From the two observations I carried out, I have gained several valuable insights into English language teaching. Both the ‘live’ observation and the video observation used various teaching techniques, which I will discuss in this essay. For my ‘live’ observation I observed native speaker Tors Squires teach Group 5, an upper-intermediate class with students of mixed nationalities. The students were studying English for various reasons, but most of them were hoping to pass the IELTS exam to enter British universities. The aim of the lesson was for the students to come up with ideas for, and begin planning, their own magazines.
This was in order to lay the foundations for a project intended to last a few weeks, in which groups within the class would compete to see who could make the best magazine. At the beginning of the lesson, the room was laid out in a ‘horse shoe’ shape with the teacher at the front the typical room layout in the University Language Centre. This shape is stated by Harmer (Harmer, 2007: 163) as making the classroom a ‘more intimate place’ where students are able to ‘talk, make eye contact or expressive body movements’, thus making it a good layout for language learners.
After introducing the idea of the magazine project, the teacher asked the students to name different types of magazines. This activity elicited key words from the students such as ‘sport’, ‘fashion’, ‘gossip’ and ‘politics’, showing their already high level of linguistic competence. The teacher wrote these words on the board then began the next task, to discuss in small groups the type of things one might find in a magazine. I thought this task was effective, as the first part required students to work individually, and the second part allowed them to work as part of a group, aiding student interaction.
The task got the students into the mindset for making their magazines, as well as giving them ideas for articles to put in them, and required them to speak entirely in English. I thought this was a good way to introduce the project to the students, and cannot think of a way in which to improve it. Next, the teacher split the class into two groups to come up with a theme for their magazines. Some of the students were due to leave the class the following week, so the teacher ensured the groups would be unaffected by their departure by placing an equal number of these students in each group.
The teacher told us she usually allows students to choose their own groups, but she had to choose them this time because of the departing students. I thought this worked well as it would keep the numbers even, and the teacher had obviously planned for this. The next 20 minutes of the lesson were spent brainstorming ideas for magazines whilst the teacher spent time with both groups, participating but not dominating. Both groups decided on the same theme for their magazines, a ‘student’ magazine, and the rules were laid down by the teacher for the articles which must go in them.
The teacher told the students to keep the plans for their magazines secret from the other group, which she hoped would make them more competitive. I thought this was good, because the students were speaking to each other and planning their magazines entirely in English, and had to negotiate ideas amongst themselves. The teacher was participating but not too much, and the students seemed to be enjoying themselves whilst working.
The only way I would suggest this stage of the lesson could be improved would be to give the students less time brainstorming the ideas for their magazines, as I thought 20 minutes was quite a long time. This would allow the students to focus more as they would have to think of their plans in a shorter time, and allow for more activities to be covered within the lesson. Overall, the ‘live’ lesson I observed was very good. The students already had a high level of linguistic competence, allowing complex projects to be carried out, such as the magazine task.
The teacher took on several roles during the class such as participant, resource and monitor, and gave instructions clearly. The teacher seemed to interact well with the students, and knew all of their names and nationalities. According to Betty J Wallace (Wallace, 1963: 62) ‘Unless the student feels very much at home with his teacher and his fellow students, he will not be able to achieve the freedom necessary for learning to produce sounds that are strange to him’, and I feel the teacher in this class had succeeded in making her students comfortable enough with her for successful learning.
I found it difficult to make reasoned suggestions for improvement for this lesson, as it was already very effective. In the video lesson I observed, the class was a pre-intermediate group of mixed nationalities. The aim of this lesson was to introduce the concept of superlative adjectives and examine how they are put into practice. Inititally, the class was set up in a ‘horse shoe’ shape. In stage one of the lesson, the teacher elicited key vocabulary which she had pre-taught them beforehand.
I thought the methods the teacher used to elicit the words from the students were good, for example showing them a picture of two vases, one painted and one plain, to elicit the word ‘decorated’. I thought this method was effective as it ensured the students understood the meaning of the word and when to use it, but the teacher made the class say the word together, and some students may not have joined in. The teacher repeated the word several times which should have helped the students remember it, along with its meaning.
As mentioned above, one of the pre-taught words eliticed by the teacher was ‘decorated’, though I feel some of the other words were not overly useful, such as ‘box office’ and ‘best selling’. I think this task could be improved by getting every student to repeat the word individually, rather than all of them as a group. The words taught by the teacher could have been more relevant for a pre-intermediate group, since they probably would not have needed them and the concepts of ‘box office’ and ‘box office takings’ are fairly complicated to explain.
In stage two of the video lesson, the teacher presented the idea of the superlative form of adjectives. She did this by handing out leaflets for the ‘Guinness World of Records’, an exhibition on in London at the time. The teacher then asked the students about the pictures, eliciting the word ‘tallest’ from them, and explored the meaning by using the concept question ‘Is there anyone taller than him in the world? ‘ to which they replied ‘No. ‘, showing they understood the context.
The teacher did not, however, introduce any grammar points or explain the structure of superlatives, and some students stayed quiet during the activity, allowing them to ‘hide’ in class. I feel this stage could have been improved if the teacher had properly introduced the grammar point afterwards, just to ensure the students would remember it. Though I don’t feel the lesson should have been devoted to the grammar point, as Celce-Murcia states ‘grammar teaching can better be thought of as “grammaring” i. e. helping students be able to use grammar skillfully, a goal that requires significant practice’ (Celce-Murcia, 2001:258) it is useful to put grammar into context, I just feel the teacher could have better explained the concept.
I thought it was good that the teacher presented the idea to the students rather than just giving them the words, but it would have been easy for some students to have hidden the fact they were not taking part in the activity. I feel this stage could have been improved by asking every student to take part, and by the teacher asking the students to explain the superlative back to her to ensure their understanding.
The third stage of the video lesson was the reading activity, an information gap exercise. The students were given sheets with questions on, such as ‘Which is the best selling album in the world? ‘, and had to answer the questions by reading texts on the walls of the classroom. Before the activity started, the teacher told them what they had to do and began a pre-reading activity, which involved the students reading the questions out loud and the teacher asking them to guess what the answers might be.
I thought this was effective because it made the students think about what the questions actually meant, though often several students would try to answer at the same time, meaning the teacher had to ignore several guesses. The main reading activity went well, and the students seemed enthusiastic about it. During the activity, the teacher monitored the students, checking they were doing the activity correctly and asking them about the questions. I thought this was good, though sometimes it seemed the teacher was quizzing the students too much, almost distracting them from the actual activity.
Following the main reading activity, the teacher began a post-reading activity, which involved the students reading the questions out loud again and giving their answers. Despite the fact it showed whether the students had understood the texts from their answers, I felt this part of the reading activity was not entirely necessary, as the students had already read the questions out loud and the names of Guinness world records holders would not be useful for them to know.
The reading activity could have been improved by removing the post-reading activity, and by the teacher leaving the students to work for themselves during the main reading activity. Overall, I found the video lesson fairly effective. The teacher should have outlined the grammar point more for the students, as despite the fact it seemed they understood the point, they could have easily forgotten the concept as there was no explanation to link it back to.