Tag Archives: DELTA

Walk on the wild side and fly free!

Book cover - walk on the wild sideIn case you missed the announcement from the round last week, I’m happy to announce that our first book was published this week ! I say « our » because it is the fruit of a joint collaboration between Jennie Wright (who runs the fabulous TEFL Helper blog) and myself (who runs this blog, but you probably know that already).

Before getting into the book itself, just a quick word on the launch. When we posted the news to Facebook and Twitter, we got so many messages of congratulations from colleagues around the world. We really felt how much the wider teaching community supports each other’s efforts and it was an awesome feeling! Thanks a lot guys (and gals)!

So, the book…

Inside you’ll find five chapters, one for each selected experimental area : Dogme, lexical chunking, corpora, translation, and CLIL. Within each chapter, you’ll get the history & background of the approach/method, lesson objectives, a (beautiful) sample lesson plan, the principles and explanation of that lesson plan, a list of dos and don’ts for testing the approach/method, opportunities and risks that come with it, and a toolbox packed with resources for finding out more. All that for about the cost of large fancy Starbucks! Sure it’s got less caffeine, but it’ll last longer and you can’t spill it while on the bus!

Where did the idea come from? It’s pretty simple and is really just another story of necessity being the mother of invention. Jennie and I were doing our Delta module 2 together at ESOL Strasbourg in 2012. When we got to the experimental practice assignment, our trainers showed us all sorts of resources for exploring possible experiments.Wouldn’t it be great to have a single go-to reference with resource lists, an overview of experimenting with a particular method, and a bit about its background? And wouldn’t it be even better to have a compilation of a few possible experiments laid out like that to be able to compare and choose? “Oh, we could write that book!” we thought. So we did!

As for the cover, that’s the fine work of designer Mark Bain. The cage is open. The bird is free. Imagine the metal bars as the rut that we all get into at some point of our teaching careers. We start relying on the same old exercises, going through the same lessons and slowly we create our own cage. Then one day, we decide we’re tired of being locked in. We want out. So we experiment, try new things and shake ourselves up a bit. The cage door flings open and we’re free, just like the bird you don’t see on the cover. We’re out of our comfort zone and walking on the wild side!

Experimental Practice in ELT: Walk on the wild side is available on all Amazon sites and on Smashwords.


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Hyperion resurrected and the end of the Dogme experiment

ImageLast Monday was the final lesson with the science students. The end of a semester of experimenting with Dogme. The chance for the students to tell me what they thought about the experience.

Before getting into this, though, we had to go through their exam. I wanted to go through their exam with them, to take the time to let them see their mistakes and what they had done well. In correcting their work, I made sure to include both, in red and green ink, respectively, as I thought it was important to point out where improvement still needed to be made, but also when they had used some new vocabulary or a particularly challenging structure. Plus, since part of the exam was to write a short story, I could add my comments, questions, and reaction to their story without bleeding all over their papers.

For the corrections, I used the marking symbols out of J. Harmer’s How to Teach Writing. The idea was for them to figure out the correction themselves. Beforehand, we spent some time trying to guess what the code meant. Some, like “sp” or “g” were easy to guess, while we had some discussion about “c” for concordance, “wo” for word order, and “λ” for something’s missing.

Then, they spent nearly an hour working on correcting their work (which was a reaction to a text + writing a short story). I circulated to help with questions, reformulations, and checking their work. I noticed that they seemed particularly into the activity, looking from their paper to the symbol key on the board, to their paper, and sometimes asking each other for help. It’s difficult to say if the energy poured into the effort was because this is a group of good students or because they liked the challenge and the personalized activity, but it felt like gold.

We transitioned with end-of-semester feedback forms. I wanted to make sure that they took the time to think about and complete the forms, and I’ve learned that the quantity of feedback given runs pretty much in proportion to how close the end of class is. In other words, don’t expect a novel when the group has to rush to their next class right after filling in your feedback form. (P.S. their feedback is in another postJ

After I had collected their forms, we rounded off the semester with a final performance by one of the groups who hadn’t been able to show us their work last lesson because half of their pair was absent. We followed the same format as in the last lesson, as it seemed to encourage both communication between the groups and an opportunity for language work.

Surprisingly, the story seemed quite complex, with a narrator to recount the background to the plot and a few character swaps to manage 4 roles with 2 people. The story built on the poem Hyperion that we studied in Lesson 9, but didn’t just bring the poem to life. It rewrote the story completely!

In short, Hyperion, who was the keeper of the sun, had fought and lost against Atlas. To show his despair, he hid the sun from the humans. One day, a farmer realized that without the sun, his crops, and thus his family could not survive. The farmer went to see Atlas (on a chair-mountain, with a heavy backpack on his shoulders) to explain the dire situation. Atlas told the farmer that he would have to walk for many days (symbolized by the student pacing in circles around the room) to do plead his case directly with Hyperion. He found Hyperion, who offered to turn provide light to humans by setting the farmer’s body on fire and allowing it to burn in place of the sun. As the farmer climbed on a desk, his arms outstretched like a crucifixion, the narrator told of the farmer’s brave sacrifice for mankind and why the sun we see today is in fact a burning farmer’s body. Not bad, huh?

And thus we ended our semester of an experiment together with Dogme.

Students, I thank you for your willingness to try this out with me and for your valuable feedback. Let’s hope it will help us better understand what you, the learners, think about how we teachers do our job.


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Lesson 8: Surrendering power

This week, I took a step into the unknown.

At the end of every lesson, we spend the last 15 minutes or so doing structured feedback. By that I mean, the students have a form that they fill out every lesson with four criteria, based on the suggestion in Teaching Unplugged:

  • What I liked about this lesson
  • What I didn’t really care for
  • What I found useful
  • What I found less useful

Students fill out the feedback form, I flip through them, and we discuss their feedback. Last lesson, one student suggested working with a text in class. So, naturally I asked for a volunteer to find a text for the next class. And the next class was today.

StudentA sent me the text by email the evening before the lesson. His last-minuteness maybe was a good thing, because it meant I wasn’t tempted to create all sorts of worksheets to scaffold, pre-teach vocabulary, etc. It was a short text, about 3 short paragraphs, easy enough vocabulary.  Oh, and the title was “An Introduction to a Modern Theory of Color.

I gave the students the title and asked them to think of any words that came into their heads. We mind-mapped their concepts and ideas, then they got into small groups to read the text and sort out the ideas.

Then I asked them how they could relate to the text. What did color mean for them? How do we use color in our lives? Here was where the ideas flowed.

Each group spent about 20 minutes preparing a presentation on their ideas. Some mentioned cultural aspects of color–how red meant luck and happiness in China, while black was worn for funerals in Western cultures. Some mentioned how we use color when decorating our homes to encourage different moods or how “blue and white in the bathroom reminds of beaches in Brittany.” Another group took a more artistic perspective, talking about high-contrast, b & w, or sepia-toned photos and how they effected the way we saw the photo.

After each presentation, I encouraged questioning to find out more and then I asked the listeners to summarize what they had understood to check that they had indeed followed what was said. In most cases, they got a surprising amount of info right!

Then the last group, which included StudentA, explained the real modern theory of color–that artists should use opposing colors on the color wheel to create deeper and more natural shadows in their art. This was the most interactive presentation, where the other students really seemed to want to know more (because I didn’t have to prompt them to ask questions afterwards!)

I was relieved that the students took to the subject. The night before, I was worried that the text was too narrow in scope, that some students just wouldn’t care for the subject, or that it would be so “everyday” that they would have nothing to say. I guess you don’t always need the “big” topics to get students’ ideas flowing.

However, on the feedback forms, the “less useful” activity that came up most was the reformulating stage. They didn’t really seem to see the point in it. I could tell as we were doing this–I either had to do hardcore eliciting or let the class sit until the silence got, well, awkward. Not sure if this is the route to go, but I know that I do thave a bad tendency cut thinking time short after asking questions.

Perhaps this activity would have been more engaging had there been a real need to summarize what was said. We may have relapsed into “display chatter” here, which would explain the reticence.

Overall though, I was pleased to see their reaction to the text. They even thanked StudentA for bringing it in. That’s powerful feedback.

Lesson 7                                                                                                                           Lesson 9


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Lesson 5: SAYA A (as in again)

Last week’s lesson ended with half of the class sharing their personal “headlines” with the other half of the class. Based on our daily feedback form, they enjoyed this activity, so we started with it in yesterday’s lesson.

It ran on and then the listeners retold the parts they remembered to piece together the stories about events ranging from a class lawn bowling star to a heavy metal band member’s noisy run-in with the neighbors. As last week, I popped in and listened to make notes on things that could be improved. Like last week, this would become homework—try to correct the errors.

After the discussion, we spent some time on last week’s error list. Rather than just going through the list with “Julien, what’s number 1? Marie, do you have the correction to number 2?” I split the students in small groups and gave them a few of the mistakes to correct for the class. The twist was that they were also asked to go to the board and explain why the correction was correct and why the error was wrong. They did this fairly well, using their own words. Sure sometimes we got explanations like “It’s not “like” it’s “liked” because it’s past” which seemed pretty obvious stuff, but for the activity, I figured such simplicity was sufficient.

Then back to the students’ stories.

Homework was to write the article to go with their headlines either as a recap of last week or to prepare for this week, depending on what group they were in. In pairs, students helped each other with language questions and I encouraged them to proofread, but they seemed a bit shy on this. I would have liked them to help each other organize their ideas, but criticism, even constructive just wasn’t flowing.

I’ve found though, that students can be very timid about critiquing classmates’ ideas. Correcting language doesn’t seem to bother, as it is more a question of correct or not. Ideas, though, they’re a different matter…

On to some SAYA focus to carry on from last week then. Again in pairs, students looked for examples of since, already, yet, and again, along with any present perfect continuous tenses in their text and that of their partner.

I was building up to an class-created example corpus to see if they could get the use without having to explain any rules (after all, they had already explained a lot of rules with the error correction activity).

We divided the board into squares, one for each element, and filled them with corresponding examples from the students’ own work, correcting as we went. In feedback, they said that they had enjoyed this, perhaps because it allowed them to see examples they could relate to and had already experimented with.

They seemed more comfortable with SAYA and one student admitted that he also had issues with the infamous “for” and “since.” He unknowingly set their homework: try to write a few sentences with these two, which we’ll use for the catalyst of next week’s lesson!

Lesson 4                                                                                                                       Lesson 6


Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Experimental practice


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Lesson 2: Two simple tenses that are anything but

After an encouraging first lesson and positive responses on my “Will you do Dogme with me?” questionnaire, it was time to get into the nitty gritty of a semester of unplugged teaching.

I have to admit that I’m not really comfortable yet with waltzing into a classroom of 12 students with NOTHING prepared. Last night, I thought through a lesson catalyst: Write a few things I did this past weekend (celebrated my 5-year wedding anniversary, went to an exhibit on Italian immigration, jogged for an hour and half) and invite students to do the same. Then we would board some ideas, see how they related to bigger issues, and decide which topics would be most interesting to talk about. Big issues from my activities could have been relationships, immigration, and healthy lifestyles. After that, I would see where the students would take the class.

Perhaps the good news is we never got to that.

We started off by looking at their homework from last lesson. Amazingly, everyone had done it! I took this as a positive sign that they had actually engaged in the last lesson. I’ll have to see if this enthusiasm is real or if they were just afraid that I would collect their homework…

So, students compared their English translations with a partner, then in small groups to write a collective version. This led to three collective versions, which students then compiled into a single classroom version. As Ss worked on their collective versions, I went around asking about any variations between students. Preposition issues and a few tense questions came up—they were noticing!

We divided the board in two and one student wrote the class version. I wrote the original version from last week. There were only a few differences, but sufficient opportunities to address emerging language: present simple vs. present continuous; past simple vs. present perfect simple; American vs. British spellings (traveled vs. travelled); the Oxford comma in lists; work AT vs. working ON, for which the DELTA was a good example—If I’m working on the DELTA, what’s my job? If I work at Delta, what could my job be?


The biggest issue that came of the discussion was the thorny past simple vs. present perfect simple. French learners (and I’m sure they’re not the only ones) have real problems with this because the French passé composé tense is used like the English past simple, but looks like the present perfect simple. So French Nous avons testé un nouveau resto hier translates to “We tested a new restaurant yesterday” but looks like it should translate to “We have tested a new restaurant yesterday.” See the problem?

Remedy: I asked them to think of a famous person, still alive, that they knew fairly well. Silence. So we narrowed it down—celebrity or politician? Celebrity! French or American? French! Man or woman? Woman? Any suggestions now? Vanessa Paradis! Maybe my initial request was just too broad and no one wanted to look like they were dominating—helping students narrow down choices may be a good thing sometimes.

Short Vanessa Paradis bio and comparative columns

So we brainstormed a short bio of Vanessa Paradis, with blanks for the verbs that Ss filled in as a class. This gave the grammar a context. We then made columns of past simple and present perfect simple sentences to compare the two tenses.

Ss grouped together to try to find an explanation, which they shared with the class. Two groups had on-target explanations, using words that maybe I wouldn’t have used but that may have been more accessible to their peers. Someone from each group even went to the board to draw timelines and explain their ideas.

One group, however, came up with an explanation that I wasn’t sure what to make of: past simple=activities that everyone can do: She was born in 1972; she got married in 2003, etc. and present perfect simple=activities that are more rare or not for everyone: she has released one hit song since then; she’s had three kids (yes, most people have kids, but not THREE kids).

I have to admit that I didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t want to discourage them too much, but clearly the explanation was askew. I thanked them for the effort and pointed out that the choice in tense really depended on the time and how much we knew about when/if the action finished.

And we noticed time had run away. Class was over. We hadn’t touched what I had planned the night before. That was fine by me. Next week, maybe we’ll go back through the tenses and I’ll invite the students to create some activities to reinforce what emerged in today’s lesson.

Lesson 1                                                                                                                           Lesson 3


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Lesson One: Thanks Oli and Luke!

First day with a new class. List of names. Check. Keys to the room. Check. Markers for the board, pens, pencils, blank paper for making notes. Check. Coursebook…coursebook…nah, not this time.

A few days before meeting the new class, I spent some time trawling the many Dogme blogs. One in particular grabbed my eye: Oli Beddall’s An Experiment with Dogme. Great account of how he’s experimenting with Dogme, apparently in Japan.

Since Dogme is a new path for me, I thought I needed some sort of classroom compass while honing my teacher instinct. I printed Oli’s Lesson One and took it in as a sort of road map to show students what Dogme meant. I wanted to show them, but tell as well. Or rather, lead them to finding out.

We started with cut up cards of the definition of Dogme ELT from the first pages of Teaching Unplugged by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury. Ss worked to piece the definition together followed by a class discussion of various words in the definition. First lexical set of the day (classroom materials) and a quick word family (Merlin–wizard–wizardry) came of it.

Me: “So, how can this relate to you and to this semester?”

Ss: blank stares

Right, so the question was a bit abstract. I told the students not to worry, that we would uncover the answer as the hour-and-a-half lesson progressed. And we did.

We worked through Oli’s first lesson, which brought up the fact that I was doing the DELTA, that it involved an Experimental Practice research project, and that I wanted this group to help me along. It also led to a look at past vs present perfect simple and continuous tenses, as well as a little “make” vs “do” collocation work.

Ss actively participated, more than expected. Maybe I was on the right path…so, back to the abstract question, supported with Luke Medding’s drawing from the  IATEFL Brighton conference. Ss worked out that they were going to supply the content and create the lessons, but still didn’t know exactly what that meant.

More visuals: a comparative chart of Dogme ELT and Traditional courses, filled in collaboratively. They were getting it and even better, they looked interested!

Last step: a questionnaire in L1 (here, French) on students’ views on continuous teacher development, taking part in my DELTA experimental practice research, and trying a different approach for at least the first half of the semester.

This first encounter wasn’t completely material-less (Question: does a true Dogme lesson have to be? Comments appreciated!) and having a little map to follow made me feel more confident.

Now that I have the learners’ green light to explore the exciting world of Dogme, maybe next week, I’ll leave the classroom compass at home!

Lesson 2


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