“I just taught such a top-heavy lesson“, said a colleague last week. I asked her what she meant, and she explained that she’d tried to cover so much material in first part of the class that she only had five minutes for the production stage – a problem that I’m sure we can all identify with (I certainly can!).
We try and cram so much information into our students’ brains that this often means there’s little time for production – like cramming pasta through a funnel (I was hungry when I came up with the idea and I live in Italy – that’s why).
Let’s look at a couple of pages of English File…
Reading, listening, writing, speaking, pronunciation, grammar AND vocabulary all on two pages…. No way we can get through all of this in a 90 minute lesson! It would take weeks, months even to get all of this right, especially at Elementary level.
The challenge, then, should not be to get through every single exercise, but to be selective in what we choose to teach, and allow our students plenty of time to practise it.
Jo Gakonga puts it really well in this video from ELT training.
So what would you choose from these pages?
How much production time would you aim to give in a 90 minute lesson?
Because that’s what it’s all about – students producing the language.
These two pages follow a classic Present Practise Produce (PPP) format. But how can we bring the production earlier in the class and ensure that we don’t end up with a top-heavy lesson? Tried and tested methods include Task Based Learning (TBL) and Test Teach Test (TTT). If you’re not familiar with these formats, watch the link to Jo Gakonga’s video above – she explains them nice and clearly.
So looking at the pages above, we could change from a PPP format and do this instead.
- Start by having students act out the situations in the pictures (before they’ve seen the dialogues). Being early Elementary level, we can assume that they will have a few problems, but this is a good opportunity for the teacher to monitor and see what the students can do.
- Next, play the dialogues and use them as a model for the students to practise.
- Plenty of controlled practice will follow this, allowing the students to internalise the language.
- Finally, have the students do the task again – this time hopefully better than the first.
More of a TTT method than TBL, but both have this extra production stage at the beginning of the lesson.
So if your lessons are top-heavy, then maybe it’s time to quit the PPP habit … or at least cut down.