Monday: Observing G., Ir., and A. teaching our upper-intermediate class. G. taught a smooth, focused lesson and I wasn’t surprised when she received an above standard mark on it. Ir. and A., unfortunately, were not quite up-to-snuff. They had to teach adjectives and adverbs — tricky little buggers — and didn’t seem to have complete understanding themselves. This showed in their lessons, but I’m sure they’ll do better next week.
Tuesday: We spent the first hour observing certified teachers. D., S., and I sat in on Joe’s pre-intermediate class. We had to observe a grammar-based lesson, so Joe worked on past participles and present perfect with his seven students. He did a lot of drilling of sounds and words and got the students up and speaking to each other after a bit of controlled practice. It was useful to observe a pre-intermediate class because we start teaching pre-intermediates in a couple of weeks.
Our input session for the night was led by Bobby — he taught us about sentence stress. English is a stress-timed language; this means that each syllable in a sentence may carry different weight or length. Try pronouncing the following out loud:
- Me you him her
- Me and you and him and her
- Me and then you and then him and then her
- Me and then it’s you and then it’s him and then it’s her
How did that go? It should’ve taken you the same amount of time to say the first group of words as it did to say the last group. That’s stress-timed: we stress some syllables and other syllables are left un-stressed. Wikipedia tells me that this kind of language is sometimes described as having a “Morse-code rhythm.” Other stress-timed languages include German, Danish, Swedish, Russian (and thus probably Ukrainian), Norwegian, and Dutch. In contrast to stress-timed languages, others — like Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and French — are syllable-timed. This means that each syllable in these languages carries roughly the same amount of stress (takes the same amount of time to pronounce). Wikipedia describes this as “machine-gun rhythm.”
Anyway, we focused on which kinds of words in English are stressed and which are unstressed. This is because we must teach pronunciation and sentence stress to non-native speakers. The following can help break down a sentence and estimate which words will be stressed and which won’t:
- Stressed: nouns, verbs (except “to be”), negative auxiliaries, adjectives/adverbs, question words
- Unstressed: pronouns, prepositions (except at the ends of sentences), positive auxiliaries, conjunctions
It was an interesting session, though it’s hard for me to separate stress from intonation. We’ll learn about intonation in another session later in the course.
Thursday: D and I each taught 45 minutes to the upper-intermediates. D led off, engaging the students about China and leading them through an interesting listening text about China and the inventions that have come out of it. D brought it right down to the wire and just managed to squeeze in his introduction to articles (a/an, the) and their usage rules before handing off to me. I continued with a controlled practice worksheet on articles, which the students did well on and which my classmates said I gave good explanations for why to use a particular article when there were questions. After that, I played a short listening text for the students to engage them further on the topic of inventions. The last task was for free practice, a productive task focused on speaking. Each student chose an invention card that I had stuck on the board, and then they had to prepare some notes on why it was an important invention. They also had to prepare some questions to ask for opinions of their classmates: “What do you think about…?”; “Do you agree that…?”
The speaking exercise went well, though I didn’t have quite enough time left to do thorough whole-class feedback and correction work. That was Bobby’s main criticism of my lesson; it would’ve been nice to have let the students chat a bit more about inventions and then to do a more detailed feedback session. Unfortunately, that lack of time to flesh out the last activity earned my lesson a “to standard” mark; it was “not quite above standard,” according to Bobby. I was a little bummed about that — I wanted to keep up my streak! — but it’s true that I should have cut some earlier tasks short to have more time for the productive activity at the end. Bobby’s other action points for me are: to incorporate more collocations when focusing on lexis and to be sure not to echo students when eliciting/brainstorming lexis. My classmates all gave me positive feedback, especially on my controlled practice, the flow and pace of my lesson, and my interaction with the students.
That was my last lesson with the upper-intermediate class. In a week my teaching group will move to the pre-intermediate class, where we’ll teach our last four lessons: two 30-minute lessons and two 60-minute lessons. I hope Ben likes my teaching as much as Bobby has…
[Read on for Week 7]