A change of tack, untested and potentially tacky

Currently I’m teaching two streams of students. The new first graders and the second grade students who I had taught last year. Still at high school, I’ve got the ‘problem’ of creating a set of lesson plans for teaching my old first graders; the new second graders. After some thought I’ve decided instead of creating more material (which I think has been exhausted anyway) I’ve decided to use a different teaching style. I’m still leading my students to the context, but I’m also using the lexical approach. Throw chunks of new vocabulary at the students and have them use it. A while ago I had struck upon the idea of using collocations for the students to discover and learn. A number of problems to solve swim out of the murk for this tack to work. How to introduce new lexical items? How do I have the students notice and connect collocates without boring them to death?

The current teaching framework I’m using (PPP) works like a charm. But my friend commented and berated me on teaching a vocabulary lesson as this is something that a KET would do. The reply to that is, that it’s a lesson of two parts. Input of vocabulary in the first hour, the second part is that of production and practice using the new vocabulary. The extra layering that’s needed for young learners is the need to communicate. Easily solved, this equates to putting it in the form of a game. So, this leaves the problem of how do you get the student’s to take notice of collocates?

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Rhubarb, rhubarb

Rhubarb, rhubarb.jpgI’m required to give oral tests to my High school students twice a year. The tests are based on material that I’ve taught in my classes. These are received by my students (approximately 40 per class) with levels of indifference to absolute engagement. In light of keeping the students ‘clued in’, I’ve got to have my lesson plans together. I typically use the PPPP schema with good effect. The recent TESOL course I’d taken at SMU had come to be very useful. So many changes for my teaching, being an ELT means you are constantly learning and changing.

But in looking at the oral tests, I knew I had to plan ahead. With regards to priming the students, this, as I’ve found out, should have been done at the beginning of their year. Give the students a big carrot to chase, with a little bit of stick. Having read When? How? Why? by the Saskatchewan professional development unit, I have in, retrospect, learnt how to test properly. But the overall philosophy to the testing is that do they understand the concept? Are they able to compose an answer or question given that they know the concept of the grammar point. It’s one thing to memorise, but it’s another thing to create your own answer. No conversation in English (or any language) stands on it’s own and can be seen as being entirely unique. As I’ve noticed in going from class to class during testing, the students’ answers get better, as they’ve had a preview from other classmates in other classes about the questions. Their answers become more and more ‘canned’.

That is why I’ve only given them what the type of question they’ll get (Past experiences with Have you ever). I have never told them the precise question, then it becomes a matter of memorisation, which, in my opinion is too much like their education system of verbatim regurgitation. As the title of my blog suggests, it’s just repeated words to give the impression of noise. Rhubarb, rhubarb!

A word about classroom furniture: having sat in their class and their chairs for about 40 minutes, the height of the chairs is too low. These students are about my height and are growing lads. After about 40 minutes, the wooden seat pan had left my seat, numbed and sore. I really don’t know how they do it for an hour.