A dogme close shave leads to another dig at the enemy

13 07 2011

This morning one of our CELTA candidates simply didn’t turn up for teaching practice, without any advanced notice.  Since they were first on, I was up to teach a class of adult Argentine pre-intermediate learners for forty minutes without any preparation.

Normally I would fall back on the old substitution classics, such as dictate the answers or mini-epic writing, postcard writing or noun-phrase profiles (involves a nice dictagloss that one, not that I’m a big fan), but this morning, probably inspired by having heard talks by Jeremy Harmer and Lindsay Clandfield in the last week, having stood up to Scott Thornbury on his latest blog post, and definitely by having just started this blog and this section and wanting to have something to write about, I decided in those two minutes to completely wing it, go right outside my comfort zone (I’m normally Mister Prepared, I never go into class without at least an A4 page long set of notes with each stage of the lesson clearly worked out) and just set the ball-rolling and see where it took us.

Truth be told, it didn’t take us very far.  In the next forty minutes the students had quite a bit of speaking practice (I reckon they were probably speaking in pairs for about ten minutes of the lesson in all and were all involved in a whole class discussion for another two or three minutes) and they learnt the following phrases:

to take money out of the cash point / ATM

ATM stands for…

to look after / take care of (a grandchild)

a long / short journey


a business / day trip

Or perhaps that’s far enough for a forty minute class – what do you think?

All of these phrases came out of the initial speaking activity which I thought up as I walked through the door with the aim of providing some practice of the past continuous which they’d been exposed to the previous day.  It was simply to tell your partner what you were thinking of on your way to school that morning.

I gave my true example (what I was going to buy my friend Diego to give him for birthday that night) and realised I could make that into the next stage of the lesson – getting them to discuss and decide what I should buy Diego.  In the end, we never got anywhere near that stage of the lesson.

During monitoring of the activity and the feedback on content, the above phrases all caused problems and so I clarified them in the feedback on language stage.  A few CCQs and further examples for each one helped me to check meaning was clear and then we spent quite a chunk of time drilling the phrases chorally and individually and in context.  While I must admit one of the reasons for drilling in such quantity was to give the watching CELTA candidates some models of possible drills and some adept backchaining, the students were really having problems putting phrases such as ‘I got some money out of the cash point’ together into a coherent and fluent phrase.  I felt they were benefiting from that increased focus and their happy faces and eager attempts to say the phrases seemed to back up my intuition.

I was trying to get back to some more speaking work when the difference between journey and travel came up.  I can’t resist these language conundrums that are so often badly taught so since they’d asked…next came probably my favourite CCQ of all time (you may have already guessed by the tone of this piece that I’m very proud of something about today’s class).

When checking that they understood a journey is a movement from A to B (and trying to eradicate the notion that it has to be short at the same time (drilling the phrase a long journey seemed effective enough)) I came up with the (rather culturally-bound I apologise) concept-checking question:

So have River Plate just gone on a journey?