enjoy the later stages of the dictogloss and then the Q&A session that followed (the Russian teacher's assistant was very popular!).
4) New vocabulary
While the article was quite short, there were a good 10-12 words that the learners indicated that they hadn't quite caught, didn't know how to spell, or else didn't understand. Using the whiteboard, I invited students to make guesstimates of the words, then wrote out their correct forms, explained meanings, supported with examples, and regularly invited students to give me their own meaningful statements using the words once they had been explained.
Words like "iconic" and "assistant" and "pleasure" got a lot of interest, and students made some great efforts to use them with reference to things in Australia or abroad. We also did some breaking down into different parts of speech to show how some words worked as verbs, nouns, or adjectives, and how they were commonly used in a variety of potentially relevant sentences or short spoken exchanges between people.
As with the grammar-oriented session the day before, learners appeared quite absorbed and interested in this particular part of the lesson, even though it was much more about lexis than grammar and phonology.
To finish up this part of the lesson, using the listed vocabulary on the board, we put together a summary of the original article (confirmed by the owner of it, the Russian student). Students began to express their own opinions about some of the actors in the movie, and the idea of this particular movie itself.
[Break time: The article had been about actors and movies. The learners were showing interest... Did we have a potential discussion topic here? In the next lesson I figured a "Finding Out" activity could be the way to go, using questions relevant to cinema.]
Students ruled up a 4 X 4 grid on the next page of their notebooks. Together as a class we came up with four questions people might ask each within a cinema theme or situational meeting:
1. Do you like to go to the cinema?
2. Who is your favourite actor?
3. What's your favourite movie?
4. What kinds of movies do you like?
These were listed down the left hand row of boxes in the grid, leaving 12 blank squares for each grid. Before starting, I reviewed and extended reduced forms (Who is your = Whoozya?) based on similar examples covered yesterday and last week.
As per the dictogloss above, this was a new activity for the learners, so it needed to be shown through some examples. I also adjusted the common rules of "Finding Out" so that, instead of having three names across the top of the grid (and hence three people in total to talk to), students would ensure every blank grid featured an answer from a different student. (This new rule was inserted to get students out of their chairs and wondering around to talk to other people, many of whom they didn't know all that well up to this point in time.)
The Finding Out activity went extremely well, with students catching on to how it worked relatively quickly and then really applying themselves to it.
During the class-wide mingling and Q&A, I wandered about, helping the occasional learner express him/herself more clearly. We had to pause a couple of times to explore language or vocabulary that it was clear were causing some difficulties and breakdowns at a class-wide level. For example, the prompt "what kinds of movies do you like?" ended up generating a much longer list of types (based on the learners own attempts to describe them) than I would have at first predicted. Beyond the common action, comedy, horror, science fiction and drama, it turned out students also wanted to express categories like documentaries and historical dramas (which most of them initially expressed as 'real stories' or 'old stories').
This information gathering took up the rest of the second lesson in this sequence.
[Break time: I reflected at this point that we had done a pretty good job so far today in (a) Extending out from the initial selected news story about the Marilyn Monroe movie to get more into sharing personal preferences within the "movies" theme, and (b) Covering a range of skills including listening, vocabulary building, and interactive/integrated speaking -- talking and collecting information in grids. I decided that this gathered information would be ideal for extending into simple report writing, followed up with some oral reports based on them. I also reflected on some of the expressions, grammar and phonological patterns we had come up with the day before, and started thinking about how I could recycle and review them before the end of this lesson today.]
I explained to the students how we were basically going to read horizontally across each row in the Finding Out grids to create a simple report with information gathered together for each of the four questions -- which would comprise separate paragraphs.
Before writing, I illustrated an example on the whiteboard and gave them the question prompts from Finding Out as reported speech topic sentences to start each paragraph, along with some signpost language to indicate basic progression. For example: First, I asked my classmates if they like to go to the cinema; Finally, I asked my classmates about the kinds of movies they like.
I also demonstrated how to avoid putting sentences on completely separate lines and how to group them in basic paragraphs, with the relevant information for three different students following on from the respective topic sentence as demonstrated above. Finally, I indicated I wanted one blank line between each paragraph to ensure they were clearly separated.
Evidently I explained and demonstrated this all much more clearly than I have here just now in my post, because every single learner got the message and began writing his/her report exactly according to the instructions I had given!
They needed about 25 minutes or so to write their reports, with occasional queries to me about spelling or language use (I took the chance to review how to convert from 1st to 3rd person forms for the purposes of reporting information about their classmates - something we had done last week as well.)
When all the reports were ready, I did a quick review of the past tense verb endings we had dealt with yesterday in relation to chatting about previous weekend activities (in particular the [d] / [t] / [ad] sounds for 'ed'), some quick practice, and then showed how the 3rd person endings for simple present followed a similar pattern (namely [z] / [s] / [az]). That led into a brief explanation about present simple tense, and how it was appropriate for this Finding Out information because we were dealing with favourites/constants/facts.
Based on that information, students did a quick review of their work and attempted to select or self-correct those parts of their reports that needed to demonstrate present simple tense. There were several queries and checks to me as they did this, but I refrained from helping, telling them that help would come later...
Students now took turns delivering their written reports orally. As each was read aloud, I would regularly startle the student (and the class) by raising a hand and saying "WAIT!" in a rather dramatic fashion. This interruption came at times when a student either made a mistake in pronunciation, or demonstrated very accurate pronunciation (in particular for those 3rd person "(e)s" endings). Essentially, a student would glance up and wonder whether they were going to be corrected or congratulated. It was delivered and taken in a fun and humorous spirit, and the class (including individual students reading aloud) clearly appeared to enjoy it. As they became used to certain patterns in my interruptions, some students -- usually giggling -- attempted to beat me to it by congratulating or correcting themselves as soon as I began to raise my arm.
The lesson ended with smiles and laughter (and, I hope, some slightly deeper awareness about certain pronunciation patterns), with about 4 students needing to read their reports in our next class together. There wasn't any need to pick up and check the reports, as almost every student had managed to accurately correct their writing through the read aloud and teacher interruption cycle.
Before they left, I reminded them that it would be a lot more interesting if all of them brought simple news articles next time, rather than just four of them (and of those four, three who brought along texts that were too big and too specialised in interest area to be workable with the wider class). They appeared to take that on board in the right spirit.
[Post lesson/session reflection: Very different to yesterday's lesson, and quite interesting in terms of how well everything flowed out from the initial news article a learner had brought in. I felt better about the fact that we'd done more in the way of listening and interaction, as well as getting some essential basics down when it came to simple text-level writing skills. Several aspects or examples (or extensions) of the grammar and vocabulary covered yesterday found their way quite naturally into this lesson as well, which made for a nice sense of cohesion. A lot less whiteboard work from me, a lot more speaking and writing work from them. The 'mingling' aspect of the "Finding Out" activity appeared to do a lot to create more bonding around the class -- there was a more relaxed and friendly feeling atmosphere at the end of this class.]