Lesson 3: Blast from the past (vs. present perfect simple)

06 Feb

I’ve been thinking about how important it is to have some sort of continuity through a Dogme semester. Without it, we could run the risk of doing a series of one-off lessons and students would have difficulty seeing how it all builds up as a cycle.

This was one comment I got last semester when I tested a single Dogme lesson in a sea of planned, photocopied, and powerpointed sessions. The students said they had really enjoyed it, but they didn’t see how it fit in to the rest of the semester. Note taken.

So as a continuation of last week’s past simple vs. present perfect simple grammar point, I divided the students into 3 groups of 4 and had them concoct something to help another group with this dark zone of the English tense system.

And they set to work.

After about 30 minutes, we had a « spot the correction » activity with about 7 sentences, a biography of Steven Spielberg, and another of Goullom from Lord of the Rings. During this, I walked around and sat in on their group collaboration to answer questions, correct, and clarify as needed. I also noticed that one group was using a mobile phone to pull up info on Spielberg while another was gleaning ideas from one of those free “newspapers” they hand out on the trams and buses.

The students were discussing the grammar points! But they were doing it in French. For the moment, I let them continue, but it made me wonder “should we ask students to discuss and explain emerging grammar knowledge in L2?” One part of me says “yes,” it gives them good practice and they associate the language with the grammar. Another part of me says “no,” grammar is complex. They’re having a hard time with the concept, let’s not complicate things further.

What is your take on this?

Each group finished, gave their exercise to another group, and the second round of work began. It all went smoothly, many right answers, some a little less right. Each time, I pointed out the correct answers and the ones that needed to be reconsidered.

As each group finished, I asked them to formulate explanations for each tense based on what they noticed during the creation and the working stages. One member of each group also boarded the exercise they had completed so that we could go through them together.

Each group then had to explain the work they had done on the other group’s exercise, explaining why they chose whichever tense (this time in English!). The three volunteers seemed a little nervous about this part, so we applauded each one for their effort at playing teacher. Hopefully that created a bit of positive energy!

Students' board work

To round off the lesson, we ended by compiling some explanations of when to use the tenses and put them on the bottom of the board.

Students spent the last 10 minutes filling out and discussing what will become our weekly feedback session (this idea is pulled directly from Teaching Unplugged, p. 99). Students unanimously liked the grammar explanations and creating their own activities. However, I wonder if the affinity for grammar comes from some old scholarly comfort zone. I’ll have to be careful not to get sucked into the “talking about grammar” trap at the expense of “talking with grammar.” They’ll need some real, spontaneous use of the tenses, perhaps in a more discussion-led class next week. They’re off for a week of vacation, which means next lesson should be fertile with stories to tell!

I doubt the old comfort zone issue applies to creating activities for their classmates. While a few students pointed out that we spent a little too much time actually creating the activities (there’s my pacing problem creeping up on my again…), they all said they enjoyed doing it and would like to include it in future lessons.

So next time, perhaps we’ll put all this grammar to use and get them to spend the entire 2 hours just talking in L2 about things they’ve done. A challenge?

Lesson 2                                                                                                                 Lesson 4


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5 responses to “Lesson 3: Blast from the past (vs. present perfect simple)

  1. Karl

    February 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Christina

    I believe this is my first time commenting on your blog even though I have read several of your very interesting and useful posts.

    Regarding you question about the Ss using L1. First of all I would consider the level and capabilities of my Ss and the complexity of the task. Also and probably most importantly, what is the objective of the task and what is your perceived outcome? Based on my understanding of your task, in my humble opinion a certain amount of L1 language should be expected and accepted in order to achieve a successful end result. Like you said in your article the Ss were already probably having a hard time to discuss such a complex topic and forcing them to speak L2 would probably have had an adverse effect on the outcome.

    Great post and question. Would write more but I have lessons to organise for tomorrow. Look forward to reading more of your articles!


  2. Brad Patterson (@brad5patterson)

    February 8, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Hi Christina.

    Enjoyed this read.

    Historically, I’ve been a bit of an extremist about “speaking mostly L2” in class, and yet I’ve seen my extremism slowly eroded away by my international colleagues in the blogosphere. From a personal perspective I know that “abandoning” L1 as completely as possible has helped me learn a number of languages, however it’s not fair to compare my immersion experiences to these classroom experiences.

    I think for your specific activity, L1 seems helpful, and while I won’t encourage it, I’d let it go in that case, and then seek their “reporting” in English. It’s a balancing act for me, as especially in France I find the students resist leaving their comfort zone of French… I guess in the end the strategy should be “how to make it more comfortable for them, rather then how to get them to speak English most of the time”. Thanks for the post. Cheers, Brad

  3. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus

    February 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Hi Karl,

    I’m glad you are enjoying the blog–I think it’s helping me to develop as a professional, and I hope it helps others too to think about their own practice (and maybe even start their own blog!)

    I agree that, at this level (mostly A2ish-B1ish), asking them to work out the complexities of the grammar in a language they are still very much learning would be very ambitious and counter-productive. It may even lead to little discussion due to the complexity of the task. Certainly not the goal!

    Thanks for taking some time to post in between lessons! I know how precious teachers’ time is!


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