Monday, February 13, 2012

Using a course book to plan an open lesson... Part 1

While doing all this reading about teaching without course books, I thought it might be valuble to talk about a way to use the course book as a valuble resource when planning a lesson.

To start, I am not often a course book trainer.  When I teach classes for which books are provided I do not use them page by page, but I also make sure I don't waste the money spent (by the school, company, or student).

In short, I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water simply because I don't like course books.  Sometimes whole units are useful, sometimes single lessons, but mostly it helps to pick and choose.

The pros and cons of course books have been extensively debated, so we'll leave it there.

For my lesson examples I am using a unit from Market Leader, Intermediate from Pearson.  Namely the free unit provided on their website about advertising.

Technique One - Bookends

Look at the first and last activity of a unit.  Then think, "If I were forced to do these types of activities, what would I put in the middle?"  Thinking critically, the first and last activities are the warmer and the production stage and are designed to get the learners speaking.  Since this is usually our overall aim, it makes sense to use them as a backbone.

In the warmer, students discuss the ads shown in pairs.  Looking at the first vocabulary lesson, we see that students are first asked to brainstorm ad media.  The final activity is to agree or disagree with controversial statements about advertising.  With these two (three) pieces in mind, any number of lessons could develop.

In my case, I would first ask the students to remember as many ads as they can from the last 24 hours.  Where did they see them?  What was the product?  Why do you remember it?

When this is complete the students then compare in pairs or small groups.  Because the information gap is already created, the student begin naturally to describe the ads they saw.  Inevitably a television commercial comes up and suddenly students are telling stories.  At this point, I am moving around and helping to fill any unique lexis gaps.

Once they have compared, we can start grouping their ads as a class by medium.  Which are outdoor?  Which are from the radio?  Which are on the Internet and so on?  These groups develop and meanings are elicited from the students themselves.  By the end, we should have a fairly good list of key advertising terms.

Now we are starting to see that advertising is everywhere.  If it is everwhere, why do we remember some ads and not others?  The students are already prepared for this question because of their conversation at the beginning.  In the case of the book, I might board the adjectives from the lesson and have the learners assign them to their ads.  Then, I could write, "This ad is _______ because...".  A student can call out an adjective and those who chose it must stand up and complete the sentence.

Finally, with our list of media intact, we talk about how we are constantly exposed to promotions.  To discuss the point we can write the controversial sentences on individual paper (plus a few more) and have mind map conversations (this can also be done on the whiteboard).  I got this activity from Karl Dean.  The sentence is in the middle and the student must draw a line and write a response.  Then the paper moves.  The next student should respond to the original statement or any of the new statements.  Over time, the conversations develop in several ways simultanously and provide great ideas for a passionate discussion as a group or in teams.

So, we used the book as a guide by using the first and last activities to form the lesson.  In fact, I will typically leave the middle fuzzy and develop the middle as the lesson progresses.  In this example, I have kept the lexical focus.  However, nothing prevents this from become a lesson targeted at grammar constructions, functions or even skills.

Next time, I will look at another technique.  Text to Skill


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  2. Stealing my tricks! Didn't I tell you that my creations are copyrighted? On a serious note though, I really like this concept cos like you said there is still a lot of room for flexibility and also allowance for creativity and spontaneity. As you know I am a big Dogme fan so this certainly fits in with my beliefs and values. I will be adding this to my box of tricks and I look forward to speaking to you about this one in a bit more detail next week. Just posted a new blog.

  3. Charles, I'm new to your blog and to business English. Thanks for your tip about using the course book your way. I look forward to reading and learning from more of your posts.

  4. I'm glad you liked the post, sorry for the long delay in reply. I actually like coursebooks because they have such great ideas and activities. On the other hand, if used improperly they can suck the energy out of the room quickly.

    I remember one lesson I had in my first week of training. She was an executive secretary and I decided to adapt a course book lesson to create the perfect dinner party. She could invite anyone alive or dead to the party, had to write formal invitations, make seating arrangements, etc. She looked at me and said, "I am not creative. I can't do this activity." Because I was so reliant on coursebook materials then, the lesson was a total disaster as I looked for ideas.