I’ve added something to my online Google Drive folder for the first time in ages. It’s a short Focus on Form activity for turning basic recommendations into written recommendations using modal verbs and adverbs. I wrote it for a class at a car seat company, so you might want to edit the Word document.
It is very rough around the edges by design – there is more than one possible correct answer so there is no list of correct answers – you need to check the work yourself or have the learners do it, perhaps peer checking before teacher feedback.
Making Written Recommendations (MS Word, PDF)
“What do you need to do?” the teacher asks.
“Um, speak English,” the most outgoing student says.
“In what kinds of situations do you use English?”
So, not the most illuminating of exchanges to help plan a curriculum. There have been loads of times that this has happened to me, and to others. There’s a lovely post by Laura at Grown Up English about negotiating a task-based syllabus. You might also want a look at #TBLTChat 7 on syllabus design. Here, I’m going a bit hybrid.
With this group of learners I’m going to talk about, I asked their goals and what they usually use English for at work. I got that they want to work on fluency in speaking and listening, on the phone and face to face. There were no concrete situations, though.
Due to this, I get to use my imagination and have a bit of a daydream about other people’s work. Maybe this is due to too much Quantum Leap (“Oh, boy!”) as a boy. Not having the luxury of shadowing the students to find out about a typical day, I can only rely on what they tell me or what I can anticipate.
This board was based on my guesses what the students in this group might need based on knowledge that they work for a logistics services provider. I had the students in the group, of mixed level, rank the things that I chose according to how important they are.
It was interesting to find that answering complaints was not seen as important. I’ll leave this open for the rest of the course. It was also interesting to find that I don’t need to prioritise simple scheduling very highly. This means I’ll conflate the scheduling and queries lessons, with a bit of wriggle room by adding other things and renegotiating the syllabus again.
I leave one slot at the end for review or covering what crops up and then this is our syllabus for the rest of our 10-hour course. If you have any other ideas, feel free to share them in the comments.
This whiteboard was for the second lesson of a course I am teaching based on Business Result Pre-Intermediate. The learners are six men at a logistics company.
Check homework from the Practice File (gap fills for vocabulary review).
First up was a game at the end of the chapter based on questions and answers. It gave me a chance to check question formation and adjacency pairs (speech acts that go together).
I was going to move on to ‘eavesdrop’ upon the listening on the previous page and transcribe the conversation with half the class transcribing the man and half transcribing the woman. I thought that the game went on too long to do the textbook listening so I moved on to the speaking activity.
The speaking activity was the task at the top of the board:Introduce yourself; Targets: 80% native speed of response, 70% accurate vocabulary and grammar. They had to introduce their company, too. Matthew asked why I chose these targets. I figure that an introduction is really easy but an introduction with parameters close to what would be acceptable on business, generally, would be closer to the ‘real world’ and encourage more involvement than a task with no parameters.
Kamila asked how I measure the speed. Basically, I wait till the preceding utterance finishes, mentally answer and count two beats from my point of answering. It sounds harder than it is.
How I set it up was in threes, too talk one transcribes the first speaker only. This was to build accuracy in the first speaker. I read about it in this article by Skehan and Foster. In the article, learners transcribed themselves but in this risk they transcribed each other. Conversations carried on for around seven minutes. I followed up with a focus on form. These were mainly about vocabulary or body language and a little bit on question formation with final prepositions. Advice was given based on the transcription and then the task was repeated. I then followed with pairs repeating a similar task but with a 2 min 30 sec time limit. The companies they chose to talk about were all fictionalised, hence ‘adult entertainment’. Homework set was a gap fill with ‘you’ or ‘I’ in questions.
It went well, particularly with the weaker students in the class. Some things I wish I’d done were getting the students to record each other in pairs then transcribe themselves. This ended up being the end of the next lesson (make a podcast section to give an introduction to your company) and homework (transcribe yourself, noting mistakes or things you would change if you did it again). Overall the lesson was quite good but I still am not totally satisfied. Maybe this is because I am still trying to figure out my rapport and how we gel. Maybe I feel it was a bit repetitive, though it was kind of a fun time.
I have a class on Thursdays that have really let me get my teeth into needs analysis with them. It’s the first time I’ve taught a class and had ‘What do you need to learn?’ answered with something other than ‘English.’
One of my learners told me that a situation we did as an extended task has taken on even more relevance, seeing as he’s going to Europe with two classmates at the end of November.
The thing is, that task wasn’t in the book. It wouldn’t have been on the syllabus at all had I not performed a needs analysis through a class discussion on training and completing a task to analyse linguistic needs.
OK, Marc, so what’s that got to do with anything?
Well, if we have a look at the set texts, and then have a look at the needs analysis then we get to the stage where a Venn diagram or suchlike would be useful. Where is the overlap between the textbook and the needs. Ideally, the people in charge of selling the course would have nothing to do with choosing (or foisting) textbooks. After a needs analysis teachers should be able to see what they need to teach and then look to see what textbook, if any, best meets the needs of the class. What resources need to be gathered? There will always be other things cropping up in lessons that will require divergence and detours from the main syllabus but if the basics are down, everything else that needs to be rejigged on the fly can be done with a minimum of fuss.
However, if you’re working to a pacing of book pages determined by someone outside the classroom who doesn’t know the learners, whose needs are you meeting? Theirs, but their needs are only wants, and those wants shouldn’t matter.
Well, Anthony Schmidt started this challenge about what we taught today and it sounded intriguing; documenting a normal day in the life at work.
Today was the second day back at school after the summer holidays and the first day back at a company class after a week off sick. They had a substitute teacher doing textbook stuff with them last week.
8:30-9:20 3rd Grade Junior High
Prepositions of location on the syllabus but I know these kids know them. I proposed half a lesson to talk about anything they want. They chose nothing and were lethargic so they got a task to describe their partner’s room which was done but with no enthusiasm. Had to tell two students to get work done. Very unusual for this group. Like me, they were probably tired from last night’s typhoon.
9:30-10:20 3rd Grade (Different Class)
Massive difference. They chose to talk about summer holidays. The prepositions of location were fine. The holiday chat brought up problems with go and prepositions so I reviewed that and checked some pronunciation of ‘-ed’ as /t/.
10:30-11:20 2nd Grade
Occupations on the syllabus. Brainstormed jobs with given criteria in groups (outdoor jobs, jobs with uniforms, even more). Pairs discussed parent’s jobs using follow-up questions.
11:30-12:20 2nd Grade (Different Class)
As above but these students got finished really quickly so they talked about their dream jobs. A bit of scaffolding and vocabulary help here and there.
13:00-13:50 2nd Grade (Another Different Class)
Jobs again but not categorizing as these students were keen to talk about jobs from the outset. Parents jobs talked about in more detail than expected. Told the students to speak more loudly because I can’t always hear them. Last class at school for the day.
17:45-19:15 Business English/ESP
The other side of town. Two weeks ago they planned a business trip to Europe to train engineers. Today they trained each other in a highly specialized area of manufacturing. All from them; book never opened. The linguistic focuses were on hedging and emphasis. Very keen to do well; vocabulary precise but I needed to draw attention to morphology and a bit of grammar (overuse of passives). Set homework to preview socialising language in the textbook.
I am now tired and looking forward to dinner.