On Tuesday 18 September, I had the opportunity to travel up to London and attend Luke Meddings’ talk at the British Council, as part of the new Seminars between 2012 to 2013, at Spring Gardens. Luke Meddings’ talk was titled “Found Objects” and the blurb on the British Council Seminars’ poster is in the image on the left. Each attendee was greeted by a large brown sugar cube on their chair and prior to the start of the talk I mingled with other attendees and picked up some materials (posters and DVDs), journals and pamphlets. At the first British Council Seminar for this academic year, I bumped into to some familiar faces such as Sandy, Mike, Phil, Ela and Sue to name just a few.
What’s a sugar cube sitting here for?
The seminar started with Luke Meddings getting attendees to guess why there was a large brown sugar cube on their chair and eliciting responses, as one would if they were in the classroom. Some of the suggestions included collocations such as “like it or lump it”, “sugar lump” or a “spoon full of sugar”. Some other ideas why the sugar cube was present on attendees’ seats included the purpose of a reservation, so we could feed a horse (if one were to attend the seminar), or memories about being fed a sugar lump. Essentially, the seminar was about using objects to prompt authentic interaction and conversation and it gets the outside world into the classroom. Meddings then decided to break down the acronyms of each letter from “Found Objects” to look at various activities or ideas to consider when bringing objects inside the classroom and he related this to the second key tenet of Dogme ELT, a focus on ‘materials-light‘. One question that I was wondering was, is there a difference between materials and objects?
F is for Found:
Meddings shared that as teachers, we never seem to switch off from the classroom. We are constantly thinking about what materials to incorporate in classes, how to teach particular groups and what activities we should focus on. Meddings suggested that we should go about looking for objects which we could bring into the classroom when outside. If we find something, we could take a photo of it and share the image with learners: “the more ideas that you can come up with, the more stimuli that we can collect”. However, we should, as teachers, should constantly think of new and inventive ways to develop conversation and, as Meddings puts it, “bringing the class alive”. He suggested that finding objects to bring into the classroom (or pictures of these objects) comes from searching or looking actively.
Meddings then looked at Objects and what constituted an object and whether a digital image or artefact is suitable for bringing into the classroom. He then progressed to showing an image of a photo trapped under a bin with the photo being a recycling plant. It was quite surreal to have a picture of a bin and a photo stuck under the bin of a recycling plant. This in itself prompted quite some chatter amongst the attendees and then Meddings proclaimed that “not everything can be imported into the classroom”. This moved on to the using of unusual and not so common images of objects in the classroom. Essentially, the using of pictures and photographs is not so new and ELT Pics are available for teachers to share and develop photographs for the classroom. One final picture that Meddings showed to attendees was the image of poppies. This moved on to the next point about using objects.
U is for Using:
He gave attendees a few minutes to share their ideas and thoughts about poppies. Some of the suggestions for the classroom included: getting learners to develop the life cycle of the poppy, the use of poppy seeds as drugs as well as one idea which I suggested getting young learners to paint poppy seeds for Christmas decorations in the classroom. Meddings highlighted that usual objects which are found around the house or outside could be used in the classroom to creative degree.
N is for Narrative:
Meddings demonstrating the creative use of cardboard.
Just as objects can prompt authentic interaction and conversation, these objects could also prompt some form of narrative. Narrative tenses offer learners the opportunity to use most tenses and we can focus on areas linked with lesson aims. Meddings showed a picture of a bunch of flowers stuck between a fence and again offered attendees a few minutes to discuss amongst themselves how these flowers got there as well as who left them and why. The ambiguity of pictures offers some form of springboard for creativity: writing a story based upon the picture, discussing ideas about objects in photographs, getting learners to recreate a story from multiple pictures, etc. None of these ideas are new but it was a nice reminder how the simple things developed in the classroom could prompt authentic conversation and interaction.
You know you want to spend, spend, spend.
D is for Direction:
As mentioned before, objects could be used as a springboard to develop conversation. Obviously, for most teachers they are expected to use a coursebook but there is nothing wrong with using objects and pictures to bring the coursebook alive. Meddings suggested using a pyramid discussion when incorporating objects in the classroom: it offers some resemblance of direction and relation to the coursebook but allows opportunity for teachers to develop the direction expected by learners. Furthermore, Meddings suggested that objects that are brought in could motivate learners and prompt them to develop conversation. The next image that Meddings showed was a picture of a gift card from TK Maxx and on the gift card, there was some interesting language related to consumerism and purchasing that thing you have always wanted. For example, if there is a topic about shopping and consumerism in the coursebook, teachers could always bring in an object related to shopping (a gift card in this case) and use this during the lesson. It was a wonderful example about creatively using a coursebook but also balancing more opportunities to explore emergent language.
The remaining part of the seminar focused on the second word: Objects and this again was broken down into acronyms. However, to avoid repetition the acronyms have been dropped and a summary of the remaining seminar is below.
The British Council podium in Spring Gardens
One obvious advantage about getting learners, as well as yourself, to bring in personal possessions into class offers ownership to objects. Learners are able to relate to objects and share their stories about them. For example, this week I was teaching a group of 4 learners and I got them all to bring in a personal possession that is important to them. One Spanish learner brought in a guitar pluck and a music concert pamphlet. He then told the rest of us how important it was to him. He was given a guitar pluck whilst he was playing his bass guitar during the concert on the pamphlet by a fellow musician and the guitar pluck had the name of a famous band in Spain. It was a very interesting story and the rest of the class learnt more about this learner. Essentially, as Meddings suggested, the personalisation in the classroom provide learners to own the language as well as just the object. Meddings then returned back to the use of images in the classroom. He showed a picture of a wonderful building, some lovely trees, etc and then he got attendees to consider what was right behind of the photographer. Some of the suggestions were lovely and again this linked to the previous areas highlighted during the seminar. In the end, Meddings showed the actual scene and it was unexpected: it was a picture of a building being rebuilt with cement mixes, builders, etc. Obviously, this generated a lot of chatter amongst the attendees. Again, this is a similar activity that I have seen mentioned in various books about the use of images as well as with ELT Pics and it was a wonderful reminder about the simplicity of images and using various images juxtaposed to reconstruct a scene, story, etc. The remaining areas of the seminar looked at the use of objects by getting learners to express themselves using images creatively. This was obviously repeated before but was an important area to consider. Meddings demonstrated this by a story about his daughter using some cardboard packaging to recreate a scene: being used as an accordion, a skirt or a punchbag. Again, Meddings suggested that we should share with other teachers the materials and objects that we use during lessons. We could find some wonderful objects that could be used in the class by the sharing of materials with our fellow teachers. Meddings suggested taking some of the objects from teachers and trying it out in our own lessons and then as a post reflection, share our experiences with other teachers that have also used the objects in the classroom. Finally, Meddings recommended that teachers should use objects that prompt conversation and natural talking in the classroom and it doesn’t need to be fully loaded with various tasks. Essentially, a ‘less-is-more’ approach to teaching could improve learner-to-learner, as well as learner-to-teacher or vice versa, interaction and as a quote from Meddings, he recommended that “you don’t find something no where but you find it somewhere”.
Martin Sketchley (left) and Luke Meddings (right)
This week, I have brought in an object to class for my adult conversation class. There are some wonderful ideas that Meddings recommended during the seminar and I look forward to watching it again on the Teaching English website. I would recommend other teachers to try out some of the ideas that Meddings recommends to develop their own understanding of Dogme ELT. Again, as I have always recommended, it is always best to follow a balanced approach to teaching: balancing between more eclectic and humanistic forms of teaching as well as more structured forms. The use of objects and images does offer teachers the opportunity to develop a ‘tool-box’ so that Dogme ELT can be developed in the classroom.
I am looking forward to seeing Luke Meddings at the BELTE Conference on 20 October 2012 where he is focusing more on Dogme ELT.
The video of the British Council Seminars is available now to watch below: