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

Identifying text types

The idea with this lesson is twofold (love that word):

  1. get sts thinking about what is appropriate in different text types.
  2. make them more aware of what they can learn from the little things all around them.

It’s a simple little lesson but it works.

  • Level: pre-intermediate and above
  • Time: 1 -2 hours
  • Aims: see above

 

Materials:

  1. worksheet (word): text types
  2. worksheet (PDF): text types
  3. Teachers’ worksheet: text types teachers’ copy
  4. Audio: 

 

Larry’s First Day: Past Perfect

I don’t know when I made this lesson. Honestly, I was looking through an old USB and there it was. I love it when that happens. I suppose I should have named it something better than “First Day” when I made it first, then I might have come across it before now.

Anyway, it’s a nice little lesson on narrative tenses with a focus on past perfect. I used it for a class today and it went down very well. The procedure is quite straightforward.

Try it out and let us know what you think.

  • Level: Pre-intermediate / Intermediate
  • Objective: to revise / examine + practise the use of past perfect in conjunction with other narrative tenses.
  • Time: 2 – 3 hours

 

Materials:

  1. Worksheet (word): first day
  2. Worksheet (PDF):first day
  3. Teacher’s copy:first day teacher’s copy

Procedure:

PART 1

  1. Students discuss the Qs and feedback as a class. T deals with any lovely errors of emergent language on the board.
  2. Sts read through the story and discuss: How did Larry feel? Why?
  3. T establishes that the actions didn’t happen in order and asks sts to decide in pairs which action happened first. T draws their attention to the table and asks them to number the actions in order from 1 – 8 (the first one is done for you/them). T monitors and helps out where necessary.
  4. Feedback as a whole class. Take some time with this. It’s important for sts to really grasp the order.
  5. Ask sts what tenses they can see in the story.
  6. Draw their attention to the FORM section and ask them to fill in the form using the story to help.
  7. Same as above with the USE section.
  8. Feedback as a class, giving further examples if necessary.

PART 2

  1. Sts read through the story and ignore the blanks. They answer the same gist questions as above: How does he feel? Why?
  2. Sts match up the vocab. Feedback as a class. Spend some time ensuring sts understand all the words. A lot of them can be illustrated better through actions. Nothing should stand in their way for the next activity.
  3. Sts work in small groups and decide which tense goes in which spot. Tell them they should think about WHY as well because you will ask them why they chose each tense.
  4. Feedback as a class. Deal with any common issues.

PART 3 – Follow up

As a follow-up, I would either have them write about their first day at school or at a job or I would ask them to write the end of Larry’s story. I’d use the mistakes from this as a basis for revising these tenses in the next lesson.

School Reunion: A tense review

This is a really simple one that we made as a tense review before an end-of-term test. It had two main aims:

  1. to find out which language points needed a bit more of a review.
  2. to get my students thinking about how all of the language points they’d learnt over the past term might appear together. (so often they are studied in isolation)

Note: depending on the age of your students (mine were slightly older), you might need to change the discussion questions at the end. I’ve attached an editable word copy so feel free to edit it and make it work for your group.

  • Objective: see above
  • Time: 2 – 3 hours
  • level: high intermediate and above

Materials:

  1. Worksheet (word): Reunion tense review worksheet
  2. Worksheet (PDF): Reunion tense review worksheet
  3. Teacher’s copy: Reunion tense review teacher’s copy

 

Procedure:

  1. Students skim read the story and discuss the question at the top of the page. Feedback as a class.
  2. Students match the definitions to the vocab in the story (it’s important that no words / phrases stand in the way of them understanding the text so spend a little time here if needs be)
  3. In small groups, students work through the story, filling in the gaps. I always tell them they should have a reason for every answer they give. I will ask them why!
  4. Students check their answers on the back of the sheet and circle any they got wrong. They should then discuss if their answer was also possible, if it changes the meaning or if it was just impossible.
  5. Feedback as a class, focusing on the ones they had trouble with (this will be clear from your monitoring). If they all had issues with one language point, that’s one to go over in the next lesson.
  6. In the language analysis section, the students look at an isolated piece of language and use the questions to help them analyse it. Discuss as a class.
  7. Finally, students discuss the questions in small groups. Teacher monitors for delayed error correction and emergent language, which they deal with after the discussion.

 

Bowie: Pronunciation in songs

 

Look, the fact is we just can’t resist a Bowie lesson. There it is, plain and simple (If you missed our previous one, you can check it out here) and I can’t promise that this one will be the last Bowie lesson we ever do. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that there will be more. This one came about because I was listening to Hunky Dory and got a wee bit obsessed with the song, Kooks. I thought I’d share it with you.

normal_k_k_k_kooks_tray

It’s a simple enough lesson using a song to look at vocab, “will” and connected speech. I’ve always felt that songs are a great way for students to practise their listening as they’re usually in quite natural speech (not always) and in real life there is very often background noise that you need to filter out when you’re trying to listen. Songs replicate that quite well. This is something I always point out to my students when I do a song. I think it’s important they see the benefit and don’t just think that songs are something we do on Fridays for fun.

  1. Objective: to raise awareness of connected speech in songs / to examine different uses of “will”
  2. Time: 2 – 3 hours
  3. Level: Pre-intermediate and above

 

Materials:

Songhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsSlOGzPM90

 

Barry London: Writing + Study skills

Brixton-Tube-CLosed

So we finally have it, Barry London’s second official lesson. If you haven’t seen the previous one it’s right here. The idea we came up with was that seeing as how for some reason every character in my lessons is called, Barry, we’d just embrace this and create a person and give him a string of lessons. They’re for different levels and will look at different aspects of the language. Also, they do not need to be done in any sequence. They do not build on each other.

This one is very different to our normal lessons in that it looks at descriptive writing and study skills in more detail than we normally would. It started out as a low level lesson but it was most definitely a high level one by the end.

I’d recommend this lesson as something different to do at the end of the week or course or for more creative students. It’s definitely not a straight grammar lesson.

  • Level: Upper Intermediate / Advanced
  • Time: 2 – 3 hours
  • Objective: to encourage sts to record language in context and to think about metaphors and imagery in creative writing.

Materials:

  1. Barry London arrives in London – teacher’s copy – Answers / notes
  2. Barry London arrives in London – student copy WORD
  3. Procedure Barry London story – Procedure
  4. Barry London arrives in London PDF -student copy PDF

 

For Shame Ryanair: Error Correction

This is not so much a lesson as an idea for using what is around us as the beginning or end of a lesson. Done little and often, it could really make a difference.

As an English teacher you’ve probably had that moment when you read your friend’s Facebook messages and despaired at their shocking inability to use “their”, “there” and “they’re”…and these are native English speakers.

The fact is none of us are perfect and I only found out the other day that little things got my “hackles up” and not my “heckles up” like I’d thought for years…that was embarrassing.

Mistakes are all around us and one way of encouraging your students to correct errors in their work and that of others is to highlight this fact whenever possible. One option is to bring in Facebook comments or the comments from online newspapers.These are often chock-full of interesting little mistakes. Personally, I like to take pictures of any signs I find with errors on them. Sadly, in London these are everywhere. This one I actually found whilst flying over the Irish Sea on a Ryanair plane.

Ryanair needs to think long and hard about their use of hyphens. Check these pictures out and ask your students what the difference between “on-board” and “on board” is.

 

 For more on the errors all around us, check out this lesson on Nando’s.

I was in the same restaurant the other day and noticed yet another legend on the wall, once again riddled with missing words and spelling mistakes…come on, Nando’s, have a word with yourself.

Low-level Past Simple Story Lesson

THE WAKE-UP CALL

I’ve been working out of New English File Elementary recently and it’s a great book but as often is the case with a book, it never really 100% gets the challenge right for your particular group. Sometimes it’s too easy, sometimes it’s too hard. At the moment it’s a smidgen too easy for my group and we are absolutely motoring through it.

This lesson was basically a bit of an extension after we’d studied the Past Simple in the coursebook. It’s got some revision and it pushes a bit extra as well. We’ve also been talking a lot about language chunks / collocations / pieces of language / items of lexis (whatever you want to call them) so it looks at that a bit too.

Plus, it gets them using their imagination a little bit too, which never hurts…unless they say, “teacher I don’t have an imagination” and then we despair, oh yes we do.

  • Level: Elem / Pre-int
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Procedure: see below

Materials:

  1. Wake-up call (word worksheet)
  2. Wake-up call pdf (PDF worksheet)
  3. Wake-up call procedure
  4. Wake-up call – teacher’s copy

 

TIP: So, I’ve been teaching a lot of low level classes at the moment and they’ve been mostly smaller groups (2 – 4 students). One thing I’ve found is that when the group is this small, any worksheet or coursebook you break out means utter silence as they disappear into its depths. Or, it’s awkward because they’re too aware of you.

One way I’ve found of avoiding this is writing my worksheets up on the board, more or less how I’d have them on the sheet.

the students go up and work on the board as a whole or in pairs on different sections and you monitor from behind them. It really makes a difference.

you can always give them the worksheet afterwards. Here’s a pic of my board for this lesson. You might notice there are some mistakes on the board. Their first task was to correct the errors and then later I gave them the worksheet with the corrected version to check it, which is a slight variation on the procedure above.

Here’s a shot of my board. I like to think that my distinctive cursive script adds an extra layer of challenge to the lesson and is, of course, completely intentionally awful

wake up call boardwork

My “Favourite Film” Lesson

OK Once is not actually my favourite film but it’s not bad at all. I was in the middle of a lesson the other day and this was the only film I could think of. I did this lesson (or a version of it) and it went really well.

It’s a simple low-level lesson and if you do similar lessons or activities little and often, you really will begin to get slightly more autonomous students. The whole idea is to encourage them to notice the language that’s all around them just a little bit more.

In this case, they have a tiny text but they’re going to use it to notice 3 language points as well as working on noticing errors and getting the meaning of vocab from context.

  • Level: elementary / pre-intermediate
  • Time: 1 – 3 hours
  • Objective: to encourage sts to notice language in context

Materials:

  1. favourite film worksheet
  2. Procedure

 

If you’re looking for some more film related lessons try this one or this one

Tip: If a film comes up in class that your students don’t know, do a research hunt. Give them 3 minutes and send half the class to IMDB and half to Wikipedia and then see what they come up with. It’s great for practising independent research skills.

Grammary Songs! The Script

I’m sorry…I may have gone too far this time and I completely understand if you want to turn your back on me and leave me to wither away into nothingness. I’ve made a lesson out of a Script song. In my defense, it’s not my fault. A student made me do it. This is what happens when you have Spanish teenage girls, who’ve spent a summer in Ireland as students. Honestly not my fault.scripts 1

Anyway, you may remember that I once wrote abouthaving a short extract from a song for every language point. The idea was that it was engaging for students, it gave them a bit of access to the culture and it (hopefully) made the language point a little more memorable.

My first lesson was on “used to” and “would” using a Coldplay song…again, sorry. Check it out if you want to see what I was on about.

This one shouldn’t be a long lesson but it’s a nice communicative one with some guided discovery in there.

Level: Int and above

Time: 1 – 2 hours (depending on how chatty your students are)

Aim: see above

Objective: see above

Materials:

  1. if you ever come back – worksheet
  2. if you ever come back – teacher’s answers

 

Procedure:

  1. Listening for gist / engagement: Play the full song and have students discuss the questions at the top of the worksheet. The idea here is that they engage with the song and love it, hate it or loathe it but at least they engage.
  2. Language focus (vocab): these are quite nice phrases and this activity will really encourage them to think about language in context instead of jumping to dictionaries. You can help them out with the individual parts of the expression (e.g. shoulder) if you think they need guidance.
  3. Language focus (wish): this is all quite self-explanatory guided discovery. The hope is that students can analyse the language in context and decide how it would be used. You might need to walk them through the first one if they struggle with this kind of thing.
  4. Practice: always good to practice.
  5. discussion: This will bring the whole thing together and give them a chance to discuss the topic and use the target language.