Lighting the spark….I was talking
with two of my colleagues this morning about our lessons, and you might think we’d be discussing the focus we’d planned, or the materials etc. But, in fact, you’d be wrong.
What we talked about was what I call the indefinable extra something that is the essence of a good lesson: real human interaction and communication.
One colleague told me that the audio had broken down in her classroom so she’d got two boys to act out a dialogue. The only problem was that the dialogue was between “Mandy and Jane”, who were two girls gossiping about their boyfriends. The two boys, she said, rose to the occasion admirably and overacted so that they had everyone in stitches. This is what was probably memorable about the lesson, that everyone was having a good time as well as studying English.
In my B1 class the other day I had two examples of John, who was short and Michael who was very tall, a common enough example to illustrate bug differences and how to express them, with forms like, yes, you guessed it: “Michael is much taller than John.” Very dry stuff, until I mentioned “Little John” and someone asked where Robin Hood was. I said that he was somewhere in the middle but was only “a bit taller than Little John”.
In this way, what was a very banal example had been transformed into a memorable communicative interlude.
Grammar and Magic
I would just like to stay with these comparatives for a moment to show how through noticing and experimenting these B1 learners somehow managed to normalize the patterns (to some extent) so that they could make effective comparisons and prepare for their exam all at the same time.
They have to translate sentences unfortunately from Italian to English to show an awareness of various grammatical and lexical items in their written exam, so I, as their teacher, need to provide them with exam practice whilst making it meaningful and, dare I say it…magic, at the same time.
1) Provide a series of provocative sentences for learners to translate.
Travelling by bike is by far the fastest way of getting around the city.
Women tend to be much more faithful than men.
Those who earn the most are definitely the most responsible members of society.
2) Let learners translate these (In our case from Italian to English) then check their ideas and help;
3) Then wave you magic wand and just as they think that is the end of the activity you ask them… “So, do you agree with all this then?” And suddenly these statements are no longer just a mechanical exercise but someone’s thoughts that have been expressed.
4) In pairs or small groups the learners discuss them and, as you go round monitoring you will hear some of this language being expressed absolutely naturally as they make their point.
The height of the discussion this afternoon was when someone mentioned quite a well known Italian politician as being the antithesis of the last sentence.
None of this is particularly innovative. In fact, it is actually common sense, but it shows how from humble exercises real communication can grow, and that is the true magic of the lesson. The essence is always the individuals who are sitting there in your group, and what they can express to each other. It can all be made up into heady brew….