Here comes the conclusion of my short series. It’s not something I would do all the time on this blog, but what a great way to read a book! Sharing thoughts as you read makes it much more enjoyable.
At the end of the book, Stevick quotes Edward M.Anthony who distinguishes between an approach, method and technique: an approach is a language learning theory or assumption (e.g. language is a set of physical habits), a technique is an activity done in the classroom (e.g. choral drills), and a method is a set of techniques consistent with an approach. He then warns teachers against borrowing techniques without thinking about the approaches behind them – all of those ‘bags of tricks’ we like so much but perhaps don’t always understand how and why they should be used together. A good thing to remember, isn’t it?
Stevick compares a conversation in an EFL lesson to building a fire in a stove. Not something we’re so familiar with anymore – but it’s clear that the fuel should be there, and a bit of kindling (the language and the structure of the activity), and of course enough air for the fire to burn (the initiative). Of the types of role plays he lists, some provide much less air but a lot more support, and the others are all about student initiative: which is the way it should be because we pick and choose depending on the situation. I’ve sorted them according to the level of support:
- You say and then she says: scripted dialogues where the learners only have to rephrase what the book says. Useful for scaffolding and just as good for conversation as freer prompts sometimes!
- Cross purposes: each participant has a set of instructions that contradict each other and one of them has to persuade the other to win. Who doesn’t like information gaps!
- What if! The learners borrow characters that they already know: from books or films, or among mutual acquaintances. An interesting take on conversation, where the contents are scaffolded enough to provide some entertainment and focus on the language.
- Me Tarzan, you Jane: the participants only know the names or functions of their characters (shop assistant and buyer) and have to come up with a dialogue of their own. Could be useful when the group is very creative, otherwise may deteriorate into a very formulaic interaction.
- Simulations: role-plays with background materials which require preparation and follow-up and can take several hours.
So, at which side of the spectrum are you at the moment? Or do you move from one side to the other?
It’s interesting how Stevick explains the necessity of games in the classroom: they are not just a welcome change of pace. Games are necessary for short-term motivation: they have simple goals that can be achieved within one lesson (rather than an exam or new career) and can thus provide a sense of progress and meaning to classroom activities.
And a simple activity with Cuisenaire rods (other objects can be used as well): students are divided into several groups; one group builds a structure from the rods hidden behind a notebook or another tall object; then they describe it in English so that the other groups could build the same. It’s not as easy as it seems, and I really like the information gap and the competitive element here. Stevick also mentions the ‘psychological safety in numbers’: the competition is happening between teams, not individuals, and therefore is not as threatening. And the language components? Colours, prepositions, other ways to describe location – what’s not to like?
The event happened on 1 March, and I was very happy to be one of the speaker experts. There were more than 400 English language teachers from all over Ukraine!
The opening ceremony
I had the pleasure of meeting quite a few of them in my own session, where I spoke about my favourite hobby horse – the sense of progress! You can download the presentation slides here.
Ready for the session
Just like any conference, this one tempted me with several interesting workshops at the same time. I finally chose Anne Robinson’s, about Support, Challenge and Choice in the secondary and adult classroom. It was quite an interesting session, with a range of activities to do around an exam-type text: from rehearsing to choosing photos as illustrations, and webapps. The text she chose was about planting trees, and she compared the kids who planted the trees in the story to cathedral builders who never used to see their finished work. Isn’t it the same with everyone working in education?
Two sections of the day were given to the participants to suggest and then present their own topics, and I got to see two of those. So much enthusiasm, so much enjoyment in their work! And my own audience was the same: warm, responsive, enthusiastic and interested. During the questions part, the teachers got up and started writing their tips to each other on the board. How cool is that?
And I bought myself a great book about personal effectiveness. Perhaps I’ll write about it on my blog (once I become more effective, that is!).