4 – Elementary English

Date: 06/11/13
Teacher: Gwilym
Class: General English
School: ELC, Brighton, UK
Level: A1
Number of Students: 3

As part of the peer observation fortnight at ELC, this morning I observed my colleague Gwilym teaching an elementary class.  Despite it being a small class of only three students (last night was bonfire night so there were a lot of latecomers and absences today), it was a very effective lesson which was clear, well structured and varied, with plenty of practice for all different learner types.

The lesson aim was to practise predicting the future (using will, won’t and might) and activities included agree/disagree statements about the year 2050 and next weekend, pre-task listening and group error correction of a paragraph, word order of questions, and pronunciation of contracted forms.  Gwilym’s instructions were clear and each stage of the lesson was extremely thorough.  During feedback from the first task, for example, rather than just stating whether or not they agreed with sentence numbers 1, 2, 3, etc, each student would read the whole sentence aloud before stating their opinion.  This allowed plenty of speaking, reading and listening practise of the structures.  Gwilym also encouraged students to speak about the reasons for their choices and added a personal element to the lesson by recommending restaurants in Brighton (following on from “this weekend I will eat in a restaurant”).

For the next activity Gwilym read aloud a paragraph he’d prepared making predictions about his own life in ten years time.  I enjoyed the personal element to the writing and it provided good listening practice and a clear model for students, re-familiarising them with the form. Students were then given the same paragraph with a number of errors, which they corrected together as a group, giving reasons for their choices.  Gwilym went through the corrections, gently guiding students toward the correct form with questions about the time and by referring them back to previous sentences as models.  Having copied the same paragraph to the whiteboard he then asked the group – without their papers – to make their corrections again.  This struck me as particularly important because often error correction happens only once (and so is at risk of being quickly forgotten).

Gwilym then elicited the positive, negative and question forms to the whiteboard and invited students to the board to write example sentences.  At this stage he focussed briefly on the difference in pronunciation between won’t and want, and although I felt that this could have done with more attention, I could see that the time scale of the lesson didn’t allow for much more.

For further practice students were given a task sheet to reorder ‘will you…’ questions about the future.  In each sentence some groups of words were chunked together, but these chunks weren’t (as I’ve often seen) separated by a forward slash.  Separating with a forward slash can make the activity easier but risks it becoming too easy, so this compromise meant the task was both challenging and manageable – a balance that proved effective in keeping the interest of all the students (despite there being some difference in their levels).

Students then practised the questions by asking and answering each other, and again this allowed for extremely thorough practice without becoming boring for the students.  My only suggestion here would have been to start with a different student each time so as to vary who was providing the initial model – although Gwilym’s reason for not doing so was that one particular student was at a lower level and less confident than the others.  I hadn’t noticed this in the class – perhaps because Gwilym’s choice not ask that student to speak first was effective in increasing her confidence and accuracy!

The next stage of the lesson focussed on the pronunciation of will in contracted forms, and Gwilym’s explanation of the difference (‘ll becomes a small sound when followed by a consonant and a big sound when followed by a vowel) was clearly illustrated on the whiteboard.  For the final (input processing) stage of the lesson Gwilym naturally read aloud sentences with the future/time adverbs removed so that students had to listen carefully to his pronunciation in order to identify the tense of each sentence (which they did by holding up a card with the letters P or F).  Students found this quite challenging and had time allowed, it may have been useful to model and drill two very similar sentences (I travel a lot / I’ll travel a lot), but nonetheless they began to hear and identify the differences in tenses.  The P and F cards were a nice touch, adding variety to the lesson (and also good for kinaesthetic learners).

One of my weaknesses as a teacher is being able to quickly identify a student’s level, taking into account receptive and productive skills as well as vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.  I felt more confident doing this when I was teaching in Germany as the groups (and often 1:1) students were more varied, so that in any one week I could be teaching a number of different levels.  In UK schools the tendency is to teach one level for a longer period of time and so it becomes harder to make a quick assessment.  When observing Gwilym’s elementary class today I was struck by the difference between their level and that of my current pre-intermediate class, so it was nice to be reminded of the differences.

Some points to remember:

  • Elementary = practice, practice, practice
  • ‘Double’ error correction: practise correct form after correcting mistakes
  • Bring students to the whiteboard more: good for visual & kinaesthetic learners
  • Chunk words in word order tasks, but without forward slashes: creates a balance of challenging & manageable
  • Giving students ‘choice’ cards to identify differences in pronunciation adds variety to the lesson
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