Plugged in (like a magpie?)

As a contrast to my last post on last week’s lessons, I thought I’d reflect on a lesson I taught this week with two of the same groups as before: so level 1 ESOL (broadly B2 ish), mixed nationality esol in the UK.

It was the 7th March, World Book Day, and so I selected a text (note, please, the pronoun) on the benefits of reading together and for pleasure published by the World Book Day organisation. It’s quite a rich text, with some rich vocabulary and some fine examples of different ways we use the present participle, which is something I had planned to cover (again, pronoun).

We did a pre-reading discussion; we read for gist; we read for text type and purpose; we read for detail; and we did some vocabulary work around word formation (create/creative/creation/creativity, etc.). There was also a task around identifying and using the ing forms which we didn’t get round to in the class, but which I set for homework.

Now, and I’ll let you into a dirty little secret here, it was, without a doubt, absolutely fine. Not problematic at all. The students all engaged with the text, and succeeded in understanding it. They got the questions and challenges around type and purpose, and were all good at the reading for detail tasks. They did great at the vocab, and we had a number of “ooooh” moments. Partly this was with the vocabulary itself, but also with the use of paper dictionaries, which I made the students use. This was a genuine novelty for the students, because they are very very used to online dictionaries. For me, researching vocab like this, a paper dictionary beats any app or website, no matter what Ms Ticky-Tick-Box MicroManager would argue is a missed opportunity to develop digital literacy (FFS, they use their phones all the bloody time – it’s hardly something they need to develop.) The familiar CELTA type structure meant that I could switch off from managing the class because I know how a lesson like that “works”. Instead I could work the room a bit and promote and encourage interactions and questions, scooping up the gobbets of interesting language and conversation that came up during the lessons.

Which is where this all starts to come together a bit. Not every lesson has to be based on walking with a smile and a question and seeing what happens, and anyway, that can be quite wearying, even with a little more structure involved! Plus sometimes, no, quite often during a dogme type lesson you notice language areas that really do need some in depth analysis and presentation, a bit of formal input and practice, which is really hard to do on the fly. The reality of the job is that you change your approaches to fit the context. This is why I am wary of “standard” practices imposed from management (and they do impose), or of “best practices” because what works in class X could very easily bomb in class Y.

I’m not, and have never been, a purist. Not for me dogme only, or TBLT, or whatever. You can keep your educational fundamentalism for pointless spats on Twitter. I have always been a bricoleur  (if I may borrow the concept), choosing the most appropriate tools from a range, and hammering them together into something that works for the teaching situation. If someone pinned me down for a “what kind of teacher are you” discussion, then I’d say magpie, pinching all the glittery shiny things from whatever I like, and using them how I like. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You learn, you listen, and you  avoid making the same mistake twice. Well, three times, anyway.



  1. Thanks for this. I feel it could have been written just for me! I’m really looking forward to the Natecla event next week. I hope there’ll be plenty of opportunities for questions as I have quite a few.

  2. I agree with you, Sam, and really appreciated this post. I like to think I have a ‘teaching toolbox’ that I can pull various techniques and tricks out of depending on the needs of the learners. Of course there are approaches I’m more comfortable with and fall back on more regularly, but I am also definitely not a purist!

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