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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Unplugged Moments #2

Having asked my FCE class what skill they wanted to practise in the following lesson, we were going to do some reading yesterday. However, I had had a very busy morning and didn't have a whole lot of time to find a suitable text and create a task for them to do. I then remembered that somewhere, hidden among all the folders, papers, toys and props that fill my classroom shelves, I had a bag full of sets of leaflets acquired from my local library/tourist information centre in Newcastle-under-Lyme several years ago! Great! I would just have to root them out and then try to think of a suitable task for FCE level - What? Think up a challenging task or set of questions for Upper-Int students on the spot? Hmm, not as easy as you may think, however many years experience of teaching FCE you may have.

The solution? Have the students help create the task themselves! What could be more unplugged that using student-created content? Of course the texts themselves were not created by the students, but they were real, authentic texts that are ideal to practise micro-skills such as skimming for gist and scanning for specific information.

I placed sets of leaflets, which all advertised tourist attractions, on tables around the classroom. I then wrote on the board "A day out" and asked the students to write on the board (a kind of wandrous whiteboard but on a specific topic). We then discussed what they had written and what kind of days out they preferred and why. Thanks to Cecilia Coelho for the idea of staying at the board for the discussion.

I then asked them to think of groups of people who may go together on an excursion. I started them off with the first two and they came up with the rest:

  1. A family of four with two children aged between 5 and 10
  2. A playschool trip of children aged 2 to 5
  3. A group of foreign tourists, adults and children
  4. A group of senior citizens
  5. A group of teenage friends
  6. A group of patients with psychological and emotional problems (!)
  7. Schoolchildren on a trip, aged 12 to 14
  8. A group of physically disabled children
They the had to look at all the different leaflets and decide which day out would be the best for each group of people. They would later have to explain their reasons.

The lessons was very successful, and much more interesting than a typical FCE reading task. It got the students skimming and scanning, reading lots of short texts (probably in total longer than an individual exam text) and they had to explain their reasons orally. We almost ran out of time, but I would have encouraged them to persuade each other to change their mind, had we had more time.


  1. Seems it was a great lesson Michelle, with integrated reading, listening and speaking (and a possible writing follow-up) that happened because there wasn't enough time to find a suitable text. Isn't it funny?

    I've started to wonder whether we hadn't gotten to the wrongful notion of good/effective lessons = long preparation time. And then lately I've been reading so many wonderful accounts of great lessons been created out of almost no material, little planning... As Jim Scrivener put in a comment to one of Jason's post, going to class unplanned doesn't mean I am unprepared. Maybe it's time we relaxed a bit, saw the benefit of these classes and didn't feel guilty about little time planning. Maybe this will leave us more time for preparing ourselves.

    Changing the subject, in one of our tracks there's a chapter that deals with tourism (it's a high intermediate track, very fluent speakers) and one of the projects we do with them is having them pretend they work at a travel agency, giving each a small bio of the costumers they have (names, gender, ages, interests, job, # of days to spend traveling, etc) and they have to research and propose a trip - destination, possible activities, hotels, suggestions of where to eat... It's a nice approach to it too.

    Please keep us posted on these great activities you've been doing!

  2. Hi Cecilia,

    I agree with you about planning time. Sometimes you spend ages planning and preparing lessons that are simply not worth it because they end up not engaging students. Sometimes, going in with an open mind can result in a great dogme lesson. However, having a few activities in your mind before you go into the classroom can be important. Sometimes, the students aren't feeling very talkative, energetic or enthusiastic and would rather read a text or even do some written work like exercises. It's always best to have a few alternatives, just in case.

    I like your sentence "Maybe this will leave us more time for preparing ourselves". That is a great way of looking at it. I think ongoing teacher development can help us provide more effective lessons than spending hours planning activities. It also gives us more confidence to try out new ideas. Spending an hour or two reading blogs, following up links on Twitter etc is often much more useful than spending it searching for an activity on the web or creating a worksheet for our students.

    As for the tourism project you mention, it sounds like a great way of involving students. These kind of tasks are representative of real life situations and are much more motivating than ordinary course book activities.

    Thanks so much for commenting :)

  3. I agree with your agreements to Cecilia's comments.


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