Dogme Lesson: from Sea Creatures to Question Tags

I was covering a Young Learner’s class the a number of weeks ago at the British Council and it was the second time that I had taught this class.  A few hours prior to the class, I prepared a story board activity based on the “The Ugly Duckling” but when I walked into the class, the lesson was put down as soon as I saw what the children had.

At a popular supermarket in Romania, they offer free sea animal cards if you spend a specific amount (above 40 Lei I believe).  As with the cards, there is a book which you can put the cards in.  Children in Romania are keen to show off, trade and compare the cards that they have (even in the classroom).  Anyhow, as I walked into the classroom the children were trading and showing the different cards they had in their possession.  As I mentioned, I was prepared to focus on a lesson about swans in the course book and with a story board activity about the “Ugly Duckling”.  As soon as I saw these cards and the students enthusiasm about them, I decided to delve into Dogme territory.

I picked up a number of cards and as a class decided to look at the vocabulary of the creatures of the deep.  I was eliciting vocabulary, writing a number of the words on the board and drawing some examples of words.  As soon as I got about ten names of sea creatures on the whiteboard, I got students to work in groups and decide the creatures in order of least to most dangerous.  This was a wonderful activity and I transcribed their group decision on the whiteboard and compare differences.  During the decision process a discussion emerged (in English) during the activity: I was walking around and making a note of good and poor examples of English.  At the end of the lesson (with these examples of English utterances produced during discussion), I got each group to guess which sentence was appropriate and which was not.  This developed into something else.

A typical example of many learners is to utter a sentence with a rising intonation to create a question.  For example: “You think it’s dangerous” changed to “You think it’s dangerous?”.  As mentioned, this is a typical error that I have encountered with differing nationalities (especially Asian learners).  The above example was uttered during the discussion and a learner tried to ask a question but used the imperative form.  After the grammar auction activity (choosing which sentence was appropriate or not), I decided to focus on ‘Question Tags’.  I took the example above and elicited the correct question form (“Do you think it’s dangerous”) but then asked the young learners how else they would ask a question.  One clever young learner suggested using question tags.  I wrote up an example: “You think it’s dangerous, don’t you?” and tried to illustrate the common rule of question tags.  Next, I wrote up some example sentences and got all the learners to add the question tag at the end.  This was followed by some drilling and reinforcement to ensure all learners had learnt the use of “Question Tags”.  The total time of the lesson was an hour and a half but I worked on the above activities for about an hour and a quarter. With fifteen minutes left of the lesson, I decided to use some IWB game (Wordshake which is available on the British Council Teaching English website).

It was the first time that I had used some of the material that the learners had brought in to the classroom (especially with Young Learners) and it was so good to see all students appear to be enthusiastic.  In reflection, the lesson was immediate to the learners and involved material which was brought in by learners and exploited to its full potential.  The biggest thing that I have noticed when incorporating aspects of Dogme in the lesson is that I have developed my understanding of language acquisition inasmuch that acquisition (or emergence in some cases) is based upon interaction.  I have noticed that as a teacher, I feel happier when teaching, find planning lessons less burdensome and not as keen to plough through numerous student handouts.  The above sharing of the lesson is a good example when planned lessons can be put on hold and opportunistic areas of language learning are exploited.  Hopefully readers can relate to the above lesson and share their experiences of a ‘materials-light’ and opportunistic aspect of their teaching.

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