Reading and tense discovery: “I caught a falling baby”.

So, the inspiration for this came yesterday at the Pearson Amazing Minds day in London. Ken Beatty mentioned this story and as he put up one of the direct quotations, I found myself just looking at the past tenses thinking, “ooooh, lesson”. I really am that dull.

The lesson itself is fairly standard textploitation. We have a text, we are going to look at the grammar used, look to build learner autonomy with the vocabulary and investigate a litte bit of pronunciation. Also borrowing in the grammar from the wonderful Danny Norrington-Davies ( https://dannynorringtondavies.wordpress.com/ )asking students to identify what the grammar is doing and why it is used.

Like with all textploitation this focuses on a little and often.

Let’s go.

Level: Intermediate (with support) / Upper Intermediate / Advanced

Objective:

  • By the end of the lesson, students will be better able to analyse language in context and to recognise subtle differences in meaning.

Aims:

  • To analyse language in context (vocab / grammar)
  • To build the skills needed for the above
  • To practice the schwa and connected speech

Time: 2-3hrs

Procedure:

Pre Reading:
Prediction task.

  • Write the phrase “I caught a falling baby” on the board and ask students what they think happened immediately before.
  • Ask them to create and build a back story.
  • Put them into pairs or groups for this.
  • Then do feedback as a class.

Prompt them with questions such as where did this happen / when. Also, ask them to justify these answers.

Reading:
Skimming

Ask them to quickly find out:

  • Where the story took place?
  • How the baby got out of the apartment?
  • Why was it not surprising the woman caught the baby?

Natural Response

Place the students into small groups and ask the following questions:

  • Did you find the story interesting?
  • Did anything surprise you?
  • Do you think the woman is a hero?
  • Do you think that the parents of the baby should be punished?

(you could break these questions into two sets if you prefer)

Grammar:

Rather than looking at the whole text this lesson breaks the text into little chunks.

Make sure the students really look at the function and use of the grammar. Do not let them just trot out grammar book rules.

Exercise 1

(picture is of Christina Torre just for context and as the sheet was looking dull)

“I’ve always known that I’m very quick with my hands. If someone throws something, I catch it almost before I’m aware it has been thrown.”

  1. present perfect and present simple
  2. Present perfect is used to describe a skill / ability that the person has had for ever. – the adverbs ‘always’ is a natural fit here. Present simple is used for a fact / ability. Encourage the students to think of how the present perfect and present simple work with each other.
  3. 0 conditional + the present perfect time clause
  4. 0 conditional is used to refer to something that always happens “If someone throws something, I catch it”, the present perfect here relies on ‘almost before’ and I think places the time close to the first ‘throws’ in the conditional. It doesn’t neatly fit any rule, and that is important for you to get across to your students.

Exercise 2

For these put students in pairs to check before doing all class feedback.

I was going to visit a friend with her newborn and was on my way to a toy store to buy a gift. I’d once lived in the neighbourhood and on a whim I decided to head back to my old haunt, a cupcake shop, for a coffee.”
Vocabulary

On a whim (adverbial phrase) – spontaneously – normally used in positive stories. It is important to let students think about connotation as well as meaning

I decided to head back to my old hauntMy old haunt – a place i used to spend a lot of time in. Get them to give you examples of their own ‘old haunts’ and provide examples yourself. Also, worth highlighting the meaning of head back to here.
Grammar

  1. Past version of be going to used to talk about a plan that did not happen.
  2. Past simple used for the main actions in the story.
  3. Past perfect used to refer to a time before the time of this story.

Extra – ask if they can find other examples of these tenses being used.

Exercise 3

“I just wanted the child, who I later found out was called Dillon, to feel safe”

  1. extra info
  2. yes

(if they ask about why there seem to be two clauses in the relative clause I told them that find out always needs an object) sentence could be rewritten as just “who was called Dillon”. If they don’t ask, I wouldn’t raise it at this stage)

Exercise 4

We didn’t practise together, but I guess my reflexes must have naturally developed.

  1. it could fit in the beginning, between the clauses, or at the end. (Though) We didn’t practise together, (though) I guess my reflexes must have naturally developed (though).
  2. The first place sounds more formal, the middle is possible but quite informal(to me, not so natural), the end is also informal

I was approached by a typical Brooklyn older man, who in a calm and very matter-of-fact way told me to call 911, because there was a baby on a fire escape.

  1. because –> as / since
  2. because (informal / neutral), as (neutral), since (formal)

(If you wanted here you could extend this by asking them to rewrite using ‘despite’ or in the second sentence maybe think about restructing using ‘so’

Exercise 5

“what would have happened if I hadn’t caught him.”

“if we let intuition lead us, we can deal with anything.”

  1. A – elicit the form from students
  2. Imaginary / hypothetical past – to talk about regrets or how situations could have turned out differently. “If I hadn’t been late, she wouldn’t have dumped me”
  3. It talks about every time / general time. It is general advice for the future.
  4. It is used at the end, to provide a motivating ending / student’s own answers may be more interesting than that.

Exercise 6

Vocabulary

This is focused on developing learner autonomy, so do not let them use dictionaries until they have tried to work out the meaning themselves. Explain why, get them to think of substituting other words etc.

  • looking around nonchalantly – without a care
  • baby boy became my only priority. – my main focus
  • Apparently he had slipped through pieces of cardboard – people told me (might suggest surprise)
  • Instinctively, he grabbed on as he fell, – without thought
  • my attention was purely focused on my intention to catch the baby – purely means solely or only here
  • As he tumbled, he hit a protruding plastic sign – tumbled – fell / protruding – it was sticking out
  • it turned out it was only his lip that had been cut – we later found out
  • Dillon’s parents had been woken by the commotion – the noise and fuss

Exercise 6

The reality of saving someone’s life is intense. I play it over in my head so many times, I think it has changed me. I am calm and more at ease with things. I study mindfulness, and I see now that if we let intuition lead us, we can deal with anything. I think I was meant to be there.

This paragraph has present simple / present perfect / past simple and a 0 conditional. Again get them to think about why each tense is used – sometimes the reasons are not the same as earlier.

Pronunciation

The idea is to look at the schwa and the effect that it has on rhythm when we are speaking.

Schwas are in bold (different native speakers may decide differently. To me, this is the most likely.) Connected words underlined

  1. ‘The reality of saving someone’s life is intense. I play it over in my head so many times’

Ask the students to practice saying the words, model and drill, but really focus on the schwa and the connected words.

If you wanted to do further work, you could ask them to work in pairs and select another piece of direct speech and examine it, looking for the same features.

Further practice:

You could ask students to find a news story that they found interesting and examine the grammar in it. Bringing it to a future class and asking them to explain it to others in a group and discussing it.

Materials:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jan/18/experience-i-caught-falling-baby

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