|Teaching English as a Foreign Language - to Large, Multilevel Classes (Peace Corps, 1992, 243 p.)|
|The whole class|
WHEN THE ANTS UN IT E THEIR MOUTHS, THEY CAN CARRY AN ELEPHANT.
Ed wouldn't say he "enjoyed" his pre-service training, but after the intensive TEFL technical training sessions, he did feel that he was better prepared to teach. He recognized the value of meaningful activities and agreed with the philosophy that promoted student participation in the learning process. By the tenth week of training, Ed was anxious to get to his site and begin implementing this innovative communicative approach.
But here he was, four weeks into the school year, facing rows and rows of faces that did not seem to welcome new tricks. Ed was losing his enthusiasm. He had surveyed their interests (football and tressing hair were big winners), assessed their language proficiency (fairly low), and collected a few homework assignments (most copied from the two best students' papers). The students seemed disjointed, unable to work as a team. There was no class identity, no united spirit. They were happy just to take notes, copy work, or let the better students talk.
Ed puzzled over the lack of cohesion in his class and then recalled some advice that an experienced Volunteer had offered at PST about
On the day you try something new, take a deep breath. Exhale slowly. Remember you're the band leader, and if you introduce your students to rhythm and pitch and harmony by building on their knowledge and experience, your budding musicians will learn to compose and enjoy the music of English.
Ed had dismissed this advice as whimsy, but now he thought more carefully about his role. "l am in charge, but I do need to build on their expectations. I cannot impose mine right away."
Ed was working in a traditional educational system where students are accustomed to lectures and rote recitals of information. As he thought about PST, he remembered the emphasis on working within the system. The more successful Volunteers do not try to beat the system, rather they accept it as a baseline and subtly adjust their students' expectations of what an English class should be. Ed realized this was approach he needed to take.
In this chapter we will share with you some practical suggestions and creative strategies that have helped Volunteers and other teachers adapt to a traditional educational system.
When you enter your class, one of your first priorities is to try to establish a rapport with your students. Begin by learning your students' names and move on to their personal interests. If you used some of the introductory techniques described in Chapter Two, you have already made good progress.
In all likelihood, your students are used to a teacher-directed, lecture-driven lesson, based on the national (grammatical) curriculum and geared toward the national exam. Student participation is minimized. The posing of low-level (cognitively undemanding) information questions is the norm and higher-order thinking questions are rarely asked. Students work individually although they sit on crowded bench-desks and have to share textbooks, if any are available.
This scenario is not what you would like your class to look like. But for the time being, it is what you must work with. starting OUT In order to establish your credibility as a teacher, add new techniques and procedures gradually to your classroom repertoire. Since students are familiar with a whole-class, lecture-style lesson, use it to introduce the communicative approach.
As you read in the previous chapters, we are suggesting you use the 4MAT plan as you develop lessons. However, first you need to train your students to participate in wholeclass, pair, group and individual activities. This training needs to be done step-by-step, taking time to let students become familiar with the process.
The whole-class activities will be particularly important at the beginning and the end of a lesson. By starting a lesson together you can set the stage for the topic by:
- establishing the objectives and pace (especially if you plan a lesson that needs several class periods);
- building background information;
- activating students' prior experiences;
- Iinking the lesson to previous topics; and
- presenting new information.
EDING THE LESSON
At the end of the lesson, addressing the students as a whole class will help maintain continuity and also bring closure to the topic. Remember that the key to using whole class activities successfully is getting the students' attention, holding it, and encouraging the students' participation.
Let's start with a traditional lecture, which should not, of course, model a college professor's discourse. In this chapter we will use "lecture" to refer to teacher explanations, on a grammatical point or writing process, for example. However, your lectures should not be lengthy or without some student interaction
Lectures can promote student language development, especially in listening and speaking skills-provided the teacher intersperses the talk with questions to the audience and allows sufficient wait time for responses. They also provide the opportunity to introduce students to content-based activities, linking a subject like biology with English language development. Depending on what task is required of the students, lectures can also be used to develop higher order thinking skills and study skills. Further, while lecturing you are providing students with rich input, native pronunciation, models of English grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, and so forth.
- First, as in all lessons, know your objective and relate it to your students in advance. Write a few summary points or even an outline on the board and read the points aloud. Put up some key terms and phrases you will be using. You can even point co them as you talk. This preparation will give the students clues to your talk and will help focus their attention.
- Second, ask yourself what you can do to aid the students' understanding of your words. Visuals are one solution. Pictures, photos, drawings, and even stick figures can help your lecture come alive. Use your students to help demonstrate a point. Do pantomime or role play. Sprinkle a lecture with familiar examples, perhaps from the community or from the curriculum of another subject. Better yet, where possible, select a topic from your list of student interests. By using multiple media in the classroom, you can reduce the reliance on language and place the information in a context that is more comprehensible to the students.
- Third, teach the students notetaking, a skill which facilitates their comprehension. You might, for example, plan a presentation on "How to Take Notes." As you describe helpful strategies to the students, pause to write notes yourself on a separate sheet of paper. Occasionally stop and check to see what the students write. Have students compare notes with each ocher. For the second half of the lesson on subsequent days, present a few more lectures on topics of student interest and have students cake notes and compare their notes with yours and each others'. If you list the main ideas of THE lecture on the board beforehand, you will provide the students with a framework to which they can add details.
One traditional language learning activity that your students will expect is dictation. This activity primarily occurs in a lecture-like setting. Dictations are useful to practice listening comprehension and writing. A slight modification that you may want to use in large, multilevel classes is a listening cloze dictation. In this instance, you would prepare several versions of the passage. The first version, for beginning students, would have a few blanks. The next version would have those blanks plus a few more; the third, the same blanks as the second plus additional ones, and so forth. You then read the passage aloud to the whole class as you would read a dictation, slowly, with repetitions. But your students would have different amounts of words or phrases to fill in according to their ability levels.
Whole class discussion is another way to get everyone involved When you have 50 or 60 students, it is extremely difficult to get all of them to participate in a discussion. But, it is possible if students have been prepared for the discussion, if the topic is meaningful and relevant (geared to their concerns when appropriate), and if the discussion is structured to encourage their input (see, for instance, explanation of think-pair-share in Chapter Eight). As we suggested for lectures, you are encouraged to use multiple media to enhance a class discussion.
In earlier chapters, we noted that your students are most likely accustomed to teacher control of lesson activities. You may find that you have to lead several discussions as question/answer sessions until your students feel comfortable initiating questions and making comments without your prompting. You may want to consider selecting one or two students (your dynamic students, perhaps) as discussion leaders to model the participation you would like from all your students.
Consider inviting a guest speaker to your class as one way to make the transition from the lecture format to a discussion format. In advance, scout out potential speakers from your community. Lee the students choose a speaker from your prepared list and help write or dictate an invitation that requests the topic for the talk. They might want to create a list of issues for the speaker to address and include it with their invitation. (You need to monitor this list and make sure it is appropriate for the speaker both in Berms of its content and the speaker's English proficiency.) This process gives students a stake in the upcoming talk as well as background knowledge and concepts to listen for during the presentation
Before the speaker arrives, have the class draw up a series of questions to ask the guest after he or she has spoken. Besides factual questions ( What is a____?, When did _____?), encourage more interactive varieties ( We have been studying ____? What do you think about that? When we read ____, we learned ____. Can you share your ideas? I didn't understand _______. Could you explain again please?). These questions will provide the basis for a class discussion with the speaker. You should prepare your guest so he or she can ask the students some questions too.
This preparation time is also ideal for slotting in some of the grammatical points you need to cover from the national curriculum. Your students can work on question formation, verb tenses, punctuation, and more. You will be covering chose items in context, and they should therefore be more meaningful and memorable to your class.
When your guest speaker arrives, inform the students that you expect them to take some notes to use later in a class discussion. At that later time ask students to review their notes and summarize aloud what they learned. Or, set up a "hot seat" and ask a student to sit and discuss the topic, using his or her notes. To involve the whole class, encourage classmates to extend the information they hear from the hot seat, question and/or correct utterances, compare the information to their notes, and ask for repetition or clarification. Be careful, though, not to force students to join in, especially if they are particularly shy. You may want to have a lottery to establish an order for the "hot seat.." Clearly, not all students will get to speak, but if this activity is repeated every few weeks, more and more students will have a chance. Moreover, as the students become familiar with the task, they may feel more comfortable speaking up.
SOLVING A PROBLEM
Another useful way to generate a whole-class discussion is to set up a problem-solving activity. As we mentioned in earlier chapters, community problems, such as health or environmental issues, can be incorporated as themes in lesson plans. To facilitate a discussion about a critical issue-Guinea worm eradication or AIDS or digestive disorders, for example-you can play the outsider, perhaps a scientist or doctor, who needs to gee information. Questions you pose should elicit factual knowledge (e.g., What is the problem? Where toes it occur? Who is affected?) and critical chinking (e.g., Why to you think it happens? If it is not stopped, what might occur?).
WHOLE-CLASS ACTIVITIES IN A COMMUNICATIVE LESSON
Lee's look at the seeps in a communicative lesson plan and see where we can apply wholeclass activities. As we described the lesson plan format in Chapter Pour, we indicated that teacher-directed, whole class activities tend to cluster in the Motivation and Information phases of a lesson. However, there are times when the whole class will want to come together during the Practice and Application steps too. Frequently this occurs with sharings of discoveries and reviews of findings.
As part of the Motivation phase, you may want to offer the students some background information or check on their prior knowledge through several activities.
This sophisticated version of brainstorming allows students to organize their thoughts and categorize information. One technique is to have students (with or without your assistance) first make a list of ideas, such as foods found in the market, and then organize them in a web, perhaps using branches to represent different food groups. Another option is to web from the start. As students offer ideas, you or an advanced student can create a web, linking related ideas as they are mentioned.
As mentioned earlier, the use of realia and ocher visual materials is important, and particularly effective as a motivator. These items provide a quick, often non-language-dependence means of introducing students to the lesson topic. Such materials can also meet different student learning styles (for example, tactile and visual) and offer critical thinking practice by asking questions like, What to you think this represents? and Why are we looking at this type of map?
Sometimes it is helpful to gee students "in the mood" for a topic. You can motivate your students by asking them to listen to a song, a poem or even a shore story, and having a brief discussion about it afterwards, or by having them draw a picture while they listen and then share it with the class or a partner.
The Information phase of a lesson is also teacher-directed. In this phase, you may want to use lectures and whole-class discussions as discussed earlier.
LINKS WITH CONTENT AREAS
This phase is also a good place to incorporate some of the subject matter your students are encountering in other content areas. Using visual aids, showing diagrams and maps, and doing demonstrations and experiments are good techniques for making new information more comprehensible.
You can present information on themes and content topics with:
- outlines-to show the main idea and supporting detail, to sumarize information;
- timelines-to organize and sequence events chronologically, c' compare events in different settings (e.g., cities, countries);
- flow charts-to show progression and influences on an outcome, to show cause and effect;
- graphs, charts-to organize and compare data;
- maps-to examine movement and location; and
- Venn Diagrams-to compare and contrast information.
Political map and relief map
POLITICAL MAPS RELIEF MAPS
Consider training your students to create graphic organizers. In so doing, you may assist their notetaking and study skill development and also familiarize them with a technique that can be used in small group work.
PRACTICE AND APPLICATION
The Practice and Application phases of the lesson lend themselves to several whole-class activities.
STRIP STORIES OR SENTENCE STRIPS
First, you write a summary of a lesson or reading passage, or write out the steps for solving a math problem or for doing a science experiment on individual strips of paper-each strip having one sentence or more. You should be sure the writing is large enough to be seen by all students. Next distribute these strips, out of sequence, to several students. These students organize the strips into the proper sequence.
To do the sequencing each student may take a strip and physically stand in the proper place in front of the class or place strips on the board, with classmates concurring or disagreeing with the positions and the students involved justifying their stances.
DISCOVERY AND INQUIRY LEARNING
After studying a certain topic such as flowers, you might design lessons for discovery learning where students seek out specific new information on their own, like comparing petals and leaves from different plants. You would help organize the data and sometimes set out the procedures for your students to follow. Then, as a class, they draw conclusions and discover the results. Other examples of discovery learning include math problem-solving activities and open-ended science experiments.
Similarly, your students might want to investigate a topic of their own choosing while you act as a facilitator. The students would identify a problem, hypothesize causes, design procedures or experiments, and conduct research to try to solve the problem. These inquiry activities work well in conjunction with science, social studies and health objectives.
Newspaper production is often successful in large, multilevel classes because there are tasks for all students to complete. The key to success, of course, is organization. Based on students' interests and ability levels, students can volunteer for roles, such as reporter, editor, layout, banner designer, artist, advertiser, printer, and so forth. Students with stronger language skills may focus on the reporting, writing and editing stages. Students with weaker language skills may work on the production-layout design, cutting and pasting articles into columns, drawing pictures, and designing advertisements.
CRAB BAG REVIEW
Another whole class activity that may be used to wrap up a lesson is the grab bag. Put written clues or objects into a small bag. Have students reach inside, select one, and talk about it in relation to the unit of study. For example, after a health unit on clean drinking water, you might put a piece of charcoal, small pebbles, and an empty bottle in the bag. As a student takes one out, she or he discusses the object's purpose or importance. Other students are encouraged to join in and add to the explanation.
E There are some general communicative techniques that work well as whole-class activities. These include drama, writing tasks, games, jazz chants and music. They can be applied as desired (and as appropriate) in any phase of the lesson.
Drama is a popular language learning technique that works well with lessons on literature and content subject matter and helps develop social skills. You can ask the class to act out an event from a story or a content area. For example, the sprouting-harvesting cycle of a plant, studied in biology, can become a creative skit; or, students may want to dramatize a scene from a published play, even one of Shakespeare's. You may even want students to demonstrate their negotiating and paraphrasing skills through a mock trial.
You have the option to assign roles impromptu as role plays or have the class research and write dialogues or even a play before performing. And do not forget to use mime. This works well in a large, multilevel class with students of both beginning and advanced levels of English proficiency.
WRITING LANGUAGE EXPERIENCE APPROACH (LEA)
Writing, as you know, can take many forms. One way to involve the whole class simultaneously is through an LEA exercise. The LEA, originally developed to teach literacy skills to adults, works well in a multilevel class. After your students engage in an activity, such as going on a leaf collection hunt, picking up litter, or making rehydration formula, they dictate a summary of what happened for you or for an advanced classmate to write on the board. Students then work together co organize the written ideas and, if desired, make corrections. You may want to copy the dictation co use another day for review, motivation, or even a lesson on grammar and editing.
CREATIVE WRITING Another writing idea for large, multilevel classes is the traditional creative writing exercise. It may be possible that your students are not ready to free-write, so you want to provide some structure. One way is to show them a picture and, as a class, list some of the objects or characters depicted and brainstorm some possible story lines around the scene. Some students may copy words or make simple sentences using the class' ideas. Others may branch out and extend the lists or take a different tack entirely. A variation would be to use the picture as a stimulus for writing a dialogue.
A technique that can help students write comparative essays also uses pictures. Try to find two pictures that have similar characteristics but different details. For instance, you may have two pictures of floral bouquets. Begin by asking students to make a list (as a class or individually) of the similarities and a list of the differences. According to their abilities, the students can use those lists to write sentences, paragraphs or an essay about the pictures.
Some other familiar writing techniques will work well too. Tell half a story and ask the students to finish it or have students read or listen to a story and then retell it from the point of view of a different character.
The use of journals is another writing technique that appears as a whole-class activity, but actually prepares students for individual work. By starting students with journals you offer them opportunities for self-expression, unpressured writing and reflection. You can decide how often you want students to write (maybe daily or twice a week), and if-and how often-you will read the journals. Some students may even volunteer to read aloud. For less proficient students, you can ask them to start with illustrations in their journals and slowly move into writing. In this way, all students in your multilevel class can participate.
You may choose to let writing topics be entirely selected by the students or you may want to provide the writing topics, at least some of the time. To tie the journals into your lessons, you may use them for lesson closure by having students summarize what they learned in the lesson that day or for motivation the next day by having them summarize a previous lesson.
A group journal is one variation that may be used for whole class writing. It is set up in this manner. The teacher designates a single notebook as the group journal. The teacher starts off the journal with an entry on a particular topic. Students then take turns writing in the journal. Turns are not assigned or regulated. Some students may choose to write frequency; others not at all. Students may initiate topics or respond to something already written. Any entries may be read by anyone who writes an entry. The teacher writes entries occasionally, but not in response to each piece of student writing. All writing is to be done in the classroom-the notebook can never be taken home by a student. There are no grades, no error corrections, no "character attacks," only written interaction about the content of the entries.
This variation of journal writing may be less realistic for your large classes. In dialogue journals teachers respond to student writing. They do not edit student work; they add positive and supportive comments, ask questions or share ideas, and model, in their responses, correct language forms. The teachers let students know how often they will read and respond to the journals. Some teachers will respond to every piece of writing; others will respond once a week or less. The teacher comments may vary in length and depth too. If you do want to try this technique, pace yourself carefully, especially if your class is large.
Games provide a nice break from a traditional lesson format and capture the attention and enthusiasm of a whole class. Many games can reinforce learning vocabulary, grammar rules, stories and reading selections. Students may play games individually, in pairs, and in groups. By using games as an occasional "treat" or "aside" from the lecture or whole class discussion, a teacher can casually prepare the students for the group and pair work that will be expected of them later.
Bingo can be played in many variations. For beginning students, the teacher calls out what is on the cards:
- numbers or letters;
- sight words or vocabulary based on a theme the class has been studying.
More advanced bingo cards could include these:
- numbers that represent a sum or product, for example, and the teacher calls out "eleven plus five" or "ten times twenty;"
- new vocabulary, and the teacher calls out the definitions;
- antonyms or synonyms of the words the teacher calls out;
- irregular past tense forms of the present tense verbs the teacher calls out.
Pictionary and charades are always fun. For pictionary, the student with the cue can draw clues to help his or her team guess the answer; for charades, the student must pantomime the clues. To play these games, the class is divided into two teams. One student from each draws or performs while classmates guess the answer. The first team to guess gains a point.
As with bingo, these games can be designed for varying levels of proficiency that can nonetheless include the whole class. The teacher chooses the level of difficulty of the cue based on the students' ability. For instance, two advanced students competing in pictionary may be asked to draw a scientist using a microscope, whereas less advanced students may only have to draw the microscope. Another accommodation for multilevel classes is to give some students written cues and others oral ones.
Mad libs, popular in U.S. elementary schools over 20 years ago, have their place in an EFL classroom. For initial preparation, the teacher writes a story frame with deleted words. Before reading it to the class, the teacher asks individual students to supply needed nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions or conjunctions. These are written into the story and then the story is read aloud. The general idea is to create an amusing, "crazy" story. Hut the teacher's hidden agenda is to check students' knowledge and recognition of those parts of speech.
Jeopardy and reverse jeopardy suit the multilevel class nicely. By explaining to students that the clues behind the gameboard get more difficult in proportion to the value of the square, less proficient stu dents can choose easier questions; more proficient students, more difficult ones. The gameboard with points can be drawn on the chalkboard or made permanent on a large sheet of paper. The clues behind the points would change each time the game is played. Some teachers read them aloud to the class; others like to have them written down so the students can see them.
This game is easily played by teams, with scores being kept as individuals take turns making their selections. In reverse jeopardy, questions are posed to the students in a category they select. Students answer the questions. Category options may include:
- vocabulary from The Stranger (the name of a book) - clues give definitions or synonyms;
- verb tenses - dues may be "past tense of go" or "future of can," etc.;
- categories that reflect students' interests, such as animals, sports, music;
- Iocal community services;
- comprehension questions about a story students read or an experience they had;
- connections to content classes.
Regular jeopardy is a little more difficult because the students are given the answer and need to make up a correct question. This is a good skill for the students to practice, but it may be better to introduce students to the game via reverse jeopardy and later switch to regular jeopardy.
You may enjoy exploring music and chants in your classes. These activities are motivating for students and also help teach English pronunciation and intonation patterns. Many of your students may be musically inclined, accustomed to singing a capella and in harmony. Look for songs that reinforce a grammar point or some vocabulary you are studying. Also consider American folk songs that have relatively easy lyrics and repetitive stanzas. Songs and jazz chants on content area topics would work well too. Students might even like writing their own rhymes, rap songs or jazz chants about topics like the rain forest, geometric figures or politics.
Each individual finds his or her own way to teach a song or chant. One method is to sing a verse or the whole song through once. Next, sing line by line, having the students sing after you. Then sing couplets or some reasonable grouping of lines with students repeating after you. For a jazz chant, you might want to divide the class in half, giving each half responsibility for one part in the chant. Set the rhythm by clapping and encourage the students to follow suit. If you have a tape recorder (and batteries) you may want to record the students singing and chancing and share it with them to reinforce their interest.
This chapter has examined some strategies for you to use in whole-class situations. Knowing that the students expect teacher-directed lessons, you can gradually adapt the traditional system to a more communicative approach. Remember to implement change slowly, establish a rapport, and promote mutual respect with your students. Try to incorporate their interests as much as possible and look for content to ignite your lessons.
The following questions will serve as reminders as you begin to shift your lessons from the traditional style to a communicative one.
- Have you established your credibility by using the familiar lecture format?
- Do you plan to introduce the communicative approach slowly, one activity at a time?
- Are you enhancing your lectures and discussions with visual and aural stimulation, action and reaction?
- Have you trained your students to participate in a discussion and other whole-class activities? Are they prepared with background information and ideas about what to say or ask?
- Have you linked whole-group activities to topics of student interest? Are you posing problems and requesting student solutions?
- Have you remembered to incorporate the grammatical points required by your syllabus into your creative activities?
In this chapter, we have encouraged you to enhance your lectures with communicative discussions and creative activities. These communicative teaching approaches will interest and challenge your students, but don't limit your lessons to these whole-class options. In Chapter Eight we will show you how to introduce your students to cooperative learning through pair work, so you can help them experience the additional social and academic benefits of a learner-centered classroom.