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Teaching Tips 77

Lesson shapes

Lesson shapes

This week we take a brief look at lesson shapes, the main stages that make up a lesson. There are many different ways of shaping a lesson & we turn to the shapes that work well for both our students & us. Some might commonly use the following shape for their lessons:

Controlled practice
Reading or listening skills
Speaking through a roleplay or discussion - freer practice of the language introduced earlier in the lesson

Within this shape there is the procedure known as PPP - presentation, practice, production.

A Test-Teach-Test shape enables students to see the relevance of the new language.

Test usually through a speaking task
Teach - the language focus & practice
Test again with a similar speaking task

The students are given some form of test, a roleplay or discussion to see what language they use, then additional language is introduced, & finally the students are tested again with a similar speaking task, putting the new language into practice. This shape might take place over several lessons & might be considered a form of task-based lesson shape. For a simple outline of a task-based approach, see the past Tip 'Taken To Task':

Language teaching has moved towards a discourse-based approach in recent times. One aspect of this is the use of texts in the classroom to provide the context for language. So you might find a lesson shape such as the following:

Text - reading or listening skills development
Language focus through noticing tasks, problem solving, of language within the text
Language consolidation & practice
Speaking skills development or recycling of language from previous lessons

Texts can be either written or spoken, thereby providing reading or listening skills development before a language focus. This language focus can come through a 'noticing' activity, the teacher guiding the students to notice a feature that is present in the text. This feature is then analysed, preferably with the students working out manageable rules themselves, & checked by the teacher. Depending on the focus, a controlled practice task might then take place. Then the final speaking might return to the content of the text in the form of a student response to the text, not demanding production of the language in the prior focus, but practice of some other skills or language from past lessons. This last stage makes the lesson cyclical, going back to the content of the text & the timetable cyclical in that it brings in recycled language from before.

With this last shape, the text is clearly all important. The teacher needs to invest time in looking for Interesting texts, interesting in content & in the language they contain.

There are lots of different lesson shapes, each reflecting a particular approach to language & learning, & there are many pros & cons of each, too many to go into here. The nice thing about a discourse-based lesson shape is the exposure to the language you provide through the text, as well as the context for the language focus. The last stage also recognises the need for time to assimilate language before production in semi-controlled practice activities.

Students like to know where they are going in a lesson & familiar shapes provide this. But as with anything, the familiar can change into the monotonous if used all the time.

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Approach? What approach?

What do you say when asked which approach you take to your teaching? Audiolingual? Communicative? It is the latter, the Communicative Approach, that most teachers might cite. Fair enough, a lot of what we do in class tries to prepare our students for real outside communication, providing the skills necessary to be efficient communicators. But then what about all the other things one might do in class that don't fit into this approach?

So, some might say they take an 'eclectic' approach - they take the best bits from a variety of different approaches, namely the Communicative Approach & some so-called Humanistc approaches such as Total Physical Response, the Silent Way & Community Language Learning. Fair enough, better to provide a variety rather than stick rigidly with one method or approach. The problem with this is that an eclectic approach does give the impression of a way of teaching that might lack fundamental principles, with the teacher doing what they fancy on the day. Maybe not of course.

How about a 'Learner-based' approach. This way of describing your teaching puts the learner at the centre of the process. By taking a Learner-based approach you actually change the way you teach to cater to your learners, dealing with their particular learning background, learning preferences, expectations, needs & interests.

You might take a very traditional approach to your teaching with a group of learners who are starting back to language learning after eight or so years of school language learning. They might be used to & feel comfortable with a familiar Grammar Translation approach intially & as you progress you could try out different approaches to see how they react.

You might have a one-to-one class with a business person who has limited time to study & wishes to maximise time available. This might mean incorporating an internet-based component to the course, & all that this might entail.

A Learner-based approach does not impose a way of learning on the learners but recognises teaching-learning as a process in which the teacher is there to cater to the specific needs, interests & wants of the students in the most appropriate way. OK, we all try to cater to our students needs but how many of us are prepared to step out of out normal practice to deal with different learners?

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paraskevidekatriaphobia Googlewhacking
speed dating

Regular readers of the Tip will know we like word lists. A couple of recent list Tips include:

Beautiful Words - a survey of learners' favourite words:

Get Hip to Chav - the buzzwords of 2004:

This week we have a look at the Macmillan English Dictionary - Most Popular New Words of 2004, some lovely material for our advanced learners. The list is 'based on the number of page views in 2004 of archived articles published in 2004'. Here are the first 25 words in the list (of 52).

2. paraskevidekatriaphobia
3. Googlewhacking
4. bluejacking
5. bissextile
6. freegan
7. orthorexia
8. miswanting
9. studentification
10. speed dating
11. tmesis
12. movieoke
13. potscaping
14. alcolock
15. egosurfing
16. cyberslacking
17. marriage lite
18. pluot
19. retrosexual
20. flyboarding
21. obesogenic
22. Britcom
23. spoiler
24. bird flu
25. tecnology butler

An interesting list. Do you know what they all mean? At the Macmillan site, the words have links to the definitions, examples& commentaries. This is what they have for some of no. 47 - QWERTY phenomenon:

QWERTY (also qwerty) phenomenon noun [U or C]
the tendency to continue using the first available system or product despite the fact that new ideas or new technology could provide better alternatives, or an example of this tendency

The educational system could be considered as a victim of this qwerty phenomenon. Our educational system was designed for a time when the classroom was richer in information than the world outside the classroom. Teachers, trained within this system, teach as they were taught and thus perpetuate the traditional system …’
(W. Lambert Gardiner, 1999)

It’s interesting to think that, as you sit there reading this article and enjoying the benefits of 21st century technology in the form of the World Wide Web, you are more than likely using a piece of equipment based on 19th century technology – the QWERTY keyboard.

Amid observation that old ideas tend to persist (the QWERTY layout is the same today as it was when it was first patented in 1868!) the term QWERTY phenomenon has been coined to refer to the general tendency to stick with what is familiar despite the potential for far more efficient alternatives.

The QWERTY keyboard was designed to deliberately mix up frequently used pairs of letters and therefore prevent the jamming of keys which could occur if a typist worked too quickly. Though keys no longer ‘stick’, the keyboard layout has. There may now be much more practical ways of organising keyboards but the QWERTY standard is so established that any benefits would be considerably outweighed by the effort and cost involved in introducing a new system. The term QWERTY phenomenon encompasses this idea of ‘locking on’ to a particular design solution.

The expression is often used in computing contexts to refer to the persistent use of outdated (also called legacy) software and hardware technology. Interestingly, it has also been adopted by biologists to refer to the way that even living organisms retain features which are no longer useful or relevant. The QWERTY story is an analogy for the way in which biological anomalies get incorporated into living things, such as the existence of wisdom teeth, or the fact that the nerve connections in our eyes are back-to-front.

Interesting, no? I'm sure that if you are teaching advanced learners, you are thinking about how to use it in class. There are lots of possibilities. The list & accompanying information on each word clearly fits into the theme of language & change. Here is a simple matching, using the examples given for the first ten words.

Below are ten words. First, tell your partner the meanings of any that you know. Then try to predict which areas they are connected to - try to come up with an idea for each word.
Now insert the most appropriate word in the sentences below - you may have to change the part of speech.

2. paraskevidekatriaphobia
3. Googlewhacking
4. bluejacking
5. bissextile
6. freegan
7. orthorexia
8. miswanting
9. studentification
10. speed dating


‘Ben Flanagan joins the __________, anti-consumerists who eat supermarket waste that would otherwise be binned …’
(The Observer, 23rd November 2003)

‘Would a 20 percent raise or winning the lottery result in a contented life? You may predict it will, but almost surely it won’t turn out that way. And a new plasma television? … Worse, Gilbert has noted that these mistakes of expectation can lead directly to mistakes in choosing what we think will give us pleasure. He calls this “__________”.
(Jon Gertner, New York Times, 7th September 2003)
‘Welcome to __________ – dedicated to the latest fun (and completely drug free) craze of “__________” – sending anonymous messages to other Bluetooth devices within 30 feet of you – this usually means Mobile Telephones (Cellular Phones) but also includes PDAs with Bluetooth.’
(, 2003)

‘She said the “priceless” expression on the face of her first victim as he tried to work out what was going on has turned her into a regular __________. … To be __________ you must make sure your phone can be discovered by other Bluetooth devices.’
(BBCi News, 4th November 2003)
__________ believe, “My body is a temple, I must eat only high-quality food”.’
(The Observer, September 2001)
‘Let’s leap for joy – today is __________ Day! … Calm down, this story has nothing to do with gender preferences. __________ is the official name of the leap day we add every four years to keep our calendar in kilter.’
(The Virginian-Pilot, 29th February 2004)
‘Wild-haired revolutionaries like Che Guevara have been replaced by clean-cut __________ icons like soccer star David Beckham, musician Ricky Martin and Texas Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez. …
__________… refers to urban, heterosexual men who wax, exfoliate and perform other grooming rituals some consider strictly feminine.’
(, 25th November 2003)
‘But now British men and women who lack the time to conduct a gentle courtship have a new way to find a partner. Welcome to the world of __________, where young singles can meet a prospective partner on a ‘dating conveyor belt’ that allows them three minutes to decide if this is Mr or Ms Right.’
(The Observer, 26th January 2003)
Take two obscure and unrelated words, type them into the google search bar and if the result is a solitary web page you have found a __________.’
(The Observer, 26th October 2003)
‘Students have officially been identified as the new scourge of Britain’s towns and cities in a study blaming “__________” for a string of social evils … They include destroying respectable neighbourhoods by driving out families, triggering rat infestations, causing vandalism and forcing the closure of corner shops in favour of tatty burger bars and cheap off-licences.”
(The Observer, July 2002)
‘Touch wood, cross your fingers, and pop that lucky rabbit’s foot in your pocket – and there will be an almost five-to-one chance that you will not then be troubled today with __________ ­– fear of Friday the 13th.’
(Tim Radford, The Guardian, Friday 13th June 2003)


Answers to the matching

This, & the other words & examples on the site, could be used as a series of warmers or a springboard into the theme of language & social changes. After they have completed the matching, you could look at a few of them with the detailed commentaries from the Macmillan site. Lots of discussion material.

A simple Call My Bluff game could exploit all of this nicely. For those unfamiliar with this activity, it is taken from a BBC tv programme of the same name, & asks participants to choose the correct definition of a word from three definitions read out. You could write out the definitions for some of the above words, or just do a couple & let the students write their own - you will have to tell them to rewrite the original definition in their own words or else the correct one becomes very obvious. As each word comes up, the follow up information from the site could be given out, together with a discussion. Anticipate where the discussions might go & pre-teach or review specific language functions to maximise the time.

A couple of straightforward ideas to bring this material into the
classroom. And then carry on looking at new words with Word of
the Week at:

To check out what the Macmillan English Dictionary site has to offer:

To the MED magazine:

And an addition from Nedra, posted in the Forums:

I used this for a couple of lessons that lasted about an hour, with a short follow-up next class.

Handed out the list and had students scan for any words they knew (generally only 'metrosexual', 'Wi-Fi' and maybe 'bird flu', sometimes 'dirty bomb').

Then ran through new vocabulary which might help students' guess meaning, i.e., 'whack', 'pot', 'scaping' (as in 'land' or 'escape'), 'QWERTY', etc. But as didn't know definition of words myself, my 'help' was fairly organic in terms of what a native speaker might use to deduce meaning.

Each student chose five words and came up with a definition for them.

Introduced exponents of hypothesizing:
"It might/may/could + inf.", "It probably ...", "I reckon it...", "I'm positive it...", "I/I'll/I'd bet it...", "It's bound to + inf.", etc., in three loose categories (pure guess, sure/convinced, and somewhere in the middle).

Also talked about ways of assigning some sort of subject category to the words: "have something to do with...", "be related to...", "have some connection with...", "be used in/for..." (Yes, the groups were quite a high level.)

Went round the class with students explaining the meanings they'd come up with to each other and then discussing other possibilities. I had small groups (<3), so was whole-class activity. I was able to do it with one-to-ones, as I didn't look up the words I didn't know until after doing the activity.

Before the next class, I looked up the words they'd chosen on the Macmillan Web site and gave them a list of definitions to compare with theirs. Used the examples on the site to make up a quick little "test" with their words.

The students had a bit of fun, and it gave them practice in deducing meaning from what they know. Correct answers guessed included: 'potscaping', 'bluewhacking' and 'fat tax'.

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