Tag Archives: grammar points

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 4: The SAYA dilemma

Since, ago, yet, already. These four little words seem to plague French learners and for obvious reasons. Since translates to depuis. So does for. The idea of ago has a structure that when translated looks like there are four years, I went to the US for vacation. As for already, well, its French equivalent can also translate to yet. In some contexts, that is.

Not what I had predicted doing, but it came up and incidentally SAYA could fit well with the jump-start idea that I had chosen (thank you, ELT gods!)

We began the lesson with a little revision from the regular “Lesson That Was” form that I fill in and photocopy for everyone at the end of each lesson (See Teaching Unplugged, p. 63). Students made mental notes of questions they still had about any language. We boarded this and then students grouped in 4s to try to answer some of their classmates’ questions by going to the board and playing teacher. I monitored and corrected as needed. Although the students seemed reluctant to take the place of the teacher, they do it and they really try. Best thing is they explain in their own words, which are probably better understood by their peers than my explanations.

This was when SAYA came in, probably sparked by last lesson’s work on the present perfect simple.

I explained it to one group, who then went to the board to explain it to the rest of the class. We elicited a few examples together, and I circled the words in red to set up for the next activity. Maybe we could have done some more SAYA-specific work here, but I thought the activity I had planned would lend itself nicely to some natural emergence. I was hoping this would be shed light on these little linguistic trouble-makers in a more organic, holistic way. Did it?

My own "headline"

I asked if any of the students had a newspaper on them. Since they give out freebies near the tram stop, I was pretty sure the answer would be yes. Bingo! We opened a page, I read the headline and asked if they could guess what the article was about. Luckily, this one particular headline was a bit enigmatic–something about a Salkin-Magnani face off. Then I pulled out my grassroots “front page” based on “Headlines” (Teaching Unplugged, p. 38) about my weekend spent purging my apartment of unneeded clothes, books, papers, and general clutter. Students asked a few questions about what sort of home purification took place, but I stopped them before they could get all the details (oh, the suspense building up to next week’s lesson!)

Students were encouraged to create their own headline, and if desired, to exaggerate their exploits. 6 of them lined up with their own front pages, the other half stood in front of a partner to ask him/her questions to learn more about their headline.  After a minute or so, the questioners rotated until they had spoken to each headline-holder. All the while, I circulate to help with vocab and make notes on what I hear.

Afterwards, group summary of the stories to check what they had understood and to consolidate the stories.  We went over some of the new vocabulary as we pieced together the stories and I pointed out where SAYA could have been used to try to tie the day’s bits together.

During the Headlines activity, SAYA didn’t come up as much as I would have liked, but I think that I was less disappointed than if I had done a traditional PPP lesson. In a way, it was a bit liberating and at the same time, a signal to say that this aspect would need some recycling in future lessons.

Which is why their homework is to write the “article” to match their headline, making a special effort to incorporate since, ago, yet, and already when possible. In the meantime, I’ll try to think of a catalyst likely to draw out this language again for next week.

Any suggestions?

BONUS: A few memorable headlines and their stories:

–On a Culinary Quest for Taste: about a girl making crepes with her mom

–Boomerang Rock Strikes: one guy threw a rock against a wall when he was a kid. It bounced back and left a small scar on his lower lip.

–Nightmare in the ER: this poor girl spent her week of vacation at home with stomach flu that required a trip to the hospital

–Young Painter Wins Prize: one of my students won his height in paint thanks to a miniature octopus woman figurine he created.

Lesson 3                                                                                                                       Lesson 5


Posted by on February 21, 2012 in Experimental practice


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

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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