Roleplay lesson from supermarket receipts

Can you justify what's on your supermarket receipt?

How much of a lesson can you get out of a supermarket receipt…?

Here's one that might sound a bit weird but seemed to work quite well when Kim tried it out in an adults post-First Certificate class, who had been doing a coursebook unit in which various "enviroment" themes had come up.

It required the learners to keep any supermarket receipts (!) and bring them to a subsequent class: They then had to defend what they'd purchased, from an environmental point of view, in a mock trial (I told you it might seem a bit weird 😉 !)

Rough outline of the lesson
Class one (Friday)

  • Learners were asked to keep and bring to class any supermarket receipts

As "homework"

  • Discussion and photos, and comments on what they were buying and how "ecological" it was, via a WhatsApp group

Class two (the following Friday)

  • Preparation time (15 mins): preparing the questions (amount of packaging…? how much meat…? how far the food had traveled from source…? etc), some of which had already come up in earlier classes and/or in the WhatsApp discussion; in order to  have a "case" and a "defence" ready for "the trial"
  • Role play the trial (10 mins): Team A = 2 defendants plus 2 lawyers vs Team B = 1 judge; 1 prosecution lawyer; 1 assistant prosecutor; 1 star witness
  • Role play 2 (10 mins), with the roles reversed
  • Sentencing (5 mins)
  • Discussion (15 mins)

Ideally, of course, you'd have the receipts in English, but Kim got round that one by having the prosecutors requiring the defendants to provide the translations during questioning.

No technology whatsoever involved in the actual class but fun, and not a photocopy in sight!

Less grammar, fewer photocopies and images

Above, something I'm 99% sure Michael Lewis said at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference back in 2008, though it isn't something to be found in the handout (.pdf) from the session.

In my own session for this year's event I'm going to be suggesting that in ELT we've got lost, at least as far as technology is concerned. In the session, I'm not going to deal with who's to blame but, for what it's worth, part of what has gone wrong is that in many schools we've provided teachers with unrestricted access to photocopiers, with the result that whilst the rest of the world has raced on into the 21st century, a significant proportion of language teachers (data in the session) are still waiting in the queue to waste rainforests.

I suppose what Michael Lewis said stuck in my head (I know I wrote it down somewhere!) and I realised the other day that I was paraphrasing him in a training session when I said this:

I've always wondered what effect having the photocopiers stolen would have on teaching in the various schools I either work in or have contact with. Assuming we did actually want to get new monsters, if they couldn't be installed for a week, or a month, and we assessed honestly at the end of that period (the longer the better), would we find that our teaching — and our learners' learning — had suffered, or gotten better in some way?

There are good reasons why we might in fact want to try going photocopyless (one of my favourite words, but only 3 results in Google!!!).

We could say the same for images:

The notion that "an image is worth 1000 words" is another of the things that, it seems to me, has led us astray. What we want is fewer, better images, ones that will produce more — and more meaningful, and more communicativelanguage from our learners.

Reason #1 to go to conferences and workshops: the little things you scribble down that then go on to make a difference to how and what you teach.

The rain forest wept! Stop doing this, now!

Computer, laptop, MP3 players, mobile, CD
What you see in the image above has come out of the printer that I sit next to around 25 hours a week, and has been printed by a trainee on a pre-service course (probably CELTA), who is probably about to ask to borrow my scissors to cut the words up.

In this example, we have a list of words; often it's sentences, each word of which has been printed at font size 100 or so, also to be sliced up, so that the sentence can be BluTacked to the wall or lain out on the floor (possibly first having been photocopied into identical sets), after which the students "mingle" and put the sentence back together again.

Photocopy of mobile phone
Sometimes it's images of every day objects — like Metro tickets and mp3 players and mobile phones, as you see above — that could so easily have been drawn or pointed to instead, but which have been printed under the absurd notion that an image is worth 1000 words, when often it really isn't!

The other day, we had someone printing single phonetic symbols (!!!), as huge as possible, each on a separate piece of paper, then to be magnified further via the photocopier.

This  happens all day, every day, whether the trainees are on CELTA or Spanish teacher training courses, and I suspect that someone somewhere (a coursebook writer…?) must have come up with this "idea", and people on teacher training courses must now be taught that this is a great (???) "activity" or "task", or whatever they call it.

It has to stop.

Now!

I say that partly as further promotion for my one-man, entirely unsuccessful campaign to smash the photocopier in all language schools around the world and I say it for these three reasons:

  1. It's unsustainable environmentally. If every sound (not word, sound!!!) we ever taught language learners needed to printed, how long would it take us to wipe out the rainforests? This matters! Even if you still refuse to believe the evidence of global warming (video).
  2. It's an absurd waste of the trainee's/teacher's time. Do you really need to go and find a computer and print and photocopy the term mobile phone (or find an image of one) when there's a mobile phone in everyone's pocket and they already know the word anyway?
  3. It's so 20th century. As course tutors we need to stop recommending this activity. It encourages trainees to continue backwards into the 20th century, to imagine that PC+projector, together with printer+photocopier is technology, when in fact the world has kind of slightly moved on from that, and it may well be that those four "P"s are things the learners only ever encounter in the time warp they enter when they set foot in a language classroom.

When was the last time a trainee doing teaching practice on a CELTA course got the learners to use an app? Perhaps, just perhaps, they should be doing that…

Single word get printed out
Get? The rain forest wept! You don't need to print the word get!

10 towns: no preparation, no materials, no technology

Bilbao

Bilbao | Photo: Tom Walton

Here's an old activity (probably best for B2 or above) I last did with learners a long time ago but which I happened to come across when doing the spring cleaning.  I'm fairly sure the idea was the result of a conversation with my colleague Susana Ortiz one day in the staffroom…

Ten towns, outline
Individually:

  • Learners jot down on a piece of paper a list of 10 or more towns or cities they've been to
  • For 10 of them, they should then write down one thing they vividly remember doing in each
  • Mentally note which city is most important to them personally

If the things they remember are personal or appear trivial, that's not a problem — in fact it's probably going to be more interesting (provided of course they're not too personal!). They don't have to be things like visiting famous moments, but do have to be things vividly remembered.

In a group of three or four:

  • Swop and read your partners' lists and discover which cities some or all of you have been to
  • Also talk to them about anything on the list you don't understand as well as anything else that you find interesting or want to know more about
  • See if you can guess which town, from what you are told, is most important to each of your partners

Examples
It's probably best to give at least a couple of examples. Here are 4 of mine:

  • Bilbao (where I could no longer find the city I once knew)
  • Paris (where I didn't find La Maga)
  • Valladolid (where I understood a Bruce Springsteen song)
  • A small town in the Pyrenees whose name I've now forgotten

As you can see, mine are short and rather enigmatic — but that's actually perfect for then jump-starting natural conversation, which is what we are after. As I remember it, the idea sprang from a coursebook unit on "Cities", but it also worked great as an ice-breaking getting-to-know-each-other activity with a new class.

Optional extra
Illustrate your list with a couple of quick doodles — like this example:

In the Pyrenees

With technology
The original was definitely for this to be "no technology" but another colleague (Kate? Rachel…?) then tried the idea on an Edmodo group, where each member of the class posted their individual lists and then all participated in the subsequent commenting, in class time, using a computer room. A lot of fun!

Preparation time: 0
Photocopies required: 0
Other materials required: 0

Get your students to talk, listen and draw

Walking Barcelona

If you're familiar with Barcelona, you should (just about!) recognise what the illustration above is supposed to represent. It came from morning break last week in the staffroom, where there was some disagreement about whether or not you can get learners to draw things.

I think you can — and should — no matter how little artistic talent you have or your learners think they have. It isn't a question of being artistic: in a language classroom, it's a question of getting people to talk and if their drawings are so poor (?!) that they require asking for and receiving explanation, great!

Instead of the teacher finding, printing and photocopying images of Barcelona for them to then describe a walk through the city (which was the activity we were disagreeing over), get your learners to do this:

  • Imagine an interesting walk in your city
  • Make a few notes on what you'll see on the walk, with any language help being provided by the teacher
  • Describe the walk to a partner… who then has to draw it (check the recycling bin, there's scrap paper, right?)
  • In collaboration with your partner, label the drawing (see example, above), omitting (important!) any place names
  • Switch roles and repeat with your partner
  • Pin the work up on the wall and walk round the "gallery" (remember drawing pins?). How many of the walks can you identify?
  • Optionally, as a class, actually go on the walk (take some drawing paper and cameras/phones with you!)

If there is ready access to a scanner, send a "volunteer" off to scan the illustrations, and if you have an Edmodo group or a class blog, they can then be shared and commented on (the latter being particularly important, for taking maximum advantage of the opportunities technology offers for further interaction and use of language).

The illustration above — a quick doodle, which is what you want, rather than "art" — is from the staffroom, with a little editing afterwards.

Essential reading for any teacher 1000+ pictures for teachers to copy