Number one for English language teachers

Eliciting

Type: Reference material

In her third entry, teacher Amthal Karim gets a new group of intermediate students and deals with A Difficult Situation.

I am now teaching intermediate level students, known simply as 'Group 2'. The first thing that strikes me is that this group is much larger than the beginners group. This does not become obvious until at 6:10pm, when the latecomers make their way through the classroom door. I already have twenty students and five observing trainee teachers. I now have another eight students and two observing teachers! After a few minutes negotiating with the teacher next door for chairs…more chairs….and more tables, the class settles down.

My lead-in picture of a man with spiders in his sandwich seems to be making the students think hard already - however, no one says the magic words. Eliciting language from the students is usually my most favoured method for a lead-in. However, I am never sure how long I must wait before I add a hint or offer an example of the language that I am trying to elicit! The class is still silent. I wonder if perhaps the intermediate students think too hard about what language I am expecting them to produce rather than just keeping it simple. 'What do you think the man should do?' I ask, sounding as encouraging as possible. 'He should throw the sandwich in the bin!' is the reply. A hint is needed - 'He has bought the sandwich from a shop, so what do you think he should do?' The realisation shows on the students' faces as they reply that he should get a refund, he should complain to the shop manager and, of course, the inevitable, he shouldn't eat the sandwich!

The photographs of people in three different situations - which are part of the first exercise - stimulate lots of detailed discussion using should/ shouldn't for giving advice. There is some initial debate about whether the people in the photos are male or female but, having overcome that hurdle, the talking becomes louder….and louder. During my teacher training course, one of the tutors once mentioned that a class where there is lots of talking and noise (relevant, of course) is a sign of a good, communicative lesson. I seem to have succeeded in achieving that but I am not sure whether my eardrums will be grateful! The grammar exercise that follows sorts the class into the students who think they know what they are talking about and those who actually do. Making my way around the room to help with questions and queries during this task is not easy, but necessary for management of such a large group. A Japanese student, eager to do his best, has already devised a list of questions to ask me relating to the language 'should/ shouldn't' and, having caught my attention, proceeds in asking about each one in turn. We agree to meet during the break or after the lesson so that I can help him with his list. A less confident, female student shields her answers from her neighbours and seems relieved when I nod with approval at what she has written. Another student demands one-to-one feedback for each of his answers until I give up at the third question and point out that I will be giving feedback as a group.

The final activity for this lesson is based on a story - 'A Difficult Situation'. The students read the story with interest, as I sigh with relief thinking about the hours I spent searching internet sites to find this exercise. I ask a few simple questions to ensure that everyone has understood the plot - a woman (Janet) gets a promotion at work, finds out she is pregnant, chooses not to inform her employer upon advice from her husband and best friend and consequently loses her job when she cannot deal with the increased workload. The students debate all of the issues more thoroughly than I had expected. The largest group at the front of the class - comprising of Chinese students - decides that Janet's husband and friend shouldn't have advised her at all which leads somehow into the statement 'she shouldn't have got pregnant!' The quieter group at the back of the room talks about how hard it is for women in the workplace and how the employer was unfair to Janet. Another female student decides that Janet should argue with her employer about being fired, she shouldn't accept it at all and should sue the company! As I close the lesson for break, I feel satisfied that every student in the class has participated fully in the final discussion and that they found the activities stimulating and enjoyable. However, when the eager Japanese man - true to his word - walks over to me clutching his list of three (!) pages of questions, I wonder about the meaning of the term 'over stimulation'!

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