ELT Experiences

Experiences of an English Language Teacher


Dogme One-to-One: “Weekend Plans”

Teaching one-to-oneThis afternoon, I was planning to teach a pair of learners (one female Brazilian and a male Spanish learner) for an hour and a half.  The coursebook for this afternoon class that I decided to refer to as “Outcomes Intermediate” and decided to start a new chapter for a new week.  The teacher from the previous week had got up to Unit 9, so it made sense to start on Unit 10.  Chapter 10 is called “Going Out” and as you can guess is all about making plans, giving directions and talking about the previous night, so the plan for the lesson was to talk about the previous weekend with the students: what they did, where they went, etc.  However, one of the students did not turn up and I was left with a learner who I had not taught only once before – the male adult learner.

When I entered the classroom, we both said hello to each other and we sat down.  I started the conversation naturally by asking the learner what he had got up to over the weekend.  He told me for some extended period of time that he had been to London and visit all the sights and sounds of the city.  During the five minutes, I was making notes to scaffold language, improve pronunciation issues or correct any errors.  For the next few minutes, we looked at some language to improve the learner’s fluency and I made some notes of popular tourist sights in London.  After the discussion of the weekend, the conversation naturally turned to speaking about plans for this coming weekend.  Again the learner was keen to head back to London again and I made a mental note of this, so that I could exploit this in due course.

Before the lesson, I printed out a webpage from Trip Advisor about my local area, Eastbourne, so that we could discuss this.  We looked at some of the recommendations and spoke about whether the student had visited any of the attractions. Funnily enough, the learner hadn’t visited any of the attractions so, on the spot, I asked the learner to think about where he may decide to visit in the future over a weekend.  He was quite keen to visit the Cuckmere River, which is between Eastbourne and Brighton, as well as Rottingdean, which is very close to Brighton.  This point during the interaction led me to mention to the student that I used to visit Rottingdean every week to play at a jazz workshop and the conversation took another lead.  The student then spoke about the concerts he had been to in the past and how he spent sometime in London shopping for CDs and bought various “compact discs” of “Pink Floyd” and another rock group which I forget.  The conversation then went back to concerts in Madrid and other places in Spain.  So, I decided to see where this conversation would lead and mentioned the best places in London to see a concert – the O2 Arena or The Royal Albert Hall.  I mentioned to the learner that my very first concert I went to was in Huddlesfield to see “The Eagles”.  The learner shared his experiences and we scaffolded some music related language (band leader, guitarist, etc).

Nearer the last 30 minutes of the lesson, I finally got to the coursebook and we started the unit.  We looked at vocabulary related to artists, museums, and music – determine the odd one out activity – and then we looked at question and answer links.  The learner managed to complete the activity.  We decided to pass the discussion activity due to the extensive conversation which took place earlier so we decided to agree some homework for the week.  We both jotted down some ideas and I reminded myself what the learner had mentioned nearer the start of the lesson, that he was planning to visit London this coming weekend.  So, I told the learner to visit the Trip Advisor website and plan their own weekend using this site.  The learner agreed and then I said, to enhance this try to write down your plans by hand or computer and then give it to me in a few days.  Again the learner agreed.  The learner then said that he wanted to present his “Weekend Plans” to practice his speaking activity.  I said that this was a wonderful idea.  We packed our things up and I finally asked the learner whether they would like to focus more on the coursebook, do much of the same today or do something different the following day.  The student said that he was happy to practice speaking and was content with his grammar but would also like to focus on listening and he tried to explain a Spanish joke in English and wrote down it on the whiteboard: “I have a brick in my ear“.  I am incredibly pleased the learner was keen to share some humour but I would have taught him the expression “speaking to a brick wall“, but I had no time left – something to consider for tomorrow.

It seems to me that Dogme-esque moments are more common and practical when teaching one-to-one and teachers are able to react, focus on a point or save for a later time.  I found myself during the lesson noting down language, sharing experiences, grasping threads of conversation to exploit and scaffolding language on the whiteboard.  It was wonderful experience and it was so nice to be able to guide the conversation where I wanted it to go.  I have been thinking more and more about recording my classroom interaction with the learners to share with readers and perhaps see the moments that I am able to exploit situations so that the teaching can be guided down to another area.  What do you think?  Would you like to see more language teaching clips on ELT Experiences?  Have you ever recorded your learners with a video recorder?  Would you give me any advice?



Teaching Unplugged: My First Video

A few months ago, I was lucky to get my first attempt at teaching a Dogme ELT lesson recorded.  I received a copy of the recording from the language department at the University of Sussex.  With this video, I copied to my PC, edited some of the clips and then made it more suitable for YouTube.  A copy of the video is available to watch below.

A copy of my original lesson plan and reflection is available to read on my blog.  This will hopefully provide further information about the lesson that I prepared for the formal observation.  Some of the language that was encountered during the lesson included:

  • Did/Do you know about …?
  • I don’t … much but … (I don’t exercise much but I watch TV)
  • I just heard that …
  • I’m aware that …
  • First Lady
  • International Women’s Day
  • Mother’s Day
  • The Iron Lady

This is a brief summary of the language that emerged during class and hope it’s a good illustration how useful an unplugged lesson can be.  Finally, I have been wondering whether Dogme ELT could be a useful topic to research for my MA Dissertation and will be posting more information regarding this in due course.  I will be seeking teachers and institutions to answer some questions so please feel free to contact me if you wish to be included in my study.  You never know, I might be presenting my findings in next year’s IATEFL Conference.


Unplugged Teaching Practice: Formal Observations

Earlier this month, I was getting towards the end of my Teaching Practice (as part of my MA in ELT at the University of Sussex) and decided to experiment as part of my final lesson.  I decided very early on during my Advanced Practical Teaching course to attempt an unplugged lesson.  The Advanced Practical Teaching is regarded as a DELTA equivalent qualification and is recognised by the British Council.  I have to create a portfolio for my course and reflect back on teaching.  Nevertheless, I have never attempted a ‘Dogme’ style lesson per se and I thought it would be a good chance to get some feedback on an unplugged approach from my tutor.  Obviously, I consulted more on “Teaching Unplugged” by Meddings & Thornbury (2009) and read verious articles and blog posts on the Teaching English website.

Prior to the lesson plan, I sat down and watched Thornbury explain the pros and cons of an unplugged approach for formal observations or as part of in-house training.  This was invaluable prior to writing and assisted with concentrating more on the rationale when writing a formal lesson plan.  The video that I watched is illustrated below:

Should I do a “dogme” lesson as part of my DELTA course experimental practice?

I decided to attempt the “Space Travellers” lesson recipe which is suggested within the “Teaching Unplugged” textbook.  As I had used technology quite effectively in previous lessons, I decided to turn the projector and PC off and have a ‘materials light’ lesson.  My lesson plan is shared below (for those that are interested) and I would be keen to hear from other ELT professionals that have attempted a Dogme lesson.

Dogme Lesson Plan
Dogme Lesson – Sussex University(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

I found the experience of a formal observation with my Dogme lesson challenging but incredibly rewarding.  The feedback that I received from my tutor as well as the support from my colleague was satisfying and I was pleased that it was positively received by the students.  The students were a strong group of Upper Intermediate level, a range of nationalities and of all ages.  Within the lesson plan, I attempted to lay the foundation for the lesson and worked out (as best as possible) all potential scenarios.  As the lesson focused primarily for students suggesting and communicating their opinion, I tried to look at possible language for providing an opinion, disagreeing, etc.  I had to consult with other material and provided the possible target language.  Once I completed the teaching practice, I had to write a self-evaluation and reflect on the Dogme lesson.  Again, this was a great chance to reflect on what went well and what could be improved in the future.  My self-evaluation is available to view below.

Dogme Self-Evaluation & Reflection
Dogme Lesson Reflection – Sussex University(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

As with a Dogme related lesson, there are a number of possible scenarios that could form during the teaching practice but there was one ‘critical incident’ that I was not expecting.  A lower level student walked into class a little late and I found out early on that she was not in the correct class.  She attempted the lesson but she was incredibly shy and my colleague directed her to the correct classroom.

Nonetheless, would I recommend other trainee teachers, or those completing the DELTA or equivalent course, to attempt a Dogme lesson?  Naturally, I would say yes but I would warn that an unplugged lesson can either work incredibly well or it could fall apart but for those that are experienced, or have prepared well in advance, this would present itself as a positive challenge.  This type of lesson combined with a formal observation (as well as being filmed – which I was in this case) is incredibly nerve-wrecking but highly rewarding.  I do believe that Teacher Trainers regard and reward teachers that wish to experiment as part of CPD with a DELTA or a related course.  Have you done a Dogme lesson as part of your training?  What was your experience?  Would you recommend others to attempt an unplugged approach to teaching during a teaching practice course?

I have decided to focus on an unplugged approach to my classes with my local language school in Eastbourne.  Today, I worked on the similar lesson as part of my teaching practice with my teenagers and my Upper Intermediate students were incredibly receptive.  The language that emerged during the lesson was incredibly (‘lactose intolerant’, ‘GM crops’, etc).  I hope with future practice and development that I am able to incorporate and include more of a Dogme approach to my lessons.  As Meddings & Thornbury (2009) suggest, it is best to include a little of Dogme often until students become more receptive to this approach.

Finally, there is an organised TeachingEnglish Seminar for 5 April 2011 (that I hope to attend) which features Luke Meddings that is arranged in London soon.  More information is detailed below:

Luke Meddings – 5 April Seminar – Spring Gardens(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();