This week, owing to the arbitrary governmental diktat that one ESOL qualification = 100ish hours, marks the end of our first semester. It’s a weird time, because for students who are not going up a level, it essentially means a week of diagnostics and inductions, then business as normal. It doesn’t feel like the end of a course, even though technically that’s what it is.
So anyway, I thought it was a good time to teach a lesson which was somehow both a closing off of the course while still maintaining a sense of continuity. Also, after a week or so of exams, target reviews, course evaluations and so on, I thought it might be nice to get the students to learn something. (What’s that you say, targets are part of the learning process? Bless you and your funny ways.) In fairness, myself and the group’s main teacher have both worked hard, I think, to maintain a balance between the more reflective-administrative aspects of the course, and a need for the students to have something to take away from the lessons, but still, a “pure” language lesson, I thought, might be nice.
The lesson, then. I started from an idea around the students making farewell certificates for each other, initially thinking of students simply completing a prewritten certificate. You know the sort of thing: “this is awarded to Julio for being the Hardest Working Student”. Then I worked it through a bit more. What language were they going to need? Superlatives, of course. But this is a Level 1, that is intermediate group, and superlatives alone would be too easy, so I thought we could add in a review of comparatives, and, for good measure, some intensifiers.
Ok, so next stop, how to get the idea started? Usually when I teach comparatives and superlatives, I like to get students to share personal (ish) information and compare that, but in this instance, I thought it would too similar to the final task, and anyway, a bit easy. So instead I chose to build a context by getting the students to classify a whiteboard full of nouns. Most of these were the traditionally bland items: cities, countries, vegetables, that sort of thing, with a couple of clever dick moments (China, Italy & Hungary to reflect countries of students in the group, plus another 3 countries, Australia, Iceland and Fiji… think about it.) I also allowed my inner imp some playtime and added recent US presidents and UK prime ministers, including the current incumbents.
This was quite fun, and I think I judged the complexity of the groupings and and the number of words just right: a quick bit of pair work after working it out individually, before then feeding back to check. These then formed the basis of the practice activities later on.
Next stop – presentation: I went teacher led, posting example sentences for each structure covering the main points (comparatives and superlatives) around form and spelling, concept questioning in classic CELTA style to draw out and check meanings. After covering each, the students wrote example sentences using the words from the sorting activity. Finally, the students reviewed with me various intensifiers for comparative and superlative phrases: by far, easily, for superlatives, far, much, a great deal, a lot, a bit, a little, a little bit, and a couple more for comparatives. These were then inserted into the previous sentences.
The final task was the certificates (after a brief tangent into imperial and metric weights and measures – don’t ask). This was simple: students wrote their name at the top, then the “certificate” was passed around the room, and each student wrote a complimentary sentence about the person at the top, with feedback, before the finished certificate being returned to the originator with 8-10 sentences on it, which they could then read. Where students finished early, and to balance things out, I had the students write similar certificates for me and the group’s other teacher, which produced things like this:
It fitted the bill nicely, and was, overall, a good lesson. Like a lot of the lessons I teach now, context was incidental, arising from the classroom and the students, rather than an imposed context. There was a lot of opportunity for language and concepts to arise that I couldn’t necessarily predict, while still having a structure, and an expectation of language production. It was a lesson of ratios: in the first task was the right ratio of nouns and complexity for sorting, and later there was just the right ratio of new to old language, and this created the right level of engagement and focus for the students, with plenty to learn as well as recap. Insofar as it is ever possible to tell, the final sentences suggested, as well, that learning, or consolidation of learning, had happened.
Ob, and one more thing: I didn’t prompt the sentences about me, I promise.