Term one, week two, Monday morning, 9am. Not a great slot. Especially not great when it’s grey and dreary outside and inside the classroom is long, narrow and overcrowded. However I press on with my current teacher and student development plan. I’ve been trying to encourage my postgraduate students to take more responsibility for their learning. Spoon-feeding out, autonomy in. That sort of thing.

So along with organising a visit to the self-access centre I’ve worked on negotiating the syllabus. Only it’s a free course of two hours a week so students don’t have to come each week. In week one I had 12 students, this week 15 hence the overcrowding. The intersection of the two weeks is 9 students. Interesting.

Among the new students this week is a Chinese woman – Sue - whose English is good enough to include conversational fillers with “you know what I mean” featuring heavily. She came along because it’s a free class. Half the students are Chinese and most of these are engineers. The rest are a mix of European, South American and East Asian.

Last week we negotiated a list of topics for the term and the plan is to decide at the end of each lesson what to discuss the following week. Today’s negotiated topics are cooking vocabulary and the US presidential election. We start with cooking and I use pictures and a card game to revise food words quickly. But Sue thinks it’s too easy, and she didn’t ask to do this topic. Everyone else is happily swapping recipes using the ingredients and cooking verbs. Except two women who really wanted to do academic English but the course was full and they’re doing this one instead. They have an essay due in in week 4 and what they’d really like to be doing is practising writing. However this class is spoken English…..

Some people are getting a bit hung up on cooking verbs and want to know the difference between “chop”, “cut” and “dice”. I try to elicit then explain quickly because Sue looks bored and she’s sitting right in front of me. Other students say this is really useful because they have to buy food every week and want to teach their friends how to cook food from their part of the world. I feel that the new-this-week students were expecting a more academic speaking lesson.

My final card game on word stress works well and for a few minutes the room sounds like a market with students calling out “pineapple”, “clementine” and “kiwi” in attempts to find partners with the same word stress. Time for a change in topic and we move on to loftier things with small groups pooling their research on Kerry and Bush. I hope I kept most of the people happy most of the time…..