My thanks to the people who made some creative guesses as to what my visualisation of an unplugged teaching approach diagram might signify in the previous post! There were some interesting and imaginative interpretations there, including a (not altogether unappealing) guess from Lindsay Clandfield that the 'G' in the chart stood for 'Global' and -- I may surmise? -- the idea that part of an unplugged teaching approach could involve hacking apart pages from Global with hedge trimmers to generate student-selected content to re-insert into the unplugged language teaching cycle...
However, time now to reveal the diagram again, put words to section letters, and see if you can detect any sort of useful method in my unplugged madness! Bearing in mind, of course, that I've been careful to use indefinite articles in the titles of these posts... "A" visualisation of "an" unplugged approach. Meaning both the visualisation and the approach are one of a potential many.
Let's just start with the two big bubbles and the colours shown there...
The yellow sphere generally represents topical or situational content. The blue sphere represents language rules and patterns. Where those two converge (the green beetle shape in the middle!) represents a space where topical/situational content and language rules and patterns are seen to be equally important and integrated -- and this space is also where the main, targeted (or "business") part of my unplugged lessons often take place.
Now, the keys:
F. (OPTIONAL) LANGUAGE WORK
G. (OPTIONAL) TASK
H. (OPTIONAL) EVALUATION
To expand a little on those...
This involves gathering topical or situational content and directions, usually through open/free conversation, but also potentially through learner-chosen or generated content (from in or outside the classroom).
After gathering a range of topical or situational directions (or finding a momentum within a common topic), the idea here is to "narrow" the content gathered in (A) to a specific topic, situation or task, so that there can be something the whole class can participate in. When and where necessary, there may be some pauses to explore emergent language according to rules and patterns, but they shouldn't be extensive or time consuming, and should feed back directly into the topical targeting or narrowing.
There simply must be a section of the lesson dedicated to robust interaction of some sort, targeting the people in the room. This can be conversational activity to exchange/find out information, complete a task, etc., extending and exploring something based on the targeted topic in (B). As per (A), there may also be digressions to explore emergent language, so long as it helps drive the interactional activity being engaged in here.
As a follow-up to the interaction in (C), it is beneficial to have a stage where content (integrated with language priorities) is captured through a slowed-down process that also results in something permanent and reviewable. This (for me) usually involves something written, and can be a summary, report or a transcript of some sort. As with the preceding stages, a review and extension of emergent language can be beneficial here -- ensuring it is gaining stronger accuracy and effectiveness.
Having used language for genuinely interactive purposes, within a specific topic or situation, then capturing it in some way, it is important to find ways to consolidate and commence the process of remembering it. So, in this stage, I often focus on individual oral reporting, based on memory, of processes and content from (C) and (D). I also want to check and see that emergent language is being applied accurately and effectively here. From here, there may be follow-up reflection or conversation leading back into (A) for a new cycle of unplugged teaching. Alternatively, I may see a need to look at some specific language work (F), or supplement with a specific follow-up task (G).
F. (OPTIONAL) LANGUAGE WORK
This involves exploration and targeted practice with a variety of relevant or related language forms, if this is judged to be useful and relevant. It may involve specific grammar or collocational explanations, followed up with targeted practice, and there may be opportunities to re-insert it into any of the previous stages as a review and language growth/development initiative.
G. (OPTIONAL) TASK
Following on from the process or sequence described in (B-E), and possibly also (F), there may be a specific task which integrates the topical and language explorations so far with particular institutional/curricular (or teacher-selected) learning and performance goals. It will involve a simplified task-based learning cycle with a specific task and goal in mind.
H. (OPTIONAL) EVALUATION
This involves evaluation of the task in (G), with follow up reflection and conversation leading back into (A) for (potentially) a gathering of topical and situational ideas and a new unplugged teaching cycle.
Right, so if all that still sounds too vague or nebulous, I'll very quickly demonstrate those stages according to simplified unplugged lesson sequences I've used in the past couple of months...
Example Lesson Sequence 1 (low/beginner level):
A: Open (assisted and scaffolded) conversation with learners at the start of class.
B: Identifying and fostering a topical thread around the notion of children (of the students in the room + in general), with some work with initial emergent language to build up capacity to talk about the topic.
C: Selection of prompts to use in a "Finding Out" activity (based around finding out more information about each other's children), which is then applied in the class so that everyone is asking questions to everyone else, and recording basic information in simplified note form. The teacher assists learners with both questions and answers when there are communication breakdowns.
D: The learners complete a simplified written summary of the content -- as it applied to them personally in terms of details/responses -- dealt with orally/interactively in (C), and the teacher checks/helps with language accuracy.
E: The teacher collects the reports and written summaries from (C) and (D) and asks individual learners to orally report what they can remember, about themselves and other classmates, assisting and prompting where necessary (but not as much as in earlier stages).
F: The teacher reviews a couple of different language rules and patterns that were initially introduced in (B) and reapplied through (C-E), for example like + noun(phrase) versus like + verb-ing, starting with the already existing examples of what their children like, and expanding to apply to themselves and friends (introducing new lexical items to the pattern).
G: The teacher introduces a specific set of tasks (going to a childcare centre to enrol children, converse with staff there, and fill out a basic enrolment form), which should allow the students to apply a lot of the language they've already explored and practiced in the main unplugged teaching cycle (plus some additional new language that may be required to adequately perform the tasks), but also addresses the course provider's criteria for things like filling out forms, giving personal information, etc.
H: The teacher evaluates learners on how well they appear to have succeeded with the central goals of the tasks in (G). Following up from the evaluation, the teacher returns to related topical/situational threads (for example, getting to the childcare centre -> public transport, suburbs; jobs people do at the childcare centre -> occupations) to encourage a re-entry into (A) and a new teaching/learning cycle with new content and ideas to explore.
Example Lesson Sequence 2 (upper elementary level):
A: The learners browse the website of a local newspaper, looking for headlines and stories that might be of interest to them.
B: Identifying and fostering a topical thread around the notion of christmas shopping, with a "live" reading text composed on the whiteboard (with content jointly constructed by teacher and learners), showcasing part of a "Christmas Specials" catalogue from a local retailer. Emergent language (particularly specialised vocabulary) is identified and developed where appropriate.
C: Learners get into groups and discuss Christmas shopping plans with each other. They can refer to or draw on items generated in the live reading text above, and/or expand well beyond this to talk about potential activities or priorities as part of their Christmas plans. The teacher circulates and helps out with vocabulary and emergent language patterns.
D: The learners try to recall the conversation they had as a group, and work collaboratively to record it (or something reasonably close to it) in writing, as a dialogue script. Again, the teacher is available to help/remind in terms of language used or potentially useful.
E: The groups "perform" their dialogues, first by being allowed to refer to the written versions, then without them. The teacher (using the written version) helps the second run with prompts or reminders, but only when the dialogue replay seriously breaks down. (As a back-up or alternative to this, the class could compose a related dialogue on the spot for the teacher to document on the whiteboard, which is then progressively memorised through something similar to the process described in Going, going, gone (in!)).
F: The teacher reviews a couple of different language rules and patterns that were initially introduced in (C) and reapplied through (C-E), for example the modals can/should/have to, starting with the already existing examples from the group-generated dialogues, expanding to apply to other everyday situations and challenges, but also perhaps introducing some different modals (for example may/might).
G: The teacher introduces a task (finding a worker in a department store to ask after particular items seen in a Christmas catalogue, and also checking details about special conditions for sale prices listed), addressing the course provider's criteria for things like understanding a written information text, clarifying information in spoken transactions, etc.
H: The teacher evaluates learners on how well they appear to have succeeded with the central goals of the task in (G). Following up from the evaluation, the teacher returns to related topical/situational threads (for example, Christmas shopping -> favourite shops in a shopping mall; special prices -> good/bad advertising techniques) to encourage a re-entry into (A) and a new teaching/learning cycle with new content and ideas to explore.
Rightio, then, so there you have it. Or something...
Recall again that I didn't say this was "the" approach for unplugged language teaching (or any other style or sequence of teaching, for that matter), only that this is "an" approach that has worked out quite well for me (and, I dare to hope, my learners!) as a regular sequence over the past couple of months.
What I've particularly liked about this approach has been:
- The emergent and flexible nature of the topical content;
- A reliable general sequence, flexible enough for lots of different options and activities, but still a "fluent" and logical procedure that often belies the fact that almost nothing is specifically planned in advanced of the lesson(s);
- The integration of skills;
- The "remembering" aspect, ensuring that learners go away with the beginnings of situational language forming more solidly in longer-term memory;
- Starting what is relevent and useful for the learners themselves, and making the institutional assessment goals fit that (rather than the other way around);
- The fact that, when ignoring the optional task and evaluation (in G and H) and just plunging ahead into a new cycle, there has been no real need for evaluation -- a lot of the process seems to (sort of) evaluate itself, and this appears to be perfectly logical and apparent to the learners;
- The freedom to abandon or finish up at any of the stages (B-E) -- if it risks boredom, irrelevance, or overkill -- and just dip back into (A) again...
So, what do you think?
Have I brought any sort of method to my unplugged madness?