Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's a Family Affair

Image source: D Sharon Pruitt

Last week, I asked everyone to bring in family pictures.  This has always made for lively sessions, so I thought it would make a great stimulus for another "new Dogme teacher" lesson.

In the past, I've used a more traditional approach to focus on the topic of families and relationships.  You know the drill: start with a warmup picture of a family, students take in a language sample associated with the picture, do comprehension and vocabulary exercises, highlight the target language, do controlled and semi-controlled activities and FINALLY, students get to share their own pictures and try to use the new form as they talk.  Thanks to the photos, these  lessons have always been fun but I think their power is diminished by putting them at the end of the lesson.

This time, we started right in on the sharing.  I had some ideas of target form (review of possessive pronouns, contrast possessive 's with contractions that use 's) but stayed open to other language needs as they arose. As students talked, I quietly wrote some of their comments on the board for later discussion. Language that emerged included: "How many years ago?"  "How long ago?"  "How old is he?" "You look like your father."  "I have my mother's eyes."

The last lesson I reported on was more teacher-driven.  This one was closer to "true" Dogme, in my opinion.  I used personal stimulus, encouraged students to relate to it, facilitated their interaction, noted emerging language, paused to review and answer language-related questions, then we continued with awareness of the new learning.

That's not to say it was perfect: I drew a blank when it came to reinforcing activities (again).  But, you know what?  I wonder if it isn't all that bad to just informally assess the "live" conversations, call attention to the form, go home and think about it a bit and then begin the next class with an activity or two.  It would not only  provide review but it would allow anyone who was not present to catch up and it could be a warmup too!  As I try various activities, I'm sure they'll start coming to mind more easily in the future.

So, what activity could I do next time?  Looking under "Focusing on Form" in my trusty copy of Teaching Unplugged, I see the activity "Most Politicians, Few Dogs".  I can see making a table to (re)examine the "How ... ago?" forms.  Begin with "How long ago did you [lots of verb phrases like "come to this country"]?  Follow with "How many [years, days, weeks, months, minutes, seconds] ago did you [choose your own verb phrase]?"  Pass around some new photos (students who didn't bring any last time are planning to share next time) and try to use the language as we talk about the photos.  Maybe highlight the other forms with more activities and then share more pictures.

Student homework was to think about their family tree, so we'll move on to that next -- make a family tree with your name blank.  Hang on the wall, have a gallery browse where people guess which student goes with which tree, then have people study a tree that's not their own and report on it to the class. The tree "owner" can correct, clarify and expand as needed.

I'm starting to understand the notion of  "planning" a lesson AFTER giving it.  It seems so natural ...

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