and Conversation with a
Focus at Elementary Level
by Sam Smith
- lesson plan 1
use this lesson per se, you will need the second listening
extract about meeting a long lost relative - from Cutting
Edge Intermediate Students' Book, unit 2 - not included here)
The lesson comes after about two and a half months of studying
together, in this time we've been revising some basic grammar
from what the students did last year, trying to increase the
students' basic vocabulary, especially for talking about yourself
and things closely related to immediate life, but mainly working
on the students skills work, particularly listening and speaking.
This has come from the wide range of levels in the group and
the difficulties we have had working together on communicative
tasks resulting from this.
This lesson is part of a series of lessons looking at features
of conversation or specific speaking skills. We have already
worked on narrative tenses, functional exponents for agreeing,
disagreeing, stating your own opinion and asking for clarification.
We have also spent quite a lot of time getting students used
to what is expected of them in pair and group work.
The topic of the unit we have just finished is the family
and friends, with a lot of importance being paid to childhood
friends, relationships with brothers and sisters and the family
in general. The subject of this lesson, therefore follows
on from that.
In this lesson we are focusing on phrases for showing interest
as a way to improve the students' conversational skills, having
looked at other aspects of conversation (as mentioned above)
in previous lessons and we will continue with the same in
future lessons too. The reason for focusing so much on conversation
skills in general is that as the group has a wide range of
levels in it, the weaker students have shown signs of getting
frustrated at not being able to say what they want and often
resort to using Spanish. I hope that by making them more aware
of some useful phrases and conversational techniques in English
(along with a lot of work on vocabulary) they will begin to
use them instead of resorting to Spanish.
The main focus of the lesson, showing interest in what another
speaker says, is something I have noticed to be distinctly
lacking in my students' repertoire. In my opinion, this is
a cultural difference between English and Spanish, having
never noticed anyone using questions, or simple phrases such
as 'yeah' in my experience of interacting in Spanish. From
my own experience of learning foreign languages I realise
the difficulty students have with doing something like this
naturally and hope to raise their awareness of this so that
it can be something encouraged in future.
The second conversational or discourse feature looked at in
the lesson is that of 'fillers' to give yourself time to think
and a few phrases for getting back on to your subject or framing
what you want to say, e.g. 'well, erm' and 'what I did was.....'
but essentially, helping you speak by reducing processing
time and again, gaining time to think.
The reason for looking at them is essentially the same as
the reason for looking at the phrases for showing interest,
that I've noticed them lacking in my students, and often hear
'bueno' and 'pues'. Again, from my own use of Russian and
Spanish I realise their importance and the difficulty in using
The third thing, important to this lesson is giving students
preparation time before telling their anecdotes, repeating
the task and encouraging them to notice some relevant features
from the listening. This is all with the aim of developing
the students' language use in terms of using structures well,
using a better range of structures and finding the right vocabulary
item that does not appear at the time of speaking, but can
possibly be recalled from a deeper store, asked for from the
teacher or found in the dictionary and then used.
1st personalised task is listening to the teacher after 1st
making predictions about his story. It is aimed at introducing
the topic of the lesson, providing the students with an example
and hopefully some inspiration as well as some useful listening
This is followed by the students preparing and then telling
a similar anecdote to a partner. The preparation should improve
the quality of the students' language and the interest in
each other and chance that the story might not be true should
provide a reason for listening.
Students will then evaluate their spoken performance with
a view to noticing the gap between their own English and what
they later hear.
The next activities focus on a listening text, firstly using
it for practising skills of predicting content and checking
predictions before using it as a jigsaw task to notice the
above-mentioned features of conversation. After the students
share their information from the noticing activity, they use
the same text to 1st practice intonation and secondly try
and predict the phrases used before listening to check their
predictions in 2 'controlled' practice exercises.
Again with a small amount of preparation time the students
then retell their anecdotes to a different partner, to maintain
motivation, while an observer pays attention to the phrases
used by both the speaker and listener. This should give the
students some more freer speaking practice and hopefully get
feedback from the observer that they have done the task well.
The lesson finishes with some self evaluation for the students'
on-going progress and some feedback for the teacher as to
their opinion of the lesson's usefulness.
The group is an in-company, closed group in the Ministry of
Justice in Madrid and classes are held in a 'meeting' room
in the ministry.
The course runs from November to May and is supposed to have
only half as much content as a general English course in the
main school due to the need to revise so much after the long
break in the summer.
The students are all working people in various departments
of the ministry with a rough age range of late twenties to
early fifties, there are 8 women and 3 men.
There are 11 students in the group and their level is roughly
elementary, though this is a very broad statement. When the
group was formed, 2 groups were combined, one of them having
done a similar course at this level before and the other not,
thus creating a very large difference in level between the
students in the group. This was caused by a lack of resources
from the ministry and all students were aware of this before
beginning the course. The students of the higher level had
the choice of doing this course or no English at all. Due
to this and good nature, they have been very tolerant with
their weaker class mates and so far we haven't had any real
problems of frustration causing a lack of motivation and do
enjoy a good supportive atmosphere in class.
The difference in level at the beginning of the course, in
my opinion was also exacerbated by the 2 initial groups having
very different attitudes towards learning caused by their
success in language learning in general, their natural abilities
to learn and their previous teaching. The stronger group were
very positive about their prior learning experiences when
we talked in tutorials, whereas the weaker group were negative
about their progress and ability to learn. From talking to
their previous teachers I also got greatly different opinions
about teaching them, the weaker group was very difficult last
This year though, the atmosphere in class has been good and
the main problems due to the difference in level has been
the slower pace in general but particularly the lack of communicative
confidence and power of the weaker students causing them to
rely a lot on their stronger partners and robbing them of
the spoken practice they really need.
is one of the weakest when listening, instructions often have
to be explained several times and she does badly in listening
activities, though she is improving. When we began the course
she hardly said anything in English but now she tries to express
herself, though very inaccurately.
Marta is making good progress despite having a physical hearing
problem. She was one of the weakest, but now she finds speaking
in English easier and makes good use of her good basic grammar.
Carmen is one of the oldest in the group and has a lot of
problems speaking and listening, her negative feelings towards
her own progress are restricting her improvement, but she
tries hard and succeeds when she knows what to do with simple
structures and activities.
Julio was in the weaker group but even though his self expression
suffers from his pronunciation he is making excellent progress
and is now one of the most communicative in the group. His
grammar and other skills work are fine at this level.
Aurora finds most activities challenging but is improving
her listening and speaking. Her grammar and vocabulary are
quite limited though.
Anna is making good progress and improving on a strong but
basic knowledge of the language, she is confident to express
herself and shows a desire to improve all round.
Carmen Bueno is probably the strongest in the group and finds
most tasks relatively easy. When given the chance she is keen
to use her English fully and has a natural ability to pick
up and use a lot of new language.
Rosa is a strong student, having little problem in all skills
work. She takes a little time to warm herself to a difficult
activity but when she gets into something she really gets
involved and can communicate with great fluency.
Julio Serrano is very good in all areas of the language and
is very keen to improve and learn. He is quietly spoken and
sometimes a little shy and usually allows his class mates
to speak first.
Juan Carlos is a good lively student with a good ability to
communicate. He is always trying to improve and asks lots
of questions. He shows a wide knowledge of vocabulary and
grammar and is in the process of integrating it all, thus
he makes a lot of mistakes and needs and asks for a lot of
Belen is one of the oldest in the group, she has a good knowledge
of vocabulary and grammar and does try to improve, however
her learning style is poor, she knows what she thinks is right
and what she thinks she should be doing and it is sometimes
difficult for me and the other students to persuade her otherwise.
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