Dissing Dogme brief respite: The coursebook (writer) strikes back

Well, you’ve got Phil Wade to blame – or thank, I guess, depending on your point of view – for what follows. Phil has been a keen contributor to this blog so far and via Twitter suggested that I detail what I do in my own classrooms – with my own coursebooks! This really follows on from Chia Suan Song’s Teach-Off series and my own series of rants about Dogme. What I’m hoping to do is once a week explore and explain a class that I’ve taught in as much detail as I can manage with the limited time I have available for these things.

I realise I’m an atypical teacher in many ways: I also write coursebooks, and generally (though not exclusively) teach from my own coursebooks. In addition, I generally work from A to Z or 1 to 10 or top left to bottom right (take your pick) when teaching coursebooks – especially my own! I also work in London, teaching (mainly) multilingual classes of adults (which can mean anything from 19 to 80). Having got all of that out of the way, I’ll fill you in on my lovely main class this term.

I’m teaching an Advanced group two mornings a week – Mondays and Wednesdays. Classes run from 09.15 to 12.30 and the students are all doing five mornings a week, with three different teachers. The class have been together for three weeks already – this is the fourth – and will be together for four more weeks. There’s one more intake next Monday, a large Japanese group, and some of them may possibly be joining. Many of the students have been with us since last September, some since January and some only since April. The nationality breakdown is seven Chinese students, a Moroccan, an Iraqi, an Italian, a Taiwanese, a German, an Austrian (born in Romania), a Japanese and a Colombian. Here they all are (apart from two of them, who were absent today!)

So anyway, it’s a General English class and the reasons for the students being here are many and varied. Most of the Chinese lot are government exchange people, and many work in international offices in Chinese universities; we have university students taking a year out to come and study English; people getting ready to do degrees and Master’s; people just here for a few months to brush up their English for possible future use and so on. They’re quite a strong group, with at least half of them probably able to aim for CAE in June, even though none of them are actually planning to take the exam. We’re using OUTCOMES Advanced, and students get a free copy as part of their fees. The class I’m going to detail below was two hours from 9.15 to 11.15 and was followed by a fifteen-minute break and an hour-long progress test, which I won’t bother detailing here as not much happened apart from students doing their progress test!

Today we started a unit called CONFLICT. Why? Well, conflict is in the news all the time; lots of high frequency lexis crops up when discussing it; we’d previously done Unit 5, which was called NIGHT OUT, NIGHT IN and so this unit provided a slightly more serious counter-balance (light and shade, as my editors always told me!) . . . oh, and also because one of my students had had a huge row with her boyfriend the day before and the class really wanted to know more about this particular conflict.

Nah, just kidding! I made that last bit up . . . but if you want Dogme motivations, I can invent them at will. As if that would’ve made my decisions or the topic any more or less valid.

I began, though, as I usually began – with some revision of what I know the teacher yesterday looked at. I like to ensure there’s some kind of thread from one to the next so that, even though the class have different teachers, they can feel a sense of continuity. Also, knowing that you’re going to be (soft) tested keeps them on their toes, encourages them to actually spend time looking through their notes once they get home every day and also creates a sense of progress. I usually get to class early and sit and chat with the early arrivals anyway, but once we had six students (at quarter past nine  . . we have a cut-off point of fifteen minutes grace for latecomers. After that, they’re excluded till the break) we started the revision sheet. The first exercise was as follows:

REVISION

Complete the sentences with the best missing words.

1   It’s a really weird book. I couldn’t really follow the …………………….. .

2   It’s a book about the author’s mum and her …………………….. to overcome alcoholism.

3   The …………………….. in the book is quite minimal, but also very funny and it feels very natural.

4   It’s laugh-out-loud …………………….. in places!

5   The story …………………….. around the lives of ten women.

6   The book …………………….. issues such as domestic violence,. drug abuse and rape.

7   It’s a ……………………..-read book! It’s amazing! You have to try it. Honestly!

8   It’s just a really great book. I can’t …………………….. it enough.

9   It’s a novel, but it’s …………………….. on a true story.

10  It’s …………………….. in the seventeenth century.

11  It’s mainly about the impact of the …………………….. rights in the 60s and 70s.

12  The book …………………….. with themes of loss and longing.

Students spent maybe five or six minutes trying to fill the gaps in themselves, in pairs. There was a fair bit of head scratching and wryly amused comments along the lines of “This is from yesterday?” I monitored, wandering around and seeing how students were doing, saying when things were right or wrong and then rounded up the answers. I elicited by reading out the sentences and stopping at each gap, taking answers from the class as a whole – and then writing the correct answers up on the board.

As I was doing this, I was ‘working the language’ – adding, paraphrasing, explaining, exemplifying. Here’s a taste of the kind of thing I’d say:

(1) Yeah, plot. The plot of the book is the story of the book. It’s the same word for films as well and here . . . (pointing to a sentence I’d written on the board that read: The plot was full of t……… and t……….. . It was really hard to follow) . . . if the plot keeps changing and it’s hard to follow and you don’t understand what’s going on from one minute to to the next (said whilst moving my arms in a snake-like manner!) it’s? Yeah, full of twists and turns (I then wrote this in to the gaps). It’s always twists and turns, never turns and twists.

(2) Anyone? yeah, struggle. And we often talk about someone’s struggle to overcome something, so their struggle to overcome addiction or depression or their struggle to overcome alcoholism. Like their fight to beat this problem.

(3) Yes, the dialogue. How do you pronounce it? Where’s the stress? yes, OK. DI-a-logue. Everyone. Again, Juanita. Good. And it’s the same for films as well – the speaking, the talking is called the DI-a-logue.

(4) It’s laugh-out-loud funny, you know, like when you’re reading something on the tube and you suddenly burst out laughing (a chunk I taught them on Monday, by the way) like this (I acted this) and people look at you like you’re crazy, you know?

(5) The story? Yes, reVOLVed around (circling my hands) the lives of ten women, so they’\re the main focus, the story is basically about them.

(6) Anyone? yes, it tackles these issues. It’s often for controversial topics or issues so maybe the film tackles the issue of mental illness or the book tackles the issues of racism, violence and poverty.

(7) It’s a? Yes, MUST-read book. You now, you MUST rad it. It’s amazing. In the same way, a film can be a MUST-SEE FILM.

(8) And 8? I can’t? recommend it enough. yeah. Where’s the stress? re-co-MEND. Again? OK. Better. So yeah, I really really recommend it. I can’t re-co-MEND it enough.

(9) This one they often use for Hollywood movies. It’s fiction, but it’s? Yeah, BASED on a true story. Sometimes very loosely based on a true story.

At this point, a student asked me to write that up on the board, so I wrote: It’s based on a true story – very loosely based on one anyway!

(10) And if you’re talking about the place or the time when the action in the book – or the film – happens? It’s? Yeah, SET IN. so you know, it’s set in Algeria, in the 1950s. OK?

(11) It’s mainly about the impact of the? Oh, yes, OK. It could be women’s rights. I hadn’t thought of that. or, if you’re talking about the broader fight for equal rights for black people, for women, for gay people? yeah, the civil rights movements. I guess it’s particularly associated with the US in the 60s, but you can still talk about protecting civil rights, and so on.

(12) And 12? Yeah, deal with these themes, so it explores them, talks about them. Can be the same word for films as well, again.

One student asked what loss and longing meant.

I said it’s when you lose someone – or something – the noun is loss, so we say sorry for your loss when someone close to you dies. And longing is like a strong feeling of wanting someone or something.

Next up, we moved onto the second part of the revision sheet, which you can see below. For five minutes or so, students discussed their ideas in pairs and again I went round, helped out, clarified if things were totally wrong.I also got a few gapped sentences up on the board, based on things students were trying to say, which I used during my round-up, as we shall see.

Now discuss these questions with a partner.

– Why might someone be feeling a bit rough?

– When might someone be in bits?

– Where do you go if you want to strut your stuff?

– What happens in a meat market?

– What do you do if you take the mickey out of someone?

– Why might someone hassle you?

– What do you do if you cause a scene in a restaurant?

– What’s the problem if you’re smashed?

– Say three things you could take up.

After a few minutes, I went through the answers with the class. I think of these kinds of questions as questions about language that generate language. Whilst I generally mostly know the answers that’ll come up, there are always some curve balls.I also ask these kinds of questions a lot whilst going through answers tio vocabulary lessons, and students absorb this and often ask ME similar questions in return!

For feeling rough, the class said maybe because you were drunk last night or because you were maybe starting to have a cold. I tried to elicit the words COMING and TO DRINK in the sentences on the board, but got GOING and ALCOHOL, so ended up providing the missing words myself and completing the examples on the board. For IN BITS, students said “When you’re devastated”, to which I responded, OK, but WHEN might you be in bits, WHEN might you be devastated. We then established it was maybe when someone close to you died or if you lost your house and all your possessions. One of my Chinese students, Ryan (it’s his ‘English’ name – his choice, not mine, I hasten to add!) took perverse delight in mentioning this and had a couple of other ideas here as well! For strutting your stuff, some of the Chinese students shouted out ‘on a stage’ and ‘in a ballroom’. I explained that if you’re on a stage, it’s usually because you’re performing, and that a ballroom is more old-fashioned, like maybe if you’re learning to waltz or something. Someone else shouted out ‘a club’ and I asked which part of the club? The bar area? No, the students said, the area where you dance. Which is called? I asked – and elicited dancefloor, which i wrote into the gapped sentence on the board. When I asked what happens in a meat market, there was much laughter and one of my Chinese students said “Buy meat!”. Someone else said “No! Buy a girl.” I said it doesn’t usually imply that you’re BUYING sex. You’re just LOOKING FOR it. Maybe you buy the person a drink or something, but you don’t buy – or even hire (!) – them. I then elicited PULL and PICK UP and wrote these up on the board.With hassle, the students laughed and said their other teacher Glenn hassled them because they hadn’t done their homework! WE also established bosses can hassle you for work, street sellers hassle you or drunk guys hassle women in bars – the common theme being they all want something from you! With smashed, three students asked if it was because you’re tired. I said no, that’s shattered. We then established smashed was when you’re blind drunk, so drunk you can hardly stand up! Finally, with take up, one students said A CHAIR. I asked what he meant and he replied “Like in an interview”. “No, that’s HI. COME IN, HAVE A SEAT. So, anything you can take up, like when you start doing a new hobby?” I got three answers from the class and added them to my example on the board, so by the end of all of this the board looked like this:

This all took maybe the first twenty-five minutes. I now had a full class and we were ready to roll with Unit 6 – Conflict. I led in by saying something like What we’re looking at over the next few days is conflict – interpersonal conflicts, arguments, rows, conflict between nations, conflict resolution, that kind of thing. Today we’re going to be looking at what people do during and after arguments, OK? I asked the class to turn to page 42 and to look at the SPEAKING exercise A. In pairs, they discussed briefly what they thought the words in bold meant:

Speaking

A      Check you understand the words in bold. Then tell a partner which of the things below you sometimes do.

  • lose your temper and scream and shout
  • storm off and slam the door behind you
  • throw things across the room – or at someone
  • have a big sulk
  • hold a grudge against someone after an argument
  • apologise first and try to make up

I went round to see what words were causing most problems and got a few gapped sentences up on the board while I was doing so. After a couple of minutes, I stopped the class and clarified the words. I said something like the following: OK, so maybe you lose your temper – you get angry – and you scream and shot . . . you go mental, go ballistic (we’d had these two expressions the other day). A student shouted out You flip your lid and blow your top (which we’d also had) and I said yes. And if you storm out? Students: You leave quickly. Me: Yes. Quickly and? Student: angrily. I then acted out storming off / storming out of the room and  asked students what you do if you slam the door. They acted this and I pointed out on the board that you could also slam the phone down. One of the Chinese students laughed and said this was a very useful expression! After I asked, one student did a great acting out of sulking, complete with bottom lip stuck out and there was much banter about it being just like various students’ wives. I then elicited immature / childish onto the board, having glossed it and given the first two letters of each word. I asked what you do if you hold a grudge and then asked what the opposite was, pointing to the board for support, where the class could see F…….. and f……… . I then elicited forgive and forget. One student said they were good at forgiving, but not forgetting to much laughter. Here’s the board after all of this:

After checking they knew what make up meant, I explained that when I got into arguments, I was prone to lose my temper and flip out a bit. Not so much now, but when I was younger I might also have sometimes punched the wall or the door or something. BUT I never sulked. I always got things out! They then chatted for several minutes about which of these things they did when they had rows. I wandered round and picked up on some things they were trying to say, but couldn’t quite and got more gapped sentences on the board. Here’s what the board looked like after the round-up here:

On reflection, self-contained – which was the first thing a student shouted out – when I was explaining that quite a few students said they never lost their tempers and never really got angry or lost their tempers – wasn’t the best answer and self-controlled would’ve worked better here, but I took that offering and let it go. The second sentence involved retelling a story I’d heard Xiao Xi tell about throwing things at her husband and was greeted with both incredulity and much laughter. The third one – I tried to elicit system, but got heart / body / mind and so just gave it to them – and then managed to get bottle – led into a good five minutes of discussion among the whole class. One student said bottling things up was bad because eventually you explode. O then said “Yes, like the US high school massacres.” One student asked if anything like that ever happened here. There then followed a discussion that took in the Cumbrian killings, Dunblane, recent Chinese kindergarten machete murders, a Japanese high school killing involving a dead boy’s head on a spike outside a school and Anders Brevik. There was much heated debate about whether or not the Norway scenario was the same or not. I said I felt it was different, because he saw it as politically and racially motivated. And we moved on!

Next, students looked at exercise B and discussed how each of these things could lead to arguments.

B                  Look at the list of things people often argue about in the box below.

With a partner, discuss how each might lead to arguments – and which you think cause the worst.

money

time spent together

careers

exes

silly annoyances

household chores

kids

sport

stress and tiredness

homework

work

religion

politics

in-laws

They took to this topic with great gusto and it went on for maybe ten minutes. Plenty of personal examples emerged and there was much laughter. I went round listening to different pairs. helping out when they asked how to say particular things or wanted things checked and – as ever – writing things on the board. As things slowly started to wane, and before they started to drag to a half, I stopped and just went through a few things I’d heard, eliciting missing words onto the board to complete gapped sentences.To elicit, I basically retold stories I’d heard, using the students’ names and paraphrasing the stories, glossing the meanings of the missing words and seeing if students knew what I was looking for. This way, I got STEER in steer clear of, EYE TO EYE, want me to (although FIRST I got WANT THAT I, and we discussed the different patterns from Romance languages to English here) and WAGES. I ended up giving up and giving them an allowance and pressurizing. The last sentence you can see below was what a Chinese student, Xuesong, had said happens with her and her husband and this was their way of avoiding arguments about money. Juanita, the Colombian woman, laughed and said it was like giving him pocket money, while Nicolai, the German guy looked distinctly unsettled by such a prospect! Here’s the board after this slot:

I felt we’d done enough on all of this and wanted to move on, so decided to skip exercise C:

C                  Which of the things above do you argue about most often? Who with? How do the arguments usually end?

I then said they were going to hear two conversations involving conflicts between people and that they should listen to find out what the relationship was, what the conflicts were about and how they ended.

Listening

You are going to hear two conversations in which conflicts occur.

A                  Ω Listen and answer these questions about each conversation.

1                  What’s the relationship between the people?

2                  What are the conflicts about?

3                  What happens in the end?

I played the CD once and put students together in pairs to compare ideas, before eliciting answers.

You can hear the first conversation here . . . and the second one here.

They’d basically got the whole idea after one listen, though there was some discussion about whether or not the first conversation was flatmates or a mother, father and son. In the end, one student pointed out, in families it’s unlikely a son would borrow money to pay the gas bill and that they sounded too equal to be parents and a kid. I asked if the class wanted the conversations again, but they seemed quite happy to move on.

I pointed them to the NATIVE SPEAKER note which they read:

Native Speaker English

I hasten to add

To clarify or comment on a previous statement, we can use I hasten to add. It can be used either formally or jokingly.

A:                  No. I do understand I made a mistake.

B:                  And not for the first time, I hasten to add.

I was absolutely furious about it  – not that I’m normally an angry person, I should hasten to add!

And I then gave one more example: my co-author Andrew had been reminiscing to some friends in the pub about an early conference we both did where we had to share a room and had said ONLY A ROOM – NOT A BED, I HASTEN TO ADD! This seemed to garner a few chuckles and we moved on.

I explained that next we were going to be looking at ways of giving negative or private information. The students read the explanation box and then looked through 1-6 in exercise A.

Developing conversations

Giving negative / private information

When we give negative or private information, we often use sentence starters that warn the listener about what’s to come

To be frank with you, I’m really not sure there’s a future for you here at all.

A                  Work in pairs. Imagine the sentence starters below were all used in an office over the space of a week. Complete each one in a humorous or serious way.

1                  I don’t mean to be rude, but …………………………………………………………………………………… .

2                  To be brutally honest, …………………………………………………………………………………… .

3                  With all due respect, …………………………………………………………………………………… .

4                  To put it bluntly, …………………………………………………………………………………… .

5                  If you want my honest opinion, …………………………………………………………………………………… .

6                  Between you and me, and this shouldn’t go any further, …………………………………………………………………………………… .

Some students asked about brutally and I explained that if you’re brutally honest, you’re so honest it might hurt the person you’re talking to, in the same way of putting things bluntly might, and added that if someone is beaten up, it can be a brutal attack – and that you can use a blunt instrument like a hammer or something to attack people. Students then discussed in pairs possible things that might be said in an office using these sentence starters. There were plenty of very very funny ideas, and after a few minutes I rounded up a few. This led to much inter-class banter. Xuesong shouted out I don’t mean to be rude, Ryan, but your shirt is so old-fashioned. Here’s the offending (lilac) shirt:

There was a little ‘cross cultural’ interlude where I joked with Nicolai that even though the stereotype of the Germans here is of a blunt, direct people, all you needed to do was signpost clearly that this was what was coming by saying To put it bluntly and then you could then be as rude as you liked! He joked that we must obviously be a bit thick if we need to told this, but this was fine by him. With the final sentence starter, the gossipy one, another student suggested Between you and me, and this shouldn’t go any further, Ryan is married. When I asked why this needed to be so secret, it was suggested that it was because he had not told his secretary, who was the recipient of this piece of gossip. Nicolai then added Between you and me, and this shouldn’t go any further, I saw Ryan in the street with . . . and said the name of a colleague who’s fairly openly gay. A couple of students sniggered, some rolled their eyes, but most looked bemused and wondered what the comment implied. Time to move swiftly on, I felt, so we skipped exercise B and hit the grammar.

Wish comes up a lot in conflict conversations, particularly I wish you would . . . / I wish you wouldn’t . . . but this exercise includes this within a more general overview and consolidation of the structure. I told the students we’d be doing a bit of work on wish and that they’d heard several examples in the conversations. They were instructed to sort the sentences in exercise A into three groups of two sentences and then told to compare their ideas and explain the differences in form and function.

Grammar I wish

A                  Divide the sentences below into three groups of two – according to the time the sentences focus on.

1                  I just wish you were a bit less selfish, to be honest!

2                  I wish I’d never started this conversation.

3                  I wish I didn’t have such a short temper!

4                  I wish he’d understand that people do have exes!

5                  I wish I’d told him what I thought of him earlier, to be honest!

6                  I wish you wouldn’t always make fun of me in front of all my friends.

B                  Compare your ideas with a partner and explain the different uses of wish.

I elicited the answers. There was considerable debate about the answers and we ended up checking the form and function for each one, much like this:

Me: So it’s 1 and 3. When’s it talking about? Now or the past?

Student: The past. past simple.

Me: Yeah, but it’s about now, or generally, always.

Student: So it’s like a second conditional.

Me: Yes, kind of. And what’s the form? I wish plus?

Student: Past simple

Me: OK, and it’s 2 and?

Student: 4.

Me: yeah? What do you think the ‘d is in 4?

Student: Had.

me: yeah, but then it’d be had understood, not ‘d understand.

student: so 4 is would?

me: yeah, so it’s 2 and 5. Talking about now or the past?

Student: past.

Me: yeah, it’s regrets about things you did – or didn’t do – in the past. And what’s the form? I wish plus?

Student: past perfect.

Me: OK, so 4 and 6 go together. What’s the context in 4? Why would someone say this?

Student: Maybe someone’s boyfriend is angry that she’s still in touch with her ex boyfriends . .

Student: And finds her chatting on facebook!

Me: Are you talking from experience here? (laughter) So anyway, 4 and 6, yeah. I wish he would understand . . . I wish you wouldn’t make fun of me. WE use this one to talk about annoying habits that other people have that we want them to change, but suspect they won’t! It’s always when we’re annoyed with people, this one.

Here’s my fairly poor boardwork that emerged from this. Not wonderfully revealing, but sufficient in the circumstances as the book’s examples carried the weight, really.

Students then tried exercise C, which was a controlled practice of this.

C                  Complete the sentences below by adding the correct forms of the verbs in the box.

be                  can                  have                  leave                                    sent                  think

1                  I wish I ………………………. longer to stop and talk, but I’m afraid I’m actually in a bit of rush.

2                  I wish I ………………………. her that email! It just made everything worse.

3                  I wish you ………………………. your things lying around all over the place all the time. It’s so annoying!

4                  I just wish I ………………………. turn back time and start again.

5                  You always talk such rubbish! I wish you ………………………. sometimes before you open your mouth!

6                  It’s the fact that you lied to me that really hurts. I just wish you ………………………. more honest with me!

They tried on their own for a few minutes and then discussed in pairs, talking particularly about any differences. When I rounded up. I elicited the answers, wrote them up and again concept checked everything. Like this:

So . . . number 1? I wish I? yeah, HAD longer – talking about when? OK. Now. Good. And 2? HAD sent or HADN’T, then? OK, HADN’T. So what really happened? Yeah, I sent her the email and it exacerbated the situation, made things worse. And 3? WOULDN’T LEAVE. Right. So you have this annoying habit of always leaving your things lying around all over the place and I wish you wouldn’t do it.

Finally, I told students to look at exercise D, the personalised practice and said they’d be writing their own examples in a minute, but first I’d give a few examples of my own.

D                  Write down five things you wish using the patterns below. Explain your sentences to a partner.

1                  I wish I’d never …………………………………………………….. .

2                  I wish I wasn’t …………………………………………………….. .

3                  I sometimes wish I could …………………………………………………….. .

4                  I wish my …………………….. wouldn’t …………………………………………………….. .

5                  I wish my ……………………….. would sometimes ……………………………………………………..

I then told brief anecdotes about how I wish I’d never started smoking, how I wished I could speak more languages and how I wished my wife wouldn’t always nag me about all the things she wishes I would stop doing! I gave students a few minutes to write and went round helping out as best I could. This was hard as there are 13 students each writing five sentences. I then got students up and asked them to find a new partner and explain as much as they could about their regrets. Several key problem areas soon emerged – the perennial confusion between wish and hope (I wish me and my husband wouldn’t get divorced!), the over-extension of would to talk about yourself (I wish I wouldn’t be so fat), tense confusion for different times . . . and just general uncertainty about how to say particular things. I monitored and wrote a load of sentences up[, with the grammar parts missing. I stopped students and re-told various wishes, paraphrasing and using student’s names as I did so. I elicited and double-checked the grammar and we ended up with this:

I pointed out that fact SO is often used in negative wishes – I wish it didn’t get so cold in the winter, I wish I wasn’t so bad with money, etc.

This had now been two hours straight, so we took a break.

After the break I told them it was time for the progress test.

Quick as anything, one student shot back: I wish we didn’t have to do it!

And that, folks, is that. I didn’t quite finish the double-page spread, which was all leading towards a couple of conflict situation role-plays, which one of my colleagues will start off with tomorrow. The homework was more work on WISH and to prepare what they want to say for the role-play, thinking about incorporating as much of the language from today as they can.

Hope this has proved interesting.

It’s nearly killed me writing it.

Looking forward to seeing your comments and questions!

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19 responses

  1. Thanks Hugh! One thing I am really appreciating about your blog is the window on your style of teaching. I’ve watched your vids, and read this post avidly. (Delta external is THIS Friday! I’m hoping to channel a little of your expertise!)
    Cheers
    Jo

    1. Hi Jo –
      Many thanks for this. Really glad it’s been helpful.
      Makes it all worthwhile to know this kind of thing.
      Really hope your external goes well.

      I’ve always felt ‘Break a leg’ was a pretty poor expression for use in such circumstances, and much prefer the Italian version where I say ‘Into the mouth of the wolf’ and you reply ‘The wolf must die!’
      Hugh

      1. Crepi! 😉 Given that I live in Italy…
        Yeah, the external does have a wolf’s mouth feel about it! Language analysis, subskills analysis, learning objectives, and all those good and necessary things…
        Thank goodness it’s nearly over!

    2. I would ask what you’ll be teaching and how it’s looking, Jo, but I suspect you’re busy with other things right now. Let me know how it goes, anyway.

  2. Hello Hugh!

    Really enjoyed reading this detailed account of your lesson and approach – thanks! I have also read your “dissing dogme” posts with interest – much of what you say makes sense, although I do get tired with the “sameness” of so many course book activities…I’m not including yours here (I don’t think I’ve ever worked with your material!)

    You say you often teach from your own coursebooks, and this must surely make a difference! The other night I taught a lesson using a resource I had designed myself. As I’m fairly new to resource design I wouldn’t presume for a moment to be able to create material approaching published course book standard. Yet, the lesson was a success, possibly because I believed one hundred percent in the value of what I was teaching, and was convinced of the principles underlying it. I think this must have come across to the class, as this lesson had a livelier pace and greater momentum than other course book based lessons I have taught recently…The learners seemed engaged too – but whether this was because I had selected a text more relevant to their lives or whether it was, again, down to my own enthusiasm I do not know!

    Anyway, thanks for the post. Look forward to reading more…

    Genny

    1. Hi Genny –
      Thanks for reading and for the kind words in response.

      I hear you on the sameness of coursebook exercises up to a point. I still think a bigger issue is the sameness of syllabus and the way things are all based on the Headway template of discrete atomistic grammar items, as that distorts what can be done around this hulking core. Headway =was such a monster success that companies have been terrified to take too many risks or to diverge too far from its blueprint. That said, there are only so many ways to skin a cat. If you’re doing a vocab exercise, there’s realistically only six or seven ways you can slice it, the same with a grammar exercise or a reading. In the end, I think the content, the topic and the language – and what teachers do with that – are ultimately more important than the actual exercise type.

      I do often teach from my own books, though in essence the way I’d teach with any other coursebook would be pretty much the same, to be honest: exploit the language that’s there, and work from student speaking as much as possible.

      Good to hear you’re starting to experiment with your own material yourself.
      What was the lesson you did the other day?
      What was it trying to achieve and how did you set out to realise those goals?

      1. Hullo again, Hugh!

        Thanks for your reply. It’s interesting that you mention Headway – this course book has followed me around since I started teaching fourteen years ago: popping up in Hungarian language schools, summer schools and most recently, in the Adult Learning ESOL department in Shetland where I teach. Although the content frequently annoys me, there’s a kind of comfort in returning to a book you know well. Maybe, as Leo suggests, I should encourage my boss to order some new books so I can gain a wider perspective on the whole dogme/course book debate!

        You ask about the lesson I tried the other night. Well, I chose a newspaper article on “The Good Gym” ( a social enterprise pairing runners with housebound elderly people) and created a reading activity around that. I wanted to show my class of intermediate ESOL learners that they had the skills to be able to read authentic texts in quality newspapers (many of them do not read English language newspapers, claiming that their English isn’t good enough, and I wanted to build their confidence by allowing them to approach an unabridged article in a supportive environment) I felt that the text was both challenging and interesting, and could generate useful language and discussion.

        I guess my approach was fairly standard – a pre -reading discussion of fitness regimes (to flag up some of the lexis which would occur in the text), some statements which learners had to agree/disagree with before reading (they would revisit these after their initial reading) and then some comprehension questions (in the form of a table with names mentioned in the article and spaces to include information about them.)

        Finally, we looked at some of the verb patterns which had appeared throughout the text, and I asked the learners to make up sentences about themselves and each other using the verb patterns (e.g.: I’m looking forward to verb+ing) Throughout we boarded lots of language, and I encouraged the learners to talk and personalise the new language at every opportunity…

        So, nothing new there really. But I did feel the obvious authenticity of the materials provided a sense of challenge and achievement for the learners, while my own interest in the subject matter probably came across and helped to heighten their interest.

        A final thought – in the ESOL context learners frequently have good vocabularies and strong oral communication skills, yet less developed written skills. I find that the course books I use provide an appropriate level of challenge for learners in terms of writing, reading and grammar tasks. However, often the lexis covered is often already familiar to them, and I have to think carefully of ways in which I can increase the level of lexical challenge.

        Sorry to have gone on for quite so long… I need to get to class now!

        All the best,
        Genny

      2. Hi Genny –
        Firstly, and before I forget, if you WOULD like to see samples of OUTCOMES do let me and I’ll arrange for some to be sent to your centre in Shetland!
        Always happy for new folk to get the chance to see what we’ve tried to do.
        I’d like to think it might meet your requirements for suitably lexically rich input to challenge your learners.
        I’m intrigued, by the way, about your context. Where are your students from? And what brings them to the Shetland Isles?

        Anyway, structurally speaking, the class you designed around The Good Gym makes perfect sense to me.

        I guess my issue with it would be that at Intermediate level, your students may well be right when they say that their English isn’t god enough to handle newspapers.
        As I’ve discussed in the rant about authenticity in Dogme, my own feeling is that if we want students to get to the stage where they can handle authentic materials, we’re best taking them there along carefully graded roads. I’d much rather my students at this level – and also at Upper-Intermediate, actually, spent time reading graded readers than newspapers. They can keep up with the news in their own L1s, but if they’re going to read to boost and develop their lexicons, graded readers will do the job much more effectively than papers ever can. That’s my angle on the whole debate anyway. Of course, everyone is free to take their own stands. One thing you may want to read about all of this is the majestic Assessing Reading by Alderson. Very powerful and persuasive book!

  3. Ok so it took a lot of reading…. but it’s also obvious that a lot happened in the lesson. It’s also good to see a teacher who clearly works closely with his colleagues and is therefore able to start where the colleague left off and activate the pupils’ prior knowledge. The only minus point I’ve noticed – and this is one that really grates – is the terrible recording! I only listened to the first one but that was enough. When will publishers acknowledge that not all studio actors are talented enough to pull off accents convincingly? 😉

    1. Thanks for reading. if you think it was a lengthy read, you should’ve tried writing the bloody thing. Not sure I’d manage a write-up like that every week, to be honest! Anyway, glad you enjoyed it. I think the links between teachers are really important, yeah. It creates a sense of continuity, ensures revision and recycling and helps establish some kind of a common voice. I’m lucky in that where I work now I have time and opportunity to discuss classes with the rest of the teachers in my team. This hasn’t always been the case, as you can imagine!

      Your comments on the listenings were interesting – and kind of prove a theory I’ve been developing. In that first conversation, the woman is actually Austrian born and bred and the Riccardo character is British, but grew up bilingual English-Italian! We were quite specific about wanting natives for the recordings, but I actually think that there are a few real issues here (1) really good non-natives don’t always sound like native speakers might expect them to, and often have lived overseas / elsewhere for years and that has impacted on their accents. I think this is similar to the way you can’t always tell who’s native or non-native from their writing! (2) students NEVER notice this stuff or comment on it, in my experience at least, and it’s often only an annoyance to native speaker teachers, who may actually be wrong about whether or not the accents on the audios are ‘real’! (3) even non-natives who speak great English and are good enough to be able to do recordings under time pressures are prone to hamming up their own sense of what an audience might expect ‘Italians’ or ‘Germans’ to sound like (4) the sheer cost of making commercial recordings makes it hard to get a cast of thousands in to do one little bit here, one little bit there, and for non-actors to be able to do it under time pressure is nigh-on impossible. When we did the recordings for INNOVATIONS, I wanted to appear on a couple of bits and pieces. I thought I knew how to use my voice after years of teaching, but if you could’ve heard my recordings next to those produced by a pro, the difference was astounding! (4) the fact that getting real-ish dialogues into coursebooks means having to rely on scripted dialogues – and I think, incidentally, this is a GOOD thing for the classroom and for learners – means they are by definition artificial. It’s obviously not a REAL argument. Personally, I’ve just learned to accept that. The classroom is a reality of its own and has its own artifices and practices. Expecting total external reality is unrealistic and possibly even counterproductive.

      1. Absolutely agree with you on the idea of having scripted dialogues (certainly for lower – intermediate levels). I spent some time in a studio doing recordings and realised that I now somehow have an Australian twang to my accent – weird, but no doubt, due to the many years out of the UK, or trying too hard to sound British? I have to say that over here the kids cotton on to the ‘fake’ (over-emphasised?) accents pretty quickly and groan when they have to listen to these dialogues – I tend to turn it into a game and have them do a sort of X-factor audition to see who can do a perfect imitation. This sometimes has hilarious results – and ensures the kids think hard about intonation and pronunciation: sneaky teacher turning everything into a learning opportunity;-).

      2. Weirdly, I also frequently get accused of being Australian, despite only ever having spent three weeks there when I was 24, and two of those involved being laid up in a back hospital!
        Maybe it’s just a course that befalls wandering TEFL teachers.

        I like the idea of turning listenings into a kind of spoken karaoke.
        Top stuff.

        We have an idea like this for our videos that’ll accompany OUTCOMES second edition.

  4. Excellent post, Hugh!
    A bit long-ish 🙂 but worth every minute

    I think many dogmeticians out ther have not been exposed to good coursebooks (like
    yours, I mean) which explains the amount of coursebook bashing going around.

    LEO

    1. I’d obviously love to believe that was true, Leo!
      Apologies for my verbosity. Two hours’ worth of teaching is maybe too much to detail.
      Think I’ll go for an hour of the class next week.
      Glad you enjoyed it, anyway.

  5. Anthony Gaughan | Reply

    Hi Hugh,

    Thank you for putting the time and effort into writing up this lesson (and also for the blog in general, which I wish I took the time to disagree with more, if you follow me).

    When reading your lesson report, two things strike me: first, how much I miss teaching 3 hour lessons. When I was cutting my teeth in London back in the day, I totally took for granted just how much intense and varied work you could do as a group in that time. It’s really great to read those little quotes from you of how you discuss and describe language (a feature of your talks and articles that I’ve always appreciated, by the way.)

    The second thing is how little material you seem to have used in the time available. I mention this positively, and as an example of one of the things that dogme, as I understand it, was hoping to achieve: that more teachers started to spend more time doing more with less in the way of prepared materials, so that more of the time could be spent in live discussion with and among the students about the language that they were using.

    In this way, I’ve always had the feeling that you are a pretty good example of what is meant by materials-light, even though you are making heavy use of a coursebook for your primary content.

    You do say one thing that disappointed me, though, and it’s this:

    Nah, just kidding! I made that last bit up . . . but if you want Dogme motivations, I can invent them at will. As if that would’ve made my decisions or the topic any more or less valid.

    Of course you can >em>invent anything you feel like, but that isn’t the point, is it? and you know it isn’t – that was just a shot below the belt.

    That quip didn’t invalidate your rationale, or the positive impression I gained about your teaching by reading about it in this post, but it came quite close to invalidating my positive sense of you as a person who takes this ongoing debate about teaching and learning seriously.

    But then I remembered that it’s your blog and you can behave as you damn well please and I put my toys back in the pram. I just think you could have made a far more profound point about motivation in that moment than you did – and still raised a wry smile while doing it. But anyway…

    It isn’t about making stuff up to give a veneer of justification; it is about really looking at the syllabus if you have one (which you praise in your next post) through the prism of your knowledge of your learners, rather than the other way round.

    And I would suggest the latter is the more common practice, and the less helpful, in both educational and humanistic terms.

    So although you admit to making few concessions to your learners’ needs and interests beyond their CEFR level when proceeding through your coursebook with them, I would really like to read more of why the content situated these learners in particular – even if you only find this out retrospectively, as the lesson unfolds, in the conversations they have. And no, I am not trying to maneuver you into agreeing somehow that retrospective syllabuses are any good 😉

    Better stop now, but thank you for taking the time to write this up, and for your ongoing criticism.

    1. Hi Anthony –
      Thanks for taking the time to write a response. I know how hard it is to make time for this kind of stuff, and so am grateful.
      I really enjoyed talking to you in Glasgow, and value your thoughts and ideas, to cheers again.
      Hope it becomes a regular thing!

      Yeah, three-hour lessons is a luxury, for sure. I love teaching like this, and find the students get a lot out of it as well.
      Plenty of time for the class to unwind and find its own rhythm and direction, and plenty of time to ensure loads of input and loads of speaking.

      In terms of not covering a huge amount of material, yes it;’s something I’m quite conscious of myself, especially as I team-teach and I know that one of the guys in my team covers literally twice as much material as I do in a three-hour slot. I like to think it’s because I work what’s there very thoroughly, – exploit the language that’s both explicitly AND implicitly there to be taught, riff off the students a lot and do round-ups based on their speaking. This way of working inevitably takes longer, but goes deeper, I’d argue. It amused me that you feel this could be seen as an example of Dogme, though, when I see it simply as using a good coursebook well! Hope you’re not starting to fall into the ‘If it works, it’s NLP’ trap there. 🙂

      Doing more with less is spot on, though.
      Did you know I have a talk I do with exactly that title?

      The flippant Dogme quip that got your back up was obviously meant as just that – a flippant quip – and I realise these things translate poorly when detached from context, tone of voice, eyes rolling, and so on. Partly, though, it was also a slightly narked response to what I perceive as some of the hostility to coursebooks from the Dogme crowd, to the moans about how there’s nothing worse than doing Unit 6 in a coursebook simply because it follows unit 5 and so on. There was also, of course, within the flippancy a grain of what I at least perceive to be truth. When reading Chia’s Teach-Off lessons, I often had a sense of a teacher leaping from one ice floe to the next as it passed by, pushed along by the currents of conversation, and have always been bemused that the fact a teacher chooses to keep hopping like this, rather than finding somewhere a bit more solid and rooted to work from, is seen only as a positive. The cynic in me things I could easily have spun that slot about massacres and Anders Brevik out into an hour of ‘Dogme’ had I wanted, simply by saying “OK. Let’s now talk about big crimes in the news both in your countries and abroad” and working on from there. It’s a riff I have as part of my repertoire, if you like, and the language I suspect ‘d teach – some of it at least – would be based on material I’d written around a similar theme already (just as a good ‘Dogme’ teacher would base such a riff on previous experiences of ‘spontaneously’ exploring similar avenues of conversation. My point, I guess, was simply that leaping onto something and spinning a lesson out of it simply because a student had spoken about it and it had generated some degree of interests strikes me as no more or less valid than many other reasons you might have for choosing a topic to look at. Hope that’s now clear!

      I’m still not convinced that most of what I see on the Dogme blogs or hear at Dogme talks, though, represents “looking at the syllabus through the prism of your knowledge of your learners”. I still think it’s both more random and more teacher-led than that, and that what you suggest there is a very very hard thing to do. In a sense, it’s a thing that can actually only be done by FIRST actually having a syllabus and then second, teaching that – and seeing which bits are easy and which bits are hard, and teaching the gaps once they become apparent.

      If I understand correctly at the end of your response, though, you’re saying that what you find most interesting to read in something like my lesson overview is a sense of how the material grabbed the students, how they ran with it, and where they took it (or, I guess, how this failed to happen!). is that correct? If so, that’s something I’ll try to place greater emphasis on the next time I write up a lesson. For me, that’s part of makes teaching material great: every time you teach the same piece of material, it’s the same and yet it’s also very different, and the differences come from the way these particular students respond to what they’re being given.

      That said, though, I don’t believe that a topic like CONFLICT as described in my lesson would ONLY be of interest to this particular group of learners, but to all learners at this level in general as it deals with human universals. How it gets exploited in class will depend on the students on any given day, but as a topic, it’d work with any group, I’d wager!

      1. Anthony Gaughan

        Thanks for the very detailed reply, Hugh. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t want to suggest I thought what you did was “dogme” – or even NLP 😉

        It’s just, for me, dogme is most basically about the question: “how can I as a teacher best put my students’ time with me in this classroom to work?”

        Back when Scott banged the drum in the late 90s/early 2000s, bloatware was the name of the game and – being one of that generation of teachers, I feel I can comment – teachers coming through in that period had a very rich diet of materials to chew on, and this led to bloated lessons and not much real learning a lot of the time.

        Stripping down the input and focusing on “nutrient-dense” content, well-chewed over and digested, was the perceived antidote to at least part of this problem.

        That’s what I see going on in your lesson, which is why I would say there is something of what dogme tries to be about in your practice.

        This isn’t surprising either, as your work (it seems to me, has always prioritised making a little go a long way – and “doing simple things well”, as you put it once).

        I don’t think coursebooks are the cause of input and outcome-poor lessons, and would certainly agree that better coursebooks succeed in offering the skilled teacher as much potential with less bloat than their stodgier predecessors.

        But as you say, it is at least as much about the teacher using it as the coursebook itself (you say “using a good coursebook well” implies being a “good” user of a coursebook, which some teachers are, and some aren’t).

        It is those who aren’t good at using coursebooks – good or bad ones – well for whom, I think, dogme is especially important as a question, as a perspective, rather more than as a methodology.

        If we – as teachers, teacher trainers, coursebook writers – can succeed in holding the basic question that I suggested dogme is there to pose at the forefront of teachers’ thinking, and if we can also do our jobs in such a way that support those teachers in their search for the answer, then i think we will all be in a better place, professionally speaking.

        (SIDE POINT) It starts with conversations like this, for sure, but it needs to continue in more of a collaborative, as opposed to combative, manner, For example, pre-publication reviews of courseware could pro-actively be offered to teachers who take an ostensibly dogme stance to see what their take on it is – this would surely help writers and publishers in making their materials as flexible as possible, wouldn’t it?

        You’re right, about rationales for lessons, and I fully take your point “no more or less valid than many other reasons you might have for choosing a topic to look at.” But if you want dogme teachers to accept it as no less valid to do unit 6 simply because it follows unit 5 and someone else in space and time considered this arrangement of material a sound idea, then you must surely also accept the opposite, that leaping from “ice-floe to ice-floe” of conversation and language learning affordance in time with shifting student interest is also no less valid?

        Agreed, that interpreting syllabuses through knowledge of learners entails a syllabus – but a syllabus is, as I say, not the same as a course of lessons, or a series of coursebook units.

        And yes, I enjoyed your lesson report for many reasons, but perhaps what most interests me is what you notice about their engagement with it – which must be, as you say, extremely interesting for you as the author. So yes, more please!

        On a parting note, there are two talks about teaching which have been “game-changers” for me, in terms of when I heard them and how far they adjusted my sense of practice. The first of these (chronologically speaking) was when Scott Thornbury came to Berlin in 2000 with his original dogme manifesto talk; the second was in Frankfurt a year or two later, where you spoke about the curse of creativity.

        Thanks.

      2. Hi again –
        I’d not heard the expression BLOATWARE before, but know exactly what you mean.
        However, I see less of a problem connected to materials and more to do with teachers’ insatiable appetite for recipes and activities and “things that I can use on a Monday morning”.
        I’ve always held with something Michael Lewis said years ago – that there’s nothing as practical as a good theory!
        I suspect you’d hold with that, of course, and that in many ways your teaching and mine would have far more in common than many other teachers’.
        In fact, with this whole thing, I’m starting to feel a bit like I did years back when I picked a row with the corpora bods in a talk I did called WHAT HAS CORPORA EVER DONE FOR US? (Monty Python allusions intentional and a core part of the talk, in case you’re wondering). Is it a case of hurting those you most care about? Maybe. I see much good in many of the things you’re saying – and if latching onto ‘Dogme’ – whatever that may mean – helps some teachers use a coursebook more like I do, or relying less on recipes, then great. I just worry that the ‘movement’ if that’s what it is, does itself more harm than good with some of its pronouncements and with some of the hardline attitudes adopted. I also get riled when I read things like Dogme being about “how can I as a teacher can best put my students’ time with me in this classroom to work” – as again I’d argue that this is not something Dogme has any rights or exclusive claims over and that these goals are what occupy the minds of any teacher worth their salt!

        I obviously enjoyed your words on coursebooks, and acknowledgement of the fact that things have moved on, however slowly, with published materials.
        Not a concession every ‘Dogmetician’ has been willing to make, it must be said.

        When it comes to using coursebooks well, though, I think we may actually both want to see teachers doing similar things, but we are simply framing what we want in different terms. Perhaps?

        Where you say that Dogme is especially important for teachers who aren’t good at using coursebooks, I guess my worry is that may then lead on to teachers simply abandoning books they never learned how to use particularly well, doing loads of random chat, swamping the class in tech-authentic-bloat and making their own material, which they don’t do brilliantly, having failed to understand basic principles of materials design and construction in the first place. I’d like to see them plan more think about how they’re going to exploit language more, how to use the class more in the construction of examples, how to set up and run student speaking slots better, how to reformulate well, and so on. In other words, stick to the crutch of a book, but learn to run with it!

        What else? Oh yes . . . the leaping from ice floe to ice floe. I guess the reason I will always see it as less valid is partly because, as I’ve said already better elsewhere, I think it’s essentially teacher as opposed to student driven. I also think it’s unlikely the teacher will ever manage to provide such a rich, targeted, narrow range of input connected to the topic leapt upon that crafted materials can, or that things would covered in the kind of honed depth materials can – but obviously don’t always (!) – manage. Where, just to take one example, would the model conversation come from to help students have similar conversations of their own?

        Finally, many thanks for the kind words about my Curse of Creativity talk.
        I guess I shall have to dust it down and blog it here sometime soon!

  6. […] Well, you've got Phil Wade to blame – or thank, I guess, depending on your point of view – for what follows. Phil has been a keen contributor to this blog so far and via Twitter suggested that I de…  […]

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