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Dissecting a lesson: speaking and listening

The Smiths in Yosemite 2016
I am adapting an example of a lesson from Chapter 3 of Jack C. Richards' book Key Issues in Language Teaching (2015). The original lesson was planned by Diana Croucher, an English language teacher in Barcelona. This could be used with a good intermediate or advanced class and is a good example of the communicative approach at work. Students receive lots of comprehensible input and opportunities to adapt it for their own needs.

The topic is a memorable event in life.

1. Display a photo depicting an event from your life. It could be something like a wedding, a holiday, a graduation or sports achievement. Do some whole class question-answer work on describing the picture. Where is it? Who is it? What do you see? What was happening? You could scaffold this bit with some sentence options on the board.

2. Tell the class you are going to describe an important event in your life. It could be the one suggested by the photo or another one. You might bring in an artefact of some sort to support your story, e.g. a souvenir. The account can be short and easy for some classes, longer and more complex for others. Tell the class they have to note down anything they understand in English. Recount the story a couple of times, making sure you use those techniques for making language comprehensible; slowing down, repeating, rephrasing, using gesture, for example.

3. Ask the class in either L1 or L2 (depending on the class) to share their notes with a partner, then report them back to the teacher. If the class reports back in L1, then write up notes on the board in L2 (instant translation). Make sure to reuse language you used in your account, saying it out loud.

4. Then rub out parts of your displayed language, as much or as little as suits the class. Get students in pairs to then recreate your original account in the target language. They should then rep[ort it back to you, at which point you might make some light-touch recasts or corrections.

5. Then tell students they have to talk about an important event in their own life. Give them 10 minutes to make some notes in the target language - but not to write a whole script. They should then deliver their account to a partner. Then select a small number of students to report back to you what their partner said.

6.  As a written task, possibly for homework, students can then write out and/or record their account.

For an intermediate class, your account could be something like this:

Last year my wife and I had an amazing holiday in Canada. We took the plane to Toronto. We spent three days with our friends in an Air BnB in Toronto and visited the sights of the city. It was great. Then we took a train from Toronto all the way to Vancouver. What a trip! The journey takes four days, so you sleep three nights on the train. we saw forests, lakes, prairies and stunning mountains. The food and service on the train was excellent and we met lots of interesting people of different nationalities.

For an advanced class you would go into more detail.

So there you have a typical, low prep lesson in the communicative style, with a strong focus on listening comprehension and interaction, with some focus on spoken and written accuracy. The subject matter should be pretty interesting, especially if you can personalise it effectively.


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