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This is new for me: the first time that a comment on a post has directly led to the writing of another.

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I favour an unplugged approach in the classroom, wherever possible getting the input coming from the language the learners are actually using, building on it, perhaps reformulating it, and when I can, letting the learners take the lead. Writing a post-plan is a really useful thing to do, not only because it gives me the space to think back about the processes involved in the class, and see the decisions I made, but because it allows other people to do this as well. Which is why I was really pleased to receive a well thought out comment from Adam Simpson, a teacher I know based in Istanbul but who I have yet to meet. I wanted to do the comment justice, so to speak, and so have dedicated this posting to my reponse to some of the questions Adam has brought up. I’ll include some excerpts from Adam’s comment here, but if you want to read the whole thing (along with the post and other comments, you can do so here).

If you don’t want to click through and read the post, here is the abridged version: writing an answer to a question (How do you stay healthy?); ranking different ways to do this; discussing keeping fit; asking questions; writing about ways to relax.

In the afternoon class, the structure of questions came up. Here’s Adam’s first question…

Why did you focus on this particular structure?

This is easy enough to answer. At the beginning of the class, I gave the students different question words and set them off talking about keeping fit. Time and again, I heard the auxiliary do (or did) being used in the wrong place in the question, if it wasn’t omitted completely. I chose to elicit questions from the students in a whole class feedback session, tidying up the questions as we went, but also lining the questions up so that they could the common factor. Not only did this emerge from their language, but it is something the students need to do to pass their speaking exams.

Where did the exam recording come from?

This came from the Cambridge ESOL website. At my college we prepare students to take Reading, Writing and Speaking & Listening exams set by Cambridge. I believe that you can get to the Skills for Life exam audio recordings, as well as interlocutor scripts at www.teachers.cambridgeesol.org. This just came up, I needed a filler. Something related, but on a different theme, which lead to the students discussing how they relaxed at home and when out and about, and following this up with a writing task.

Could this – :-0 – have been done more efficiently had you used a coursebook?

Yes and no. Adam mentioned that fact that coursebooks are based on ‘scientifically analysed language’ and this might have served as well as taking examples of learner language. However, the problem I have with using coursebooks is that theses are often mediated using contexts and concepts that are removed from my students’ realities (questions about David Beckham anyone?). Also, my students cant afford to buy a coursebook, neither can my college provide these. Personally, I am trying wherever and whenever I can to not use printed or photocopied worksheets.

Are you, like me, worried that the unplugged approach could turn into ‘bag of tricks’ teaching?

I think there’s a danger of this kind of thing happening with any approach. Anyone can become wedded to an approach to teaching, and the formulaic classroom processes it might foster. I don’t think this is something that is in any way exclusive to going unplugged. I am a little worried about it though, and I think the key has to be using the activities in Scott and Luke’s book as a starting point and not the journey itself. I’m happy to notice in my teaching that moments like those I described in the previous post are not necessarily solely coming from using activities in Teaching Unplugged.

But, hey, that’s just my two penneth, and I am far from a completely dogmeic practitioner, truth be told. What about you? Got anything to add???