Given that last time I tried to do this, it seemed to take me an entire evening to write – and probably took you even longer to actually read through – I’ve decided that maybe the best way forward with these sections of the blog is to feature little windows onto classes that I’ve done; allow you, as it were, to spy on a selected slice of one of my three-hour classes.
This lesson was another one with my main group this term, an Advanced class that I teach on Monday and Wednesday mornings from 09.15-12.30. The class runs five mornings a week and they have three different teachers. It’s only a hort eight-week term this time around, so we only have two more weeks together. 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!). It’s a General English class and quite a strong group. We’re using OUTCOMES Advanced, and the part I’m going to detail below too maybe an hour all in all.
We’re nearing the end of a unit called SCIENCE AND RESEARCH and are onto the last double-page spread, which is based around a listening. The main goals of this section were (a) to give students the opportunity to voice the ideas and opinions about the way scientists are perceived and portrayed in society (b) to explore and discuss what a range of different jobs within the field of science involve and (c) to give students practice in both extensive and intensive listening. My hunch was that the topic would interest students for a variety of reasons:I knew a few of the group had science backgrounds, having done either degrees or Master degrees in related areas, and this in itself would generate interest value; I also suspected that other students might at least know people who worked in related fields or else aspire to work in them themselves in future; on top of that, everyone would be able to discuss the stereotype of scientists and would be able to contribute some ideas to what different jobs might involve. Above and beyond that, though, there’s the simple fact that I knew the lessons would bring up plenty of new useful high frequency language and that, if handled in a certain way, the language itself would be of interest to the students in and of itself. In a sense, this way of looking at what happens in a class reduces the importance of topic per se, as it assumes that whatever the topic, and to whatever degree students want or are able to discuss the topic itself, there’ll also be language coming up both from the material and from what the students themselves try to say that will be worth spending time and exploring, and that the interaction that occurs during these explorations is motivating and interesting in itself.
So anyway . . . I started by saying that we were going to be talking about the way scientists were seen and portrayed in society – and the degree to which this encouraged – or discouraged – young people to enter the field. I told them they were going to read a short text about the strereotype of scientists in the UK and that it may well be different in their country. They should first just read and check they understand the text – and then they’d talk about it.
Students read the text, shown below and I monitored. A fair few students asked about several problematic bits of vocabulary – particularly homogenous, geeky, hunched, muttering and scribbling. With geeky, I simply referred them to the Native Speaker note in the book below the text, whilst with the other words I glossed them briefly – a homogenous bunch is a group of very similar people . . . if you’re hunched, you’re sitting like this (and I then mimed hunching, with shoulders hunched up) , muttering is like quietly talking to yourself, maybe in a slightly mad way and scribbling is writing things down very quickly and maybe a bit carelessly, like this (more miming). I also used the students’ reading time to get a few whole sentence parallel examples of these new words up on the board to come back to later on. Anyway, here’s the text and the Native Speaker note that follows it.
A Read the short text below. Then discuss the questions that follow in groups.
Scientists are often seen as a homogenous bunch of geeky men in white lab coats and protective glasses, hunched over some kind of bubbling test tube whilst muttering to themselves or frantically scribbling equations on a scrap of paper. Such stereotypes not only fail to represent the full diversity of activities that scientists (of both sexes!) engage in, but also serve to dissuade the young from contemplating a career in science. It’s time for this to change!
- Does this text reflect your own view of scientists?
- Do you agree that negative stereotypes of scientists may well put young people off entering the field?
- Do you know anyone who works in the field of science? What do they do?
NATIVE SPEAKER ENGLISH: geeky
If we think someone is weird or boring because they’re only interested in computers / science / studying, we often call them geeky. The noun is a geek. Many people also say nerdy / a nerd to mean the same thing.
A homogenous bunch of geeky men in white lab coats.
My brother is a complete science geek.
He’s a nice guy, but he looks a bit nerdy, if you ask me!
He’s such a nerd! He’s got no social skills whatsoever.
Once the students had finished reading the text, I gave them 20 seconds to read the questions and to check they understood them. No-one asked, so to lead into the speaking I simply repeated the questions, paraphrasing things I thought might cause problems and that maybe students had simply been too shy to ask about. I said something like this:
So in a minute you’re going to discuss the degree to which the text reflects your own view of scientists. is it accurate, do you think? Or do you see things differently? Also, do you agree that negative stereotypes – the bad way in which scientists are portrayed – might put young people off entering the field? Might make them not want to become scientists? And do you know anyone who works in the field, the area, of science? If so, what do they do?
I put students in pairs with one group of three and let them talk. Whilst they talked, I monitored and listened in to discussions, chipped in with my own comments and thoughts on occasion, helped out if students were struggling to say things and – crucially, I’d argue – picked up on things that I understood, but which I knew I’d say slightly differently. At this level, there is an issue in looking for errors, because by definition Advanced students can basically say what they want to say without really making many mistakes at all. A better way to think about the teacher’s role during student speaking slots is to listen for things they could say better. By the end of six or seven minutes, I’d written a fair few gapped sentences up on the board and stopped the class by saying OK. Great. Now let’s look at how to say some of the things you were trying to say in better English. First, let’s just look at a few bits and pieces from the text itself.
On the board, I’d written the following:
a very homogenous society / group
I asked where the stress was, and having elicited it, marked it with a circle and made a couple of students repeat the word.
I then asked what the opposite was. One student said heterogeneous, which I said was fine, but sounded a bit too formal and academic and that in spoken English it was more common to say . . . ? I then wrote a d on the board and got diverse from someone. I then asked for examples of homogenous and diverse societies and was offered Japan and the UK, which worked fine. Someone then joked that the class itself was a very diverse group!
With hunched over, I simply explained it to the whole class and showed the example. Someone said “Oh, it’s like Quasimodo”. There was then some discussion about whether or not everyone in the class was familiar with the story of the hunchback of Notre dame – they weren’t of course . . . and I said Yes, he’s a hunchback in the story.
I also simply pointed out the example I’d written up about scribbling, mimed it again and asked when or why people might scribble. Students correctly said when you’re in a hurry or it;’s not something very important. I then said we’d move on to look at things they’d ben trying to say in the discussion. On the board I had the following sentences:
The average life …………………. of scientists is quite low. They work themselves to ……….. / into an early …………….. – or they just …………. out young.
It’s a very pr………………. job. They work really un…………….. hours.
I know some scientists and they (don’t) really ………………. to the stereotype.
I find the whole idea of being a scientist quite o…….-p…………… .
To elicit the missing words, I usually do a kind of paraphrasing. Here, I said, for example: Some of you were saying you don’t think being a scientist is a good job as lots of scientists die young. The average length of their lives is quite low, so they have a low average life? One students said expectation. I said this was close, but usually your parents have high expectations of you or if you get 7.5 in your IELTS test it exceeds your expectations. I then got expectancy and wrote that up. I then talked briefly about how the average life expectancy in Russia has DROPPED DRAMATICALLY since 1991. I then said that some students had been talking about how scientists work really really hard – so hard they die young, so they work themselves to? And they work themselves into an early? I managed to elicit death, but only got grave after an extra bit of glossing – the place where they put the body when you die is your? Grave. Right, so they work themselves into an early grave. I then added: Or else what happens is just that they quickly end up finished in their careers, because they have no ideas or energy left after working so hard to begin with. I asked what others careers might result in early burnout and got teaching and banking.
I then said that part of the problem was that scientists were under a lot of stress, a lot of pressure, so the job was very? One student said pressureful, which provoked much laughter and a comment about how they were inventing their own language. Eventually, I got pressurised. I added that scientists often have to work all night or from early in the morning until late in the night – according to some of the students, anyway – and so they had to work very UN hours? The first guess was unstable, and I said usually people are a bit unstable – mentally unstable, which means they may get angry or upset very easily. The next offering was unexpected. I explain you can’t work unexpected hours. News can be unexpected, or someone’s actions, but not hours you work. Next came unclear. I said often motives for crimes are unclear or you can be unclear about what you should you are supposed to do. To push things along a bit, I said that the hours made it difficult to make friends or to have a normal social life – and finally got unsocial!
We then moved on and I said sometimes you meet people and they are actually the same as the stereotype you might have had about them, so they MMMM the stereotype. Students shouted out suit, meet, fit, so I wrote a c on the board. After another few seconds, I gave up and wrote conform up.
For the final sentence, I explained that several students didn’t like the idea of being a scientist. Just thinking about it made them not want to do it, it persuaded them not to do it. They found the idea? I elicited off-putting and one student asked if it was like put you off. I said” Yes, if something puts you off, that’s the verb -0 it stops you wanting to do or try something. Maybe you find something off-putting because of the way it looks or smells or whatever. For example, the first time I went to Japan, one of my friends offered me some natto – it’s kind of fermented soya bean paste – and it really stinks. For me, anyway. And I found the smell really off-putting. It made me not want to try it. The German student, Nicolai, then wanted more detail about what exactly natto was, which one of the Japanese students provided. This all seemed to generate some discussion, so for three or four minutes students discussed in pairs any food they found off-putting and explained why. The highlight of this was one of the Chinese students saying he couldn’t understand why western people loved cheese, when basically it was just rotten cow’s milk! Anyway, here’s what the board looked like by the end of this section:
We then moved on to another speaking task that would lead directly into the listening. I told the class that in a few minutes they’d hear five different scientists talking about their jobs, but that first they should look at the ten jobs in the box and discuss what they think each job involves, what the point of each job is, and so on. Students then chatted for a few minutes, whilst I went round. Here’s the task anyway.
You are going to hear five different kinds of scientists talking about their jobs.
A Work in pairs. Discuss these questions.
- What do you know about each of the different kinds of scientist below?
- What’s the main point of each job?
- What do you think their working lives involve on a day-to-day basis?
anthropologists marine biologists
astrologer military scientists
After a few minutes, I rounded up by eliciting brief summaries of what each job involved, and clarifying where there were problems or differences of opinion. There was no boardwork during this slot, but we did discuss what the difference between anthropologists and sociologists might be, and there was a fair few minutes of discussion about whether or not military scientists really existed, whether they could really be called scientists if they didn’t make the results of their research open and so on. Somehow, this ended up taking in the kind of research into how to break people down, the results of which had been used in Guantanamo – what kind of music to play how loud and for how long in order to make people crack,. how long exactly you could hold people under water before they approached death, etc . . . as well as the fact that part of the MacArthur Pact after World War II involved Japan handing over all of the military research it had conducted, including all the horrendous experiments carried out during the occupation of parts of China.
I then told the class to listen to five scientists speaking and to decide in each case what their job and what each job involved.
B Listen and match each speaker to one of the ten different kinds of scientist in the box. What does each job involve?
I played the CD all the way through, put students in pairs and asked to compare what they got. I monitored to help me get a feel for how much they’d grasped, what was causing problems and so on and after a couple of minutes, I elicited the answers from the group as a whole, trying wherever possible to rephrase students’ ideas using the lexis that had actually been used in the audio. So, for example, for the first job, the astrologer, one student said something like People imagine they are always spending every night watching the stars, but really it’s not like that and I say Yes, OK, so the stereotype of astrologers is that they stay up all night glued to their telescopes, but the reality is far more mundane. This kind of re-lexicalization is important, I think, as it acknowledges that students have processed the basic meanings, but confronts them again with the actual linguistic wrapping that the meaning came encased in, thereby encouraging noticing.
I then told the class they were going to hear the speakers one more time and that this time they should decide which speaker matched each of the sentences in 1-10 from exercise C. I gave them a minute or two to read through first, in order to check they understood what they were listening for. Predictably, a few students asked about traits and I explained it meant particular qualities in someone’s personality, before drilling the word. There were also questions about drought – which again caused pron problems too, which had to be tackled after I’d explained the word. I gave students a couple of minutes to note down any ideas they may have already had about which person matched each sentence and then played it again. Here’s what they were listening for:
C Listen again and decide which speaker:
1 studies the possible harm that drought could do.
2 sometimes makes recommendations about living environments.
3 says their line of work involves making policy recommendations.
4 finds their job immensely satisfying.
5 says their line of work is more boring than is commonly believed.
6 feels the stereotype about their job is out of date.
7 says work on family traits is a part of their field.
8 has done research on the global spread of a particular phenomenon.
9 notes a way in which their field is unusual.
10 is quite secretive about what their job involves.
As students were listening, I wrote this up on the board:
But left the word RUNS out. I came back to this once we’d gone through all the answers to exercise C and quickly elicited it – third time lucky, having been offered goes and follows first!I also wrote this up as well:
and simply wrote c…….. instead of crops and left the word famine out. Again, as I finished off, after we’d gone through Exercise Cm I elicited the missing words by saying that sometimes when there’s a drought, when it doesn’t rain for ages, the plants that you grow for food die, the MMM fail – which got me crops – and that this causes people to die because of a lack of food, so it leads to? Which got me famine.
Once I’d played the five extracts through again, I out students in pairs again to compare and discuss their answers before eliciting the answers. With these kinds of exercises, I try to focus not only on simply what the answers are, but WHY the answers are the answers. Again, this often leads to a kind of paraphrasing of students’ ideas and re-use of lexis from the actual audio. So, for instance, I’d elicit the 1 was a hydrologist, and ask how students knew. They often just ay things like ‘because of drought!’ and I’d say Yeah, OK, He said he looks at potential damage to the environment in low-flow areas, so the potential environmental damage caused by drought.
Before I forget, if you’re interested, you can hear the listenings below.
To round off this part of the lesson, there was some speaking, looking partly at students’ responses to what they’d heard and partly expanding upon some of the themes implicit in it. Here are the questions:
D Work in pairs. Discuss these questions.
- Which of the five jobs do you think sounds most interesting? Why?
- Which do you think is likely to be best / worst paid? Why?
- Can you think of any jobs where the stereotype may well be more glamorous than the reality? In what way?
Students chatted about this for a few minutes. The best answer for the last question was models – it may look glamorous on TV, but the reality is never getting to eat, standing around for hours on end and being leched at by slimy fashion people! We finished with a tiny bit of boardwork – the words that I elicited were mundane and rewarding – first time each one!
and that was that!
Hope this has proved interesting and not too much of a pain to read!
Please feel free to add any comments, thoughts, questions, etc.
I’m always really interested to hear what others may make of the way I teach.