Favourites: simple, right?

Chunks

Chunks by mediageek on Flickr

I’m beginning to really enjoy university teaching. With no offence meant to my former institution or former students and colleagues, this feels much more like real teaching. This has less to do with the students and more to do with the addition of some extrinsic motivation in the form of grades (though I feel like there’s quite a bit of early semester intrinsic floating about too), a reduction in class size and a greater uniformity of level that means I’m able to do a lot more of what I think the students really need, rather than what just gets us through the class – namely conversation based teaching (I’m not mentioning the ‘d’ word on this blog anymore, in protest at it having the daftest name for a (post-?)methodology since ‘suggestopedia’).

Given a classroom with a CD player and a whiteboard only, in cramped conditions, means that I follow a fairly low-tech approach (at least in the classroom), and given a textbook that I’m free to use as I see fit (and I tend to see it in the same ways as Rachael Roberts suggests in her excellent post here means that I am teaching not quite unplugged (don’t mind that term so much), but definitely on low voltage.

Nevertheless, the book does provide the syllabus for the course, and this has to be adhered to more or less. Today’s subject was talking about your favourite things, which should be well within the capability of my A2ish students. Having written ‘favourite’ on the board (UK spelling, of course), I elicited a model question “What’s your favourite hobby?” from them, and turned it into a model, or “chunk” if you like (and I do), “What’s your favourite ________?”. Then, I set them off to ask each other various questions, noting down the words that they filled the gap with, the form of the answers, and anything interesting that they heard.

When finished, we looked at how to complete the chunk, a rephrased a few things slightly. “What’s your favourite music?” is actually a fairly vague question, and I’m interested in what answer NSs would give to that question, so we tried to add to the subtlety a little more with type of, style of, piece of etc. We also pointed out other clarifying items like adding “cartoon” in front of “character”. We also talked about “What’s your type?” as opposed to “What’s your favourite kind of girl?”.  Then we moved on to the answers, discussing the fact that the traditional model sentence “My favourite X is Y” works just as well as “It’s Y” in most contexts. “I like Y” and interestingly “I usually [verb] Y” were also suggested. Finally, the reporting element also gave us the chunk “[name]’s / [poss.determiner] favourite [X] is [Y].

Once we’d done all this, talked about it, played with a few sentences, we switched partners and did the task again. I heard lots of the new phrases being taken up, the students seemed to be enjoying the discussion (I had to ask them to stop as we were running out of time), and they were noticeably more fluent and invested in the task (incidentally, I think the do, analyze, do again cycle is one of the most important cycles in language learning).  All in all then, a good lesson, the language sprang from the learners in a real-ish task (they’re freshmen, and so at least some of the information would have been new), we analzyed and improved it, did the task again and better, and then put all of the items produced on a class wiki, with an optional follow up task.

However, now I’m sitting here wondering if I really needed to go into that much detail. We spent approximately a quarter of our book time (40 minutes) this week on favourites . Do you think this was too much to essentially do a bit of polishing on a structure that they’ve likely been able to use since about the fourth grade? Does the language we produced have a wider application? Should I have pushed through this and on to something else? I know that this is largely a decision that I have to take in accordance with my students’ needs, but if anyone reading this cares to share any insights they have, it would help greatly with my reflection.

Cheers,

Alex

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3 responses to “Favourites: simple, right?

  1. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the pingback!

    This sounds like a great lesson- useful and personalised. I think you’re right, though, to always ask the question about the time spent and the ‘value’ achieved. It seems to me that there was plenty of value, but as a general point, a good way to extend such a lesson might be to add in some skills work (with a different skill). For example, you could have started with a live listening where you were interviewed by another teacher- or by the students if they had a chance to prepare the questions first. You could record this and use it both to develop confidence in comprehension and pull out language.

  2. Hi Rachael,

    Funny you should say that – live listening is one of my favourite activities, including the recording, and I actually did it with my other group on the same day. Sadly, with this group, I just didn’t have the time, but usually I include a further stage in the middle of a do, analyze, do again cycle which is to include an ‘expert’ performance, be it me, a good group, or a reading or listening source from the textbook. In this way the students can take the language that they need from the expert performance and use it for themselves. I do tend to insert this only when I think it’s necessary though – and I felt that the students were getting along ok anyway here, and gettting enough speaking and listening practice from the conversations.

    Anyway, thanks for your comment, I look forward to reading more of your blog soon.

    Alex

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