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

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.

Narrative tenses – higher levels

Narrative tenses, students normally know them, they can tell you what tense it is, but can they identify their functions? that is always the trickier and more important thing.

This lesson uses a few different short story beginnings and moves from a focus on narrative tenses to language that tells us what sort of story is being told, with a view to improving the students’ own production skills.

It also features something you’ll find in most of our lessons, working out some vocabulary from context.

I must say at this point that some of the vocabulary ideas in this lesson were things I first thought about after teaching from the old New First Certificate Gold.

Level: Upp Int + (high level upp ints)

Aims: To check functions of the different narrative tenses.

Procedure:

Introduction

1.a You could give each student a different story and get them to read them before telling other students in the group.

Or

1.b Place the stories around the walls and the students have to read them.

2. Students are asked to match the stories to one of the following genres

love / action / suspense / horror / sci-fi / fantasy / 

There are I suppose no correct answers but the obvious ones to pick would be:

  • story 1 – horror
  • story 2 – love
  • story 3 – suspense
  • story 4 – sci-fi

3. Ask students to discuss in groups and pairs what they think is typical of each genre and what made them choose the answers they did.  At this point you could highlight some of the vocab you elicit from them on the board.

Grammar focus

Hand out copies of the stories

  1. Ask students to identify examples of past simple / past continuous / past perfect / past perfect continuous.
  2. Ask the students to match the tense to its use
  3. Ask them to look at the timeline for story 1, and then to create one for one of the following three stories.
  4. Ask them to look at the story on page 3 the story and decide how it could be improved by using the different tenses.  Obviously there is no definitive correct version, but set them the challenge of using past simple, past continuous and past perfect.

Vocab focus

  1. Ask students to identify words that are typical of the genre. e.g.:
  • story 1 – wind was howling, crept, old abandoned, 
  • story 2 – sun was shining, fluffy clounds, perfect day,
  • story 3 – nervously, paced
  • story 4 – ice clouds, ship’s computer, new planet gleamed

Also ask them to predict the meaning of the words, don’t let them use dictionaries, explain that the exact meaning is not necessary, just a general idea.  Do whole class feedback on any words which present difficulties.

2. Ask the students to add further words typical of one of the genres to the table on p3.

Materials: worksheet

Follow up activities

  1. The obvious thing is to ask them to carry on one of the stories and there is nothing wrong with that as long as the emphasis is on reusing the grammar and getting them to use some of the vocab they worked on together.

2. Another could be to ask them to record an anecdote for you and email it to you, this gives you the chance to really get them to practice the language in a context they may frequently use.  An advantage of this is you can send them notes on their pronunciation, especially the intonation.

E.g. I was walking down the street yesterday when …

You know what will motivate your class best.

Enjoy