Teaching functional exponents for making, rejecting & accepting suggestions
by Esther Ratcliff
Anticipated problems and solutions
Problems with the Tasks
Problem: Students might not understand the ranking activity in stage 1 and that they have to say which are their favourite ways to spend time with friends.
Solution: If this happens, I will set up the activity again, and ask them to say which I like the best and least. I will remind students that they have to think of most favourite to least favourite for them. I will remind students of the language for sequencing we have already done in class.
Problem: Students might find the listening for gist task in stage one challenging. They are used to doing listening whilst reading the tapescript.
Solution: If this is a problem, students can follow the tapescript and answer the listening for gist question.
Problem: Students might not understand the concept of the flowchart activity and I expect the students to need a lot of help with the speaking activity.
Solution: I will model the activity with a strong student. I will check instructions by asking ‘Are you going to read?’ ‘Are you going to listen’? ‘Are you going to write?’.
Problem: I think some students will have difficult grasping the concept of the diary writing activity in that they don’t realise what they actually have to write in the spaces.
Solution: I will model an example with a strong student. I will remind the students that they must write the activities that the person agrees to do, not the ones they don’t want to do, and that the objective is to write as many as possible.
Problems with the language
Problem: Students might struggle for some of the lexis in stage one.
Solution: Try and get the students to explain the vocabulary in English to me or other students and write the vocabulary on the board.
Problem: Students might struggle with the verb-noun phrase ‘do some internet shopping’
Solution: Tell students that some is used with uncountable nouns, and it is an alternative to go shopping.
Problem: Students might get confused by the language in the exponents, especially ‘about’ in ‘how about’ and ‘what about’ because students might only have come across ‘about’ as meaning ‘approximately’ i.e. about 8 O’clock, or as ‘relating to’ i.e. ‘it’s about a love story’
Solution: I will reassure students that there are various possibilities, but that here the exponent carries the functional meaning of suggestions.
Problem: Students might struggle with some of the vocabulary in the listening. This is likely to be more problematic in stage 5 rather than stage 2.
Solution: I will have already pre-taught/checked some items in stage 2 in order to do the tasks, and if they become confused by any language in stage 5, I will tell them to underline any new vocabulary but not to worry about it at this stage.
Problem: Students might have a problem with the pronunciation of ‘how’ in ‘how about’, as they often get this confused with ‘who’
Solution: I will prompt the students to self-correct if this happens.
Problem: In stage 4 students are likely to find the activity about tonal movement difficult as they find hearing the differences in pronunciation very subtle.They are also likely to find it difficult to produce the correct tonal movement with the responses such as ‘sounds lovely!’
Solution: I will mark on the tonal movement with a board marker which will help them as they will be able to see and hear the movement at the same time.With the responses, I will mark on the stressed words in the responses, i.e Sounds lovely!
Problem: Students might struggle with the disappearing dialogue activity in stage 6. Some of the students struggle with memory games and tasks that we have done before.
Solution: I can skip back a few slides to remind the students of the form of the phrases before continuing.
Problem: Students might forget to use the gerund form of the verb after ‘how about’ and ‘what about’ because students often take a while to fully internalise verb patterns with the gerund and say ‘how about go/see a film’.
Solution: I will help them to self-correct, or by skipping back a few slides to remind them of the form.
Problem: These students are beginners and are likely to slip into Spanish during the communicative stages in the lesson.
Solution: I will try to remind students of the target language where possible, and also help them to reformulate any emerging language in English where possible.However some L1 is inevitable.
Problems with classroom management
Problem: There is student (Conchi) who will often over-translate things into L1 for her classmates.
Solution: I will help her to reformulate the answer in English and encourage her to explain things in English rather than translate into Spanish, but this might not be possible all of the time.
Problem: I think the strong students are likely to finish the activities more quickly than some of the weaker students.
Solution: I will try and pair strong and weak students, however the point of the communicative activity is that all the students speak to each other. If this problem arises I will encourage the strong students to recall the target language from memory to see how much they can remember.
Problems with technology
Problem: There is a problem with the audio.
Solution: I will check the audio before class, and if necessary read the tapescript.
Problem: The PC, projector or the USB fails to work.
Solution: I will use the white board.
The idea behind adopting a functional approach to this class was due the wider reading I had done, namely, Wilkins’ work on Notional Syllabuses. It is fair to say that most course books nowadays can be classes as ‘multi-syllabus’ in that they incorporate various types of functional language, but in my experience, I would say teachers and coursebooks to some extent, still pay more attention to grammar and vocabulary rather than more communicative language.
These students study English for three hours a week. Some of them use it in their jobs, but others will only speak English in class. I was aware that a lot of the syllabus so far had presented grammar and vocabulary very systematically, and I thought that functional language would be a good opportunity to give the students some useful language that has immediate use in the classroom environment. I find with beginners, a lot of the coursebook material presents language and expects students to personalise the language to be able to talk or write about themselves. If there are activities which require information exchange, this is to practice a grammar point. I find the information exchange which uses functional exponents has less prominence in beginner syllabuses, but in reality this is the type of language students will have to use in real situations, rather than being able to talk about things they do in the past simple for example. We had also been doing a lot of work on the past, past simple regular and irregular verbs for example. The idea of suggestions seemed appealing because even though students haven’t studied the future yet, making suggestions is a way of talking about the future, as it looks forward, and hence makes a nice change to the regular content of the classes.
The overall shape of the lesson takes the form of a PPP approach. I would not always take this approach for this system, but in the case of a beginners group, I thought that it was the most appropriate way to stage this lesson because as beginners they need a lot of scaffolding and support. It is also because as beginners, the PPP approach is a familiar and manageable approach. Presenting the target language through a listening, students see the language in an authentic context. The decision to let the students read and listen to the tapescript at the same time is because this is something that they are used to, and it is also a valuable tool for beginners. I find that it creates a calming sense in the classroom, and students’ language doubts or confusions become clearer when they see the written word. Besides, this is crucial for developing receptive skills in beginners. However I also decided to add an alternative stage to this, in case I am pushed for time. This would mean that the students don’t hear the listening again, but see the phrases in isolation. I decided this because I don’t want to compromise the final stages of practice by listening to the recording again. The students can take the tapescript away with them, should they want to look at the phrases in context.
Also having a beginner group of students of mixed age, means that there is a wide range of learning styles in the group, some of the older members of the group feel more comfortable doing grammar activities while perhaps some of the younger students are more keen to tackle more pieces of language. This is what one learner said: ‘Grammar rules aren’t enough, I need to know what to say’. (Parsons 2011:19) I feel that as my students approach the end of their first year of formal studying, that they share this sentiment and this lesson allows them to develop more fluency. By adopting a functional approach teachers adhere to the real needs of the students. As Hedge says, ‘the advantage of this reprioritisation is that it makes the language dimension subservient to, rather than dominant over, the needs of the learners’ (2000:171).
Hedge, T (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom Oxford
Eales, F (2011) Speakout Elementary Student’s book Pearson Longman
Parsons, J (2011) Speakout Elementary Teacher’s book Pearson Longman
Scrivener, J (2005) Learning Teaching MacMillan
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