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Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I favour an unplugged approach to teaching. However, this definitely doesn’t preclude the use of materials. In fact, sometimes I’ll go to certain lengths to ensure I have an appropriate amount of stimuli to work on with my students. So here’s a selection of things I used today, all sourced from the BBC and mostly freely available on their websites or via other sources such as YouTube.

I plan to get my students discussing news and newsworthy topics more this year, even though they aren’t really at a level of language where they can do this flawlessly. I don’t think topics and language should necessarily be limited by the level of class we are teaching, but obviously the materials have to be accessible. We started by looking at the News In Pictures from the BBC (note – this link should take you to the collection of images for Tuesday 10th January). I copied some of the pictures and put them into a PowerPoint presentation together with the task of getting my students to talk about what they could see and asking them to guess what was happening. The aim was to practise using the Present Continuous. I’d introduced the fact that this can be used to refer to future time, but wanted to make sure my students knew the form before looking at it in terms of the future in more detail next week.

The students discussed what they thought, and some of these were boarded, then compared with the captions provided on the BBC site. We continued on the theme of images and thinking about images with this fantastic idea from Ceri Jones, using an image of sand to generate writing and discussion.

Later, we continued the BBC theme with a listening to part of Radio 4‘s Today programme about ‘wild swimming’, basically swimming outdoors, in the sea, rivers or lakes (obviously, only to be attempted in safe, designated areas, and not just wherever you fancy). You can currently listen to the clip of the programme at this link. The show’s host, John Humphrys, talks to two wild swimmers, Susie Parr (who has written about outdoor swimming) and Georgina Rose (who is 74!), about their passion. Among their discussion is reference to an annual tradition among some in the UK, which is to dunk themselves into the sea (the ice cold sea!) on Boxing Day, as well as locations where people do this kind of swimming and their after-swim rituals (hot chocolate and biscuits – YUM). I really like Radio 4 as a listening resource, as the speech is usually quite clear, the topics are generally interesting and include lots of challenging vocabulary, but mainly because it is REAL language. It might have been a bit above my students’ level generally, but I think I was able to guide them through with a worksheet I produced which you can see above.

I actually introduced the topic of swimming using an audio I clipped from this YouTube video

I transcribed the narration and converted it to phonemic using PhoTransEdit’s Text2Phonetics online app. I gave my students the converted transcript and told them it was a puzzle. Surprisingly, they started to figure out that it was about sounds and recognised a number of words even before I had set any tasks. I asked them to use a dictionary and see if they could find any words such as sun, set, swam, leaf, etc. in the phonemic script. They did really well! I followed up by giving them a gap fill in Roman script.

I think today’s moral is that it’s possible, and good to challenge students. We should be supportive in this though, and the challenge should not be designed to catch them out, but such that they can push themselves and demonstrate initiative and knowledge.