The other day I was participating in an excellent workshop by a colleague demonstrating how an unplugged lesson might go. Having initiated an entertaining and fruitful speaking activity, and having got the ‘students’ to board much of the dialogue, groups then decided what possible language points could be focused on to improve the range of the output.
The teachers came up with all kinds of ideas including question tags, question formation, slang for phone conversations, etc. The workshop then went on to demonstrate various possible practice activities, using the initial language/context, that didn’t require photocopies. We all went away happy and satisfied.
Then my usual internal cynicism and nay saying kicked in and I started to wonder about how this would have worked with certain colleagues I have observed numerous times over the last few years…
Colleague A: Only teaches lower levels and loves to correct errors, particularly ones were ‘rules’ can be taught. Every delayed feedback session invariably leads to an explanation of the difference between present perfect and past simple. Without fail.
Colleague B: Has been experimenting with TBL and Dogme but on a few occasions has perceived that students need exponents for expressing certainty, whether or not it was really relevant to what they were trying to say.
Both are able teachers and have been doing it a long time but always seem to perceive the same student needs. Hmm…
Thinking back to the workshop I then questioned my own choice of language point to work with (elision and substitution) and those of my peers. Would I ever have opted to focus on the language points they had chosen? Would they have ever considered mine? Maybe, but maybe not, and if not are the students any worse off?
All of this has led me to ask myself a few questions to which I have no answers:
• As a teacher, what can I do to make sure I don’t get stuck only helping students with the areas of language I’m most comfortable with?
• As an observer, how I can I help other teachers to expand the range of knowledge gaps that they pick up on?
• For teachers who are seriously restricted in terms of what they can notice (inexperienced/stuck in their ways), is a syllabus/coursebook such a bad idea? What if this is the only way that they will cover certain language points the students want and need to communicate effectively?
It could very well be that this is all just my own misunderstanding about some aspect of unplugged teaching, but any clarification would be greatly appreciated.
Help me oh wise ELT gurus…