Why create your own lessons on the CELTA course

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Danny Norrington-Davies writes about the value of creating your own lessons during the CELTA course.

Last week Ali Jordan shared her experience of designing and teaching her own lesson on her recent CELTA course. In this follow up post Danny suggests ways in which these lessons can be extended when you start your first job and have more time with your students.

Get ready for life after CELTA

Though not every trainee does this, there are a number of sound reasons for finding your own texts or creating your own lessons on the CELTA course.

The following are a selection gathered from CELTA trainers and trainees on recent courses:

  • You can choose a topic, text or task that you believe will interest, motivate and challenge your students.
  • If you choose topics or texts that you’re interested in, it’s likely that your enthusiasm for the topic will come across during the lesson.
  • It can cut planning time.  Because the lesson is your idea it’s often easier for you to put it into words.
  • By choosing to use an authentic text, the learners are exposed to real language and a better range of genres.
  • You don’t need to try to work out what another materials writer is trying to do. The rationale behind the lesson is all your own.
  • It encourages you to be creative.
  • It develops your ability to start looking at texts as potential lessons. As Ali said in her post, “if you feel an idea forming, go with it”.
  • It can be extremely motivating. Trainees often say they enjoyed their own lessons more than the ones they were given.
  • If all goes well, it’s very possible you’ll be able to use the lesson again when you start teaching.

 How could Ali adapt her lesson in the future?

 As Ali pointed out in her evaluation of the lesson, the main problem she had was with the timing and not being able to do everything she wanted to.

However, this was only a problem within the confines of the CELTA course and the teaching practice schedule, where trainees often teach for only 40 minutes or 1 hour at a time.

This often means that trainees are encouraged to focus more on teaching points (or aims) and less on what Allwright (2005) calls learning opportunities.

With a longer lesson, Ali felt she would be able to have more time and space to exploit the learning opportunities, such as getting students to share what they had read during the jigsaw reading stage and to challenge each other’s opinions more, as well as having more time to work with emergent language.

Therefore, in the next section I’ll suggest ways in which Ali’s lesson could be extended so it could last for up to 3 hours, the standard length of a morning General English class at IH.

As I do this I’ll also highlight the learning opportunities and suggest how the teacher could exploit these moments.

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Lesson procedure and learning opportunities

1. Lead in:

Using a visual prompt, the students talk about what they associate with kings or queens, e.g. possessions, duties, role etc.

This lead in was very effective, though on the CELTA course there is often the need to keep this stage quite short.

In your own classroom this may not need to be the case, and therefore there is real scope for extending the discussion and letting opinions or arguments emerge. For example, the students may end up discussing whether they think being a ruler is an easy or difficult job, or whether there should even be a royal family.

There is also scope for a lot of interesting language to emerge during the discussions, e.g. observe protocol, go on official engagements or be a monarchist or republican. In short, don’t be afraid to allow your lead-ins to become discussions, debates or arguments.

These can be extremely stimulating and eye-opening, and they usually generate a lot of interesting and useful new lexis.

2. Jigsaw reading task:

The students read one of the texts (Jackie Collins or Annie Mac) and find 4 things each person would do if they were queen for a day

This is a simple and effective reading task which doesn’t need to be adapted that much, though as you monitor the students in their groups, you can get the learners to also explore why the writers would do what they do.

Asking why is such a valuable and effective way of pushing students to show you what they have understood in a text, and there is great value in taking your time here.

You can also ask the learners what they think of the proclamations in the text, thereby getting them to express their opinions more. In sum, as you get feedback to reading or listening tasks, explore not only how the students came to their answers but what they think about the content. This is often what we do in real life.

3. Students find a partner who has read a different text to exchange ideas:

Information gaps such as the one in Ali’s lesson provide learners with extensive and purposeful speaking practice in which the learners are ‘motivated by a communicative goal and not simply by the need to display correct language’ (Thornbury 2006:36).

They also encourage learners to push themselves and reformulate language as they paraphrase what they have read.

You can also use jigsaw readings to encourage students to process texts more deeply by getting them to choose which text they like the most or agree with the most.

In Ali’s lesson, after exchanging the information about their texts, the learners could decide which writer would make the better queen and why. I’m going with Jackie Collins by the way.

4. Students look back at the text to find examples of ‘would’

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5. The teacher uses discovery questions to focus on the meaning, form and phonology of ‘would’ for hypothetical intentions:

Ali made very good use of this very simple yet effective noticing task, though I’d be tempted to move these two stages to later in the lesson, after the learners have made their own proclamations.

I believe both the text and the communicative task would prime the learners to reflect on how ‘would’ was being used in the lesson and encourage them to make their own rules, e.g. “we were using ‘would’ today when we imagined we were the queen for a day and decided what rules to make”.

This can then be followed by a focus on form and phonology.

6. Students complete a gap fill to practice the form of ‘would’

Ali said this was the hardest part of the lesson to create but it turned out to be useful bit of controlled or form focused practice, but again, this could really be extended and made more communicative.

To do this, after feedback tell the students you think each of the gap fill rules are a terrible idea, and give an example, e.g. “Chocolate should be free”.

This is a terrible idea because if all chocolate was free it would run out pretty quickly, and all the cocoa farmers in the world would go out of business.

This stops the activity being only form focused by encouraging the learners to think critically about the content.

7. Students decide on what they would do if they were king or queen for the day and share ideas:

Before the speaking task the learners could be given preparation time in which they think about their proclamations.

As this is happening, the teacher can monitor and feed in language that the students need.

You could also inform the students that they will need to defend their proclamations in feedback, thereby preventing this stage from becoming too mechanical.

As in the previous stage, you are encouraging the learners to think critically about their ideas and to develop arguments.

8. Feedback as students share their ideas:

As the learners share their ideas, encourage them to look for flaws in each others’ proclamations.

By encouraging higher order thinking skills like this, the learners will be encouraged to take longer turns as they defend their choices.

You also encourage the learners to interact more as they need to listen to one another in order to make the kind of arguments that would end in their being crowned king or queen.

You can also use this stage to explore emergent language, i.e., by exploring the kind of strategies and functional phrases the students used to agree and disagree with one another.

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Creating, developing and progressing

I hope that these two posts will show current and future trainees that it is possible to create your own engaging, challenging and purposeful lessons using interesting texts or tasks.

Ali’s lesson was all those things, and she employed some great techniques in using information gap activities, noticing tasks and extensive communicative stages.

The only thing preventing her from exploiting the lesson to the full was time, which she has now. Therefore, as she said in her post, don’t be afraid to have a go.

Then, when you’ve taught the lesson, start thinking of ways you can extend it when you use it again in the future.

Good luck!

Bibliography

Allwright, D. (2005) From teaching points to learning opportunities and beyond.Tesol Quarterly.39.1:  9-31

Thornbury, S. (2006) An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: McMillan

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