An integrated 4-skills lesson for beginner level students... Image: net_efekt
I had another very fulfilling lesson today with my beginner-level refugee students (the same lot I video recorded myself teaching in my recent flipcammed/unplugged post). For the three hour session today (and as is typical of my overall style, I guess), I didn't have anything specific planned, but today I did want to find some ways to review and develop language we'd already gone over in some previous lessons, and also create a sequence that gave the students integrated practice across all the four major skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing).
Here's how it went down...
Main foci: Listening & Speaking
Purpose: Review previous language work (through oral/aural application) and set up the whiteboard for follow up work with integrated reading and writing
Basically, I started asking the students some questions. They weren't written down or anything, but they were (or were similar to) Q&A style prompts we've dealt with a few times over the past couple of weeks. I didn't plan them in advance, but thought them up as we went and as they occurred to me.
I drew a line in red down the middle of the whiteboard to divide it into two halves. As students responded to each prompt (mostly with one or two-word answers, which was fine with me as it is representative of normal/natural conversation patterns anyway), I listed their information in sections in the left hand section of the split whiteboard.
Reasoning at this point:
- In order to do some writing later, it would be good to have the students' own input divided into sections and spelt out for them so that they could refer back (or look for it) to help them. At this level, their reading skills are still very limited, but it often helps if they can look for whole words that correspond to words they've already produced orally.
- I'm still not entirely sure exactly how I am going to extend this into reading/writing following this stage of the lesson, but keeping half the whiteboard free and listing lexis as it emerges according to prompt and organising it into sections means there will be several options for applying this all in a new way.
- As the information flows onto the whiteboard, I'm getting (a) new ideas about oral questions to ask next (the final product shown in the speech bubble above), and (b) some ideas about how this could be put to use in a language/writing activity to follow.
Main foci: Reading, Speaking, Writing, Grammar/Patterns
Purpose: Expand the one-word responses in stage 1 into full sentence patterns, with gaps where students' own information (already spoken and listed in writing) can be slotted in. This can then be used for a follow-up writing task, bearing in mind the learners will need help with spelling (and the opportunity to copy but also interact with what they write).
I referred students to each section of the left-hand side of the whiteboard, and asked them to give me statements (orally) instead of single words. Students made guesses as to the full statements involved, and I helped them adapt and polish them into simple but accurate sentences. Once we had this right orally, I wrote each statement down next to the relevant answer content, leaving a blank space where that lexis could be slotted in.
Reasoning at this point:
- The learners can already fairly adequately understand and respond (with very short utterances) to the communicative prompts here, but exposure to and practice with the full statement forms will hopefully create a basis for them to start offering information of this nature on their own as part of discussions (without needing someone to directly question them).
- The "like to" sequence creates a pattern that will be handy for drills and rhythm, working across two different sorts of information (food/drink and activities at home), but then followed up with a future form to create another shift in attention (I seem to have developed this as a priority in a lot of my teaching: that learners can "shift" between different sorts of information in different tenses or functional modes).
- The learners (who have very limited literacy in their L1s) now have everything they need to write a simple introduction about themselves, but they will still need to read and think in order to put the sentences together (both in terms of the statements, but also "fishing out" the words that equate to their own contributions in Stage 1 of the lesson).
Main foci: Reading and Writing (Typing)
Purpose: Creating a crossover from oral work to written work, giving the learners valuable practice with computers and keyboards, integrating reading and writing, applying copying skills and accuracy with basic punctuation.
I sat down at one of the classroom computers and asked the students to gather behind me. I showed them how to open Microsoft Word from the desktop, then typed in a couple of example sentences using information about myself. With the example thus set, the learners then each went to a computer, opened up MS Word, and using the patterns and text on the whiteboard (in Stages 1 and 2 above) typed out the statements and filled in the gaps using their own personal information.
This was quite an involved process that required a lot of help from the teacher. Learners needed help with using the SHIFT key, the space bar, the full stop key, using ENTER, and the "backspace" versus "delete" keys. At first, capital letters were completely absent, and the learners all entered multiple spaces between words to space them out more. However, with some one-on-one help, after 15 minutes or so, most of the students were handling most of the typing challenges reasonably well.
As the students typed up their information, I circulated and supplemented what they were doing by basically talking and asking questions about what they were typing.
Reasoning at this point:
- The learners already do a lot of handwriting in their notebooks and on printed supplements in other teachers' classes. With access to computers in this particular classroom, it was an important opportunity to give them practice with very basic functions and typing on a keyboard. This will hopefully be a foundation for helping them become more digitally literate further down the track in their education. It is very difficult and time-consuming for some of them, but they have to start somewhere. They could, by the end of this lesson, to some degree type out a very simple self introduction about themselves. Despite the obvious difficulties, all the learners were keen to use the computers and type out the sentences, and looked quite happy/satisfied when it became clear that they could do so.
- The activity forced them to read, sound out words, check spelling etc. White it was mainly a writing and typing activity, there was an integration of skills happening.
- The learners were working independently here, which is important for their own language learning habits, but also great for me as the teacher as I could monitor how each student was handling the task, get to know their individual problems a little better, and also think ahead to where I might take the lesson from this point.
Main foci: Reading and Writing (Typing); Grammar Awareness
Purpose: Create additional reading practice, give the learners exposure to the difference between first and third person language, give additional writing/typing practice that links from the previous activity but nevertheless does something slightly different, give the learners exposure to the idea of simple paragraphs, cater to mixed ability (or "speed of uptake") students.
As Stage 3 was unfolding (above), three things occurred to me:
(1) Students appeared to like the challenge of typing
(2) Some students were picking it up faster than others and would soon need something to go on with
(3) It could be a good idea to expose these faster students to a different format for the same essential style of information, but with different potential function and grammatical forms, and also a slight advance in the basic writing skills involved
So, during the second half of Stage 3, I sat down with some paper and used the information on the board to write two separate paragraphs about two different students:
I then nipped in to the staffroom to make copies of the above, returned to the class, and as the faster students completed the initial task in Stage 3, I gave them this paper and asked them to type as much of it out below what they'd already done.
As slower students eventually finished Stage 3, they got the same paper and had generally made good progress with the first paragraph (about Bo Day) at about the same time the faster students had started to complete the second paragraph (about Sheriff, having already finished writing about Bo Day).
Obviously, the copying/typing task here involved dealing with other students' information, noticing and applying the difference between first and third person forms, and noticing and applying the difference between stand alone sentences and a collection of follow-on sentences put together to create a simple paragraph.
Reasoning at this point:
- It is always a good idea to have extension opportunities for tasks so that quicker students can continue to be challenged.
- It benefits students to get initial exposure to different information, functions and grammatical forms in a way that forms a contrastive experience (based on something they've already grasped and completed).
- I have created an initial experience with talking about other people, which will be good for future classes and activities (whether that means bringing information about friends and family into the classroom, or just talking about classmates in the same room).
Main foci: Listening and Speaking (Automaticity and Fluency)
Purpose: Use the information in the previous stages to return to conversational application, with more emphasis now on picking up and applying language at a faster pace and with more randomness.
This segment took up the remainder of the overall 3-hour session (lasting for about 30-40 minutes), and itself went through a series of quick stages:
1) I asked students the original questions (in order) from the start of the lesson (remember these questions haven't been written down anywhere) and encouraged them to answer more in full sentences (using the information they'd typed), working with pronunciation, rhythm and intonation.
2) The whiteboard was erased, typed papers were put away, and I began to ask the same questions to students in turn, but at completely natural speaking speed and in a random order.
3) I asked random questions to random students, using a genuinely fast delivery speed.
4) Students got their papers back out, and then attempted to interview each other (using the answer information to try and guess the correct way of asking the relevant question), pair by pair while the rest of the class observed, with help/prompts/corrections from the teacher.
5) Students put their papers away, and then did the same thing again but now working almost purely from memory in terms of both correct questions to ask and correct full-sentence answers.
6) The same application as in (5) above, but now with the teacher applying time pressure (failure to begin a question or a response to a question within 3 seconds resulting in a sort of disqualification and a requirement to immediately move on to a new question).
There were a lot of good-natured laughs (and cries of frustration) in stage 6 of the sequence above, but generally speaking it was quite remarkable to see just how well the learners could ask relevant questions they'd only heard orally and respond fluently to these question with the correct information and good delivery and speed.
Reasoning at this point:
- It fits a common pattern I like to have in every class: begin and finish with listening and speaking, and show the students clearly just how far they have come by comparing what they could do at the start of the lesson as opposed to the conclusion of the lesson.
- Having built and worked through language in oral/aural and written formats, it's always great to dedicate a certain amount of time at the end of the class to concentrate on absorbing the language, understanding it very quickly (chunkily?) without needing to break it down into very small pieces (automaticity), and being able to respond quickly, fluently and clearly.
- It's good if oral/conversation work has a corresponding set of written notes or production that can be referred to and practised with privately at home once the lesson is over.
The teacher writes a detailed blog post about the lesson, invites comments and thoughts from a global community of eclectic ELTers, and begins the very important process of reflecting on the overall lesson and thinking ahead to new learning opportunities for this particular group of learners based on what has been achieved and learned today...