The shape of things as we unplugged, then plugged, then unplugged again?
Image: Meghan M. Rogers
As part of a recent post I showcased an attempt at an experiment involving a sort of post-unplugged coursebook unit. That is, based on an unplugged lesson that ended up focussing more or less on weekend activities, I developed a two-page mini unit with more of a coursebookish approach and appearance. I brought together a lot of the language that had been uncovered and developed in the unplugged lesson, put it into a more controlled situational format, and added some new things to notice and work on (mainly the difference between casual spoken Australian English and corresponding written forms, as well as some strategic devices for handling some conversation sequences, some controlled activities with pronunciation, etc.).
Well, after a rather absurdly long weekend (thanks to Melbourne Cup Day yesterday), I took this coursebook-style unit in to my learners today, some three weeks after the initial unplugged lesson that emerged into talk about weekends, to see how they would respond to it.
To put it quite mildly, I was really blown away with what happened today. I had planned on this being a quickish 50-minute follow up to that earlier unplugged lesson. Two and a half hours later, we were still firing away with it.
The class liked the coursebookish unit (I dare to say, noticing the interest and application they exhibited as soon as the paper was put before them). There was enough there for them to see that "they" had invested something in it beforehand, and they were quite absorbed with how it panned out in the model dialogue. There were new things to notice and think about, however, and they got quite into it.
And, in this largish class, I did notice that more students were "on board" for more of the lesson. Whether that was because they had had time to absorb and now add something, or just found the more targeted format of a coursebookish unit more in line with their learning preferences, I can't really tell at this stage (and to be honest, I don't really care).
Because then, on the second page of the experimental unit, something fantastic happened.
It started going all unplugged again.
As we went through the specific strategies, language tips and explanations relevant to the dialogue, the learners had lots of additional examples to test out or ask questions about. The idea of weekends and even common activities exploded into a rainbow of other experiences, and as each emerged from a learner, the others had questions to ask or additional experiences to add on to it.
Of course, already being a keen advocate of "unplugged moments", I was fire spotting and darting here and there to throw more kindling on whatever sprang out, then standing by ready to fan it.
A particularly popular stage of the lesson happened when students started relating experiences where they had totally misinterpreted spoken English, often with comical results. Like the lady who couldn't understand why her Australian father-in-law was asking her whether she wanted to go to "the zoo", when in fact he was offering her some "dessert". Or the other lady who couldn't comprehend why someone was referring to a substance used to make roads (which is what her bilingual dictionary rendered for her) when in fact the person was just saying thanks to her ("ta").
But as I said, basically the learners took what was there and found all sorts of new ways to explore, question and apply it. Made me very glad I'd stuck to just two pages, actually...
So looking back on this sequence, what I see is a butterfly or bow tie shape.
The initial unplugged lesson brought together a variety of emergent language contributions within a mutually agreed-upon (and "on the spot") theme. I tied that together into a controlled hub, or target, with some new things to notice and think about -- something that turned out much easier for me to do post-lesson and in a coursebookish unit format (given the time I had to review, reflect and think ahead to new learning possibilities), to be applied a couple of weeks later. We worked our way through that controlled target into new learning areas, which the learners then applied (or related) to new themes and experiences of their own, which then became shared conversations with more emergent language to explore and think about.
It's early days yet, of course, and like any impatient classroom experimenter, I'm blinkered and keen to see my own idea as potentially valid and valuable...
But this worked. And worked well.
Unplugged -> Coursebookish unit -> Unplugged
A butterfly bow tie lesson sequence...
I do apologise to anyone who sees unplugged teaching and coursebooks (or any other "plugged" material) as being mutually exclusive, but my experience in this sequence of lessons and materials has shown me (at this stage) that they have the capacity to feed and nourish each other quite nicely.
More experimentation needed!