Demystifying the ‘horrible phrasals’: a closer look at learner problems and the ways of approaching teaching multi-word verbs
There are 5 female students in the group: S, M, J, MN and N. Their ages range from early to mid 20s. They all have arrived in the UK only recently and are still trying to settle in the local community. Their first language is Urdu; some of the learners also speak Punjabi and Arabic. It is the first ESOL course they embarked on since they moved to the UK. They have been studying together since April and show a lot of enthusiasm, commitment and motivation. They arrive on time, are eager to learn and leave the class reluctantly. We meet twice a week on Tuesdays (9.30 – 12.00) and Thursdays (13.00- 15.00). The course has been planned in response to the learners’ requirements stated in the needs analysis carried out during the first session, and will be supported with a variety of materials. It has been scheduled to run for 10 weeks, but will most likely restart after summer holidays.
The students are all housewives at the moment but are actively looking for employment. They want to improve their English skills to have better job prospects, communicate with family and people in the community and to get a qualification in English (ESOL Entry 3). They have a very positive attitude towards the English language, and although they consider it to be a rather difficult language they all stated they liked it, and using English gives them a lot of satisfaction.
The learners have been educated in Pakistan, however to a different level: S, M and N completed Master’s degrees, whereas J and MN graduated high school. Except for this English class, M and N are attending an IT course, and other ladies are thinking of enrolling on a few vocational courses to pursue their different hobbies.
There is some diversity in their English language abilities. J, is the weakest student in the group and needs to put a lot of work in to bring her English competence (which is now at higher-elementary level across all the skills), to the level of the other students in the group. She does however put a lot of effort to keep up with other learners, who in turn are very encouraging and supportive of her. S comes across as a shy learner, who is, nevertheless, quite able, understands a lot and can express her opinions on any subject when prompted by the teacher. N, M and MN are quite confident and fluent though lack accuracy and range of lexis and grammar. If allowed, M, as the most able student in the class, tends to dominate the group. All the students express the need to focus their learning on speaking, with particular emphasis on pronunciation, vocabulary development and grammar accuracy.
In terms of their reading and writing skills, J needs the most help; other learners can cope with different text types with medium teacher support. They are keen to work with authentic materials and are not deterred by unknown lexis. We have started working on developing their autonomy and introduced monolingual dictionary into the repertoire of their learning aids.
They are a very lively group, with a good sense of humour and inner dynamics. Using Nunan’s terminology (Nunan 1995), they could be described as ‘communicative’, i.e. they like to learn by listening to native speakers, talking to friends in English and watching TV in English, using English out of class, learning words by hearing them and learning by conversation. The learning style questionnaire I carried out at the beginning of the course revealed that they are fairly balanced in their visual and auditory learning preferences, and none of them is particularly fond of kinaesthetic type activities. They enjoy learning in small groups and appreciate homework.
In the previous lessons the students were discussing advantages and disadvantages of different types of jobs and different ways of looking for employment. In the observed lesson the students will be introduced to a set of MWVs also related to the topic of employment. This lesson will be followed by a session focused on developing speaking skills through role play activities in the context of work interview, which will give the SS an opportunity to recycle the MWVs introduced in the observed lesson.
Anticipated problems and solutions
Problem: The SS might find the listening too difficult.
Problem: The SS may encounter other unknown vocabulary.
Problem: There is an odd number of students and setting pair activities leaves one student out.
Materials and teaching aids:
The reason for focusing on MWVs with this particular class is threefold:
The choice of the six phrasal verbs presented and practised in the lesson was primarily dictated by the SS’ learning needs and learning environment. Most of my learners are immigrants who need the sort of vocabulary that helps them with their search for employment and in everyday life. Therefore, the chosen MWVs are linked by the theme of work which they will hopefully find engaging and relevant, therefore easier to learn.
The procedure I intend to follow in the lesson is Lewis’s OHE - Observe-Hypothesise – Experiment (Lewis 1993). Unlike the teacher-centred and over-elaborate PPP - Present – Practice - Produce procedure, OHE allows my students to better exploit their learning strategies and preferences, and also leaves room for the teacher to employ well-proven vocabulary teaching techniques such as: lexical drills, and/or to help the students organise newly acquired lexis.
In the observation stage of the lesson, the MWVs will first be presented in 6 short listening texts. The listening input is then reinforced with written input. This is to support learners who might have problems with the listening material, and also to help SS notice the targeted MWVs. Having two kinds of input is also motivated by the SS’ learning styles and preferences.
In the hypothesising stage SS’ attention is refocused on the form, meaning and use of the MWVs. The learners are encouraged to notice the form and the syntactic behaviour of MWVs, and to work out the meaning of MWVs for themselves through guided discovery-type tasks and with the support of concept questions asked by the teacher. Such approach gives me a chance to find out what learners already know or partially know. It is also cognitively engaging, which, as mentioned in part I, facilitates successful learning and retention.
In the next, experimenting stage, ex. 5 is designed to provide two ways of putting the new words to use, first in the reformulation of the original questionnaire from ex. 1, and in the follow up speaking activity by interviewing each other. Task 4 focuses on meaningful chunking and reinforcing the SS’ awareness of the fact that certain MWVs can be separable. Task 6 provides the SS with a neat record of all the MWVs presented in the lesson and encourages them to find collocations for each of the verbs. Task 7 is an extension of task 6 and offers the SS a chance to personalize the new lexis in their own sentences.
Throughout the lesson the SS are given multiple exposures to the targeted MWVs (both in isolation and contextualised in sentences and short texts), which as I argued in part I is essential for better retention. The SS will be closely monitored at all stages of the lesson, and I will make note of any persistent errors or problems to deal with through feedback or in the future remedial and revision work.
The 6 exponentsI have chosen for the lesson are:
It is impossible to be dogmatic about the number of new lexical items that should be optimally introduced in, say, a 60-minute lesson. Gairns & Redman (1986) suggest an average input of 8 – 12 productive items (the lower figure more suitable for elementary levels, the upper figure for more advanced students). I have decided to present 6 MWV as I did not want to overload the SS, also it would be hard to find more MWV related to the topic of work that are reasonably frequent and useful.
GET ON WITH
Timing: 3 mins
Procedure: T welcomes everybody. T writes a gapped sentence on the board:
The best job in the world is…because…
and elicits some ideas from SS . T asks if SS can guess what the topic of the lesson will be and tries to elicit work from SS.
Stage and aims:
2. Observation phase:
Timing: 15 mins
Procedure: T introduces the task by explaining to the SS that she carried out a mini survey about work-related matters amongst her friends. T shows SS the questions she asked and explains SS will listen to the recorded answers and have to match them with the questions. T sets the task:
T tells the SS to look at the sentences in task 2 on the worksheets and asks them to read the sentences and decide which speaker used them in their answers.
SS do the tasks in pairs. SS listen to check their answers, then feedback through teacher.
3. Hypothesising phase:
Timing: 20 mins
1. T refocuses SS’s attention on the phrasal verbs in the answers. SS list the verbs on their handouts and T puts them on the board
2. T drills pronunciation (in lexical phrases) and marks the stress for each phrasal verb. Choral and individual drills.
Fill in this form please.
He dressed up for the party.
She has to look for a job.
I can’t slack off at work.
They want to take me on.
I get on well with my boss.
4. T focuses SS’s attention on the meaning of the phrasal verbs. SS work in pairs. SS look at the answers in ex. 2 and try to guess the meaning of each phrasal verb. Then match each phrasal verb to the definition given ex. 3. Feedback – comparing with other SS, then check with T.
4. Experimenting phase:
Timing: 20 mins
SS proceed with the task.
4. SS work individually. T asks them to write 3 sentences about themselves using the phrasal verbs and their collocations in them. T monitors for mistakes, makes a note of any persisting errors to deal with in the next class. Quick feedback.
Timing: 2 mins
Procedure: T recapitulates the lesson, a few quick drills with picture prompts. Then sets homework.
Lesson plan materials
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