Lockdown Lessons: A respectful reminder.

11th February 2021

Image result for online learning

Firstly, may I wish you all …

Image result for i/en|chuc mung nam moi 2021

Due to the return of COVID to Sai Gon, schools and language centres have been closed down, and online classes have restarted.

A big shout out to the staff at my centre. Instead of taking things easy in the build up to Tet, and enjoying time with their family, they had to work all hours to prepare for the change to distance learning.

To make these lessons work, we need students, and their parents, to follow these simple rules:

Respect your teacher and your teacher will respect you

tôn trọng giáo viên của bạn

You HAVE TO turn on your camera. If your camera is not working, you HAVE TO inform the centre.

Answer your teacher when you are asked a question.

Please control your background noise. No music, computer games or talking. Try to find somewhere quiet for the class.

Let’s work together and make the best of this situation and hopefully, we can all meet at the school in the near future.

Stay safe, stay well

Adult Class, Level 3: If I had known …

25th July 2019 AEF 3, pp. 84- 85.

Tonight is a new class and experience has taught me to downplay expectations. It’s also quite a large class, about seventeen students, so I’m expecting the whole spectrum of attitudes: motivated, respectful, attentive, apathetic, disrespectful, antagonist. Be that as it may, let’s go in with a positive attitude (and see how long that lasts).

For a new group it’s best to avoid direct questions as students can be shy about speaking in front of the class. However, they DO need to speak, so I’ve prepared a basic questionnaire for them to ask each other. They will need to get up and walk around, asking three different people some basic questions. Naturally, the questions are secondary; getting the students used to communicating with each other in English is the point.

Also, I have to accept that students will be arriving 15, 20, 30 minutes, maybe even an hour late.

Judging the atmosphere in the room, I may actually start with some basic games, asking what they know about London or the UK. The students can be put into small groups to give them a safer speaking environment. If I feel it’s appropriate, I’ll show the ‘Kids Guide to London’ video on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrJNIUp2izQ&list=PL97HViQblvdEM3zsauRxnIg1baFTNmsDM&index=24&t=20s

This may seem a little strange for an adult class, but it introduces natural speaking (how we link words together), new vocabulary and some fixed expressions. Also, an ‘adult’ class can mean students over the age of fourteen, and usually the classes are mostly comprised of students in their late teens … I’ll save my thoughts on those for another blog.

Tonight’s main focus is the third conditional

This is speaking from hindsight; We talk about something that happened to us in the past and how we would have changed it IF we had known some information.

A basic example: A visit a friend and it is her birthday, but I didn’t know. If I had known it was her birthday, I would have bought her a present.

Notice all the past tense verbs. Furthermore, would is commonly used in conditional sentences.

Now, this example is based on a true story that my history teacher told me back in London.

My teacher was a somewhat dishevelled gentleman in his mid-30s. Let’s call him Mr Bowditch:

Mr Bowditch, history teacher at an east London school

Mr Bowditch lived in a bedsit, which is basically renting one room in a large house and sharing the kitchen and bathroom with other tenants. His room was not particularly comfortable:

One night, Mr Bowditch was in his room and began to feel a little hungry. He wanted some chocolate so decided to go to the off-license and buy some sweets (an off-licence is a shop that sells basic food and sweets but also alcohol and cigarettes. It used to be open until 11.00pm when most shops would close around 6.00 pm). He decided to buy, among other items, some ‘Fry’s Turkish Delight’ a sort of jelly covered in chocolate:

OK, so far so good. However, Mr Bowditch lived in a rather bad part of London, it wasn’t always safe to walk alone at night. Unfortunately, on the way home, Mr Bowditch meet the following young men:

They called out to Mr Bowditch and stopped him walking. They demanded:

Mr Bowditch had none, as he had just spent his money on sweets (candy). They didn’t believe him and began to search him. He showed them:

That was all he had … a few pounds, about 100 000 VND. The men became very angry and aggressive. Suddenly, they heard a police car siren. The men tried to drag Mr Bowditch into the tunnel, away from the road but he is very tall and stopped them. As the police car got closer, the men ran away. Mr Bowditch has never eaten ‘Fry’s Turkish Delight’ again.

There are several instances of the third conditional in the above story.

If Mr Bowditch had bought sweets on his way home, he wouldn’t have gone out later and been mugged (mugged means being robbed, often with violence or the threat of violence).

If Mr Bowditch had gone to a different shop, he wouldn’t have meet the muggers.

If the police car hadn’t been passing, Mr Bowditch might have been seriously hurt.

If Mr Bowditch hadn’t been so tall, he would have been dragged into the tunnel and maybe beaten or worse.

The structure is the first clause starts with ‘If’ then using a comma before completing the sentence. The first verb can be positive or negative (in the examples, I use ‘had’ and ‘hadn’t’).

We use this to talk about things that DIDN’T happen.

At level 3, the books can be very text-heavy, and reading can be boring for students. As mentioned, I don’t know the ability and level of the students. One method is to have the students read just one paragraph and underline how many words they don’t know. If the amount is very high, then I know the level is too high … and I’m in trouble. I’ll have to improvise a lesson.

If (yes, let’s use conditionals) the reading poses no problems, I could have the students working in pairs. One student reads a paragraph and then tells their partner the main information. This is then reversed.

If the students want to learn, and come with energy and motivation, it should be a great lesson. However … this is not always the case … will time fly or will it drag ?

IELTS Revisited

10th April 2019

I’m now taking my second IELTS class, and the great thing is that I’ve already made lesson plans. Additionally, my class is much smaller – seven students as opposed to 17 – and they seem slightly more motivated and animated.

But there is still room for improvement … and I’m referring here to myself, as a teacher. My centre tries to promote as much student talking-time as possible, ideally aiming for as high as 80% student conversation … ideally. In reality, the teacher has to face a number of obstacles. I’ll save those for another, more general blog, as I want to dedicate this post to extra work, and tips to get the students talking.

First up, I need to make the students take notes (Vietnamese are not in the habit of doing this, as my centre manager explained). Instead, they will often just take a photo of the board. Secondly, once the student has sat down, they generally will not move until it is time to leave … three hours later.

I will now insist that they take out and use notebooks, the rationale being that the active process of writing will help them remember the words or phrases much better than taking a photo (which they may never look at) or relying on their memory.

Likewise, I will strongly recommend that instead of sitting and talking with the same person all class, they get up and move around, practice with different people (“But teacher, I am tired, I am lazy,” – I have actually heard these from people half my age ).

Now, without further ado, some extra work.

In Lesson Two, I started off with some compound nouns, based upon shopping. This was a way to introduce new vocabulary as well as filling time while late students arrive.

My manager suggested that this could be developed into a speaking exercise. For example, using the compound nouns ‘bulk shopping’, ‘window shopping’, ‘binge shopping’, ‘impulse shopping’ and ‘dumpster diving’, make a presentation with questions:

Have you ever made an impulse purchase ?

How often do you go window shopping ?

Do you ever buy in bulk ?

Is dumpster diving popular in Viet Nam ?

Then, what are the pros and cons of:

Typical street market … but is the fruit safe ?
District 7 shopping mall: food courts, cinema, shops and stalls.
Souvenir store in District 1. Are the prices fixed or does it depend on how rich the buyer looks ?

Basically, get the students speaking as much as possible. To help them develop longer, more complex sentences, I’ve given them sheets of discourse markers, and each week we focus on one type and select three words. For example, last week was ‘addition’; instead of saying ‘and’, they could use ‘additionally’, ‘furthermore’, or ‘moreover.’

This gets practiced when they have to link two basic sentences:

I like coffee. I like tea.

They could be linked by a simple ‘and’, but try using new discourse markers.

Sentences can be built up by using adjectives, adverbs, discourse markers, and by the use of clauses. This will entail relative pronouns … but that is for another lesson. The students have two months and hopefully they will see improvements after every lesson.

Adult Class Level 1: Waiting for Frodo.

5th March 2019

Tomorrow night is the last of the four-week series of lessons with one of my favourite classes. Next week they have a test, so a lot of the lesson will be taken up with review work, some reading and grammar. Very important, but can be a tad dry. I want to get the students speaking English as much as possible yet this, I regret to say, can sometimes be a challenge.

I’ll write another blog specifically about the issues I’ve faced trying to motivate my Vietnamese students but, for now, the lesson plan.

The main theme is the actor Sir Ian McKellen. Immediately, we have two interesting points about his name, namely, what does ‘Sir’ mean and why is his name spelt ‘McK …’ ?

‘Sir’ (‘Dame’ for a lady) is an award given by the Monarch (king or queen) for services to the country. It replaces ‘Mr’ so instead of Mr McKellen, he is now called Sir Ian. The ceremony can be viewed here (Ringo Starr of The Beatles is being knighted by Prince William):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JeqYxSVziyI

As for the ‘McK’, Mc is Gaelic (Irish & Scottish) for Mac or son of. Therefore McKellen means ‘son of Kellen’.

Sir Ian has had a long and distinguished career, in both theatre and film. I was lucky enough to see him on stage in London in a play by the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, ‘Waiting for Godot’, but he is surely more famous, worldwide, for being in some Hollywood blockbusters.

Sir Ian Mckellen, with Sir Patrick Stewart, in ‘Waiting For Godot’.

So first, to warm up, a word bomb game. I’ll board the word ‘cinema’ and see how many words, phrases and names can be elicited from the class.

Then we’ll move into a quick Present Perfect review. I’ll write:

I have see many films.

What is the error here ? What would be the contraction of ‘I have’ ? How would the negative be formed ? How could this be turned into a question ?

The present perfect is formed by subject + have or has + past participle (verb 3). Thus, I have seen, not ‘see’. The contraction is ‘I’ve’, the negative becomes ‘I haven’t seen ‘ while the question form is ‘Have you seen ?’ After this modelling, A few exercises for the students.

I have (meet) Sir Ian

You have (read) ‘Lord of the Rings.’

We have (study) a lot of expressions

She has (go) to the cinema many times.

The students have to give the three forms of these short sentences. Now we’ll turn to Sir Ian. Some students may recognise his face, but I’m sure all of them will know him from at least one of these films: This clip is nearly ten-minutes long, so I’ll just show the top two films, the ‘X-Men’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (7:19 – end).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adpztzTMcPk

I like using ‘real-life’ videos, as they are great for hearing English being used naturally. The problems in listening can be offset by the benefits in learning new expressions, and many videos actually have subtitles. I often play a short excerpt from a video several times, breaking it down so the students start to recognise the patterns, then practice among themselves.

In the whole clip, I would highlight the following expressions:

We’re counting down

There’s a lot to choose from

Divide(s) opinion

A great opportunity

Stole the film

Then, to practise, match them with these sentences:

Some people love Justin Bieber, some people hate him. He ……..

What food shall we order, ……………

The test is in five days, ……..

Brad Pitt was so good he …………

Going to Australia will be a ……………. to learn more English.

At this point, the book work can commence. They’ll learn about Sir Ian, and read a short interview with him. Questions fall into six categories and he gives succinct answers to each. So now it’s the turn of the students to get up from their chairs (they always need motivating to do that despite my continual promulgations that moving around will create energy and lessen the boredom of a three-hour lesson), speak with different people and practice English. It generally falls on deaf ears. A teacher needs to be patient; it’s part of the job.

The questions will be based on but amended from the interview they have just read:

What Kind of music do you like ?

Can you name any plays by Shakespeare ?

What time do you usually get up ?

How do you relax ?

Can you play a musical instrument ?

What skill(s) would you like to acquire ?

What is the best thing about HCM City ?

What is the best book you’ve read OR the best film you’ve seen ?

One of my favourite films: ‘Chungking Express’, a Hong Kong movie from 1994.

There is a lot of book work tonight, so it’s good to break it up with some games or a complete change of pace. I used this still last night in my IELTS class, where it met with a pretty luke-warm reception. I showed them how to ‘read’ a picture. First, ask what the students think is happening in this shot. What do the characters feel about about each other ? I mentioned the emotions evoked by the use of colour; here dull – blue and grey, but as we get closer to the lady (Faye Wong), the colours turn red – the sauce bottles, the Coke machine. Then look at the symbol of her T-shirt, look where her eyes are staring ….

We could then move onto film genres – make a class survey by dividing the teams in two and assigning one captain to each. They have to collate information such as favourite type of film, Vietnamese or American, how often do they go to the cinema, do they ever stream films at home and with whom do they go to the cinema ?

To end, the Family Fortune game seems very popular, where the students are put into small groups, given a board and marker, and have to come up with four answers to various questions.

Additionally, I could use some photos from an internet search, about Vietnam, and ask the teams to tell me an interesting story. I will encourage them to expand their sentences by employing adjectives, adverbs, idioms and expressions.

Then, to quote Prospero in Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’

“..and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”