Tell them what we’re doing! (guest note by Ewa Torebko)

Ready forSummer!

I met Ewa last August during Luiza’s Wójtowicz-Waga’s workshop where she shared her way of lesson planning and sharing it with her students. I found the idea just brilliant, so I asked her to write a guest post for my blog, so that you have the opportunity to learn from the master herself.

Thank you ever so much, Ewa!

Tell them what you’re doing and why!

Should you inform your students what the objectives of your lesson are?

Should you sum up or ask them to sum up what has been done and what they have learnt?

Do students remember best the things from the beginning and from the end of the lesson?

Yes, yes, and yes!!!

How do you inform them? How do you sum up? Do you simply tell them, write it on the board, elicit it from them?

One day, I decided I needed a clear graphic system that would help me with presenting the objectives and summing up the lesson. I found some images online, I drew others, I printed them out and laminated them, and this is what I came up with:

Ewa Torebko

photo by Ewa Torebko

  • an ear – for listening activities,
  • a open book – for reading activities,
  • a mouth – for speaking activities,
  • a pen – for writing activities,
  • I  ❤  grammar – (surprisingly) for grammar tasks,
  • a pile of flashcards – for vocabulary work,
  • two stickmen with speech bubbles – for pairwork,
  • three stickmen with a thought bubble and a light bulb in it – for groupwork,
  • a stickman doing a high jump and letter B – for ‘matura’ exam tasks at the basic level,
  • a stickman doing a high jump and letter E – for extended level tasks,
  • E=mc2 – for eliminating mistakes by correcting them a lot (feedback sessions when students correct mistakes from their written work or speaking tasks – no name calling unless students feel the need to own up to their mistakes),
  • a jigsaw puzzle with one piece missing – for all kinds of Use of English tasks,
  • a spiral – for a variety of revision activities, big and small,
  • a question mark – for anything that does not fit in with the rest or because every teacher needs to be mysterious from time to time.

How does it work? I’ve got all the images stuck to the wall with blue tack and select them for a particular lesson either before the students arrive or before they unpack and settle in, or sometimes I select them as I go along while telling the students what we’re going to be doing in the lesson. I stick the chosen images together in the order I planned the activities and tell the students what the agenda is or I elicit it from them once they are familiar with the images and what they signify.

During the lesson I refer to the images from time to time so that the students have a sense of order and purpose.

At the end of the lesson, I recap the class with the help of the images or ideally, the students do for me, sometimes with some prompting required, at least in the beginning. If there was a reading task, what did they read about? What reading strategies did they employ? Why did they read before doing grammar tasks or speaking tasks? If there were speaking tasks, what were they? How many were there? How many partners did they have a chance to talk to? What did they talk about? What language functions did they use? What vocabulary was useful for getting their message across? If there were revision tasks, what did they revise, how, and why, etc.

Did we do all the activities that had been planned? Did we do them in the order planned? If not, why? Perhaps some activities proved more challenging than anticipated? Why were they difficult? Did the teacher decide to skip certain activities and/or extend some of them? Why? How much were the students responsible for the changes?

How about not presenting the images at the beginning of the lesson and asking the students to recall the activities at the end of it? You might tell them it will be required of them or not. If you do, you will certainly have their attention.

Sometimes I sneakily mix the images up when the students are not looking and ask them to reorder them at the end of the lesson. Other times, I go even further and remove them completely so that the students have to recreate all the activities in the correct order.

If you want, you could ask the students to plan the lesson using the images, making sure they justify their order. How about asking your students to come up with their own images? Perhaps there is something they would like to add? Something that is unique and understood only by you and that particular group of students?

I find the images are useful for explaining your methodology, raising students’ awareness of what is happening in the classroom and why. They give us an opportunity to ask the students why they think the teacher planned certain activities and/or used particular methods, how useful they find them and why.

I also believe the images ensure that the students leave our lesson with a sense of accomplishment and a sense of closure – they help them realise the lesson was geared towards improving certain skills, expanding a particular set of vocabulary or preparing them for very specific exam tasks. Hopefully, when asked by a parent about what they did in class, they will be able to say more than just: “exercises” or “games”.

A final piece of advice: don’t be a slave to the images. I find them extremely useful with new groups that are going through the beginning stages of group development. They help with classroom management, establishing rapport and presenting your expertise as a teacher. With time, however, I tend not to use the images in every lesson because it can become tedious and repetitive. Sometimes you need to shake things up and add colour and variety to your classes.

Give it a try and make it your own! I highly recommend this method. It has helped me a lot since I implemented it. Apart from having all the benefits for the students that I mentioned above, it made me think more deeply about what I was doing in class and why. Isn’t conscious competence what we as teachers are trying to achieve?


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