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Diary of a beginner: seventh lesson

To see the previous lessons, click here.

In today’s lesson we started off with a quick revision of the long vowel sounds covered at the end of the last lesson because H said he hadn’t listened to them at all. He remembered almost all of them, but struggles with the /3:/ sound in bird.

I then used Cuisenaire rods to elicit the forms that we did last time. This was the result for ‘I’ (without the words!):

Cuisenaire rods grammarI then held up the ‘I’ white rod and said ‘you’ and we repeated the pattern, then did the same for he/she/it. He needed to use his piece of paper to remember the forms the first time round, so we ended up doing it twice: once with the paper, once without.

Before the lesson I had laid out a set of pictures cut from magazines:

Pictures on deskI pointed at people/things in the pictures and asked a set of simple questions, along the lines of:

Is he a teacher?

Is it a dog?

designed to elicit Yes/No short answers, referring to the Cuisenaire rods if necessary. We then switched roles so that H was asking the questions. He started to experiment more with the language, adding a few colours, this/that and my/your. I haven’t done colours with him, so I checked quickly and he knows most of the basic ones except for brown, purple and grey.

I decided to build on the possessive pronouns my/your for the rest of the lesson. He wrote another table similar to last week’s one:

Possessive pronounsI know the sentence ‘It is its cup’ is a little odd, but he was happy with the pattern, so I don’t think it matters too much.

I made a quick list of all of the things we’ve covered, plus some of the extra language he brought up in the picture activity above. It looks like this at the moment:

Vocabulary

Numbers

1-20

Time

Monday-Sunday, January-December

The Alphabet

A-Z

Colours

Knows: red, blue, black, white, green, yellow, orange, pink

Added 19/6: purple, gray, brown

Jobs

Teacher, student, fireman/firewoman, actor/actress, shop assistant, singer, sportsman/sportswoman, secretary

Pronunciation 19/6: hairdresser, waiter, journalist, nurse

Added 19/6: policeman/policewoman

Things

cup, table, chair, armchair

Animals

dog, cat, mouse

Transport

bike, car, train

 

Grammar

To be

I am, You are, He/She/It is (+ – ? yes no)

Possessives

my, your, his, her, its

I’ll try to keep the list up-to-date. H was very motivated to see all of the things we’ve managed to cover so far.

His homework is to listen to recordings of the three colours he had trouble with (he asked for them with Czech too), the jobs he had trouble pronouncing and the sentences from his grid for my/your/etc.

This could be our last face-to-face lesson as I’m leaving Brno a week today. We’re planning to try out teaching via Skype, so watch this space!

Diary of a Beginner: Sixth Lesson

Last weekend, H and I had our sixth lesson. He led this lesson, starting off with a little card he’d written with 5 sentences on it:

  • I am a teacher.
  • You are a student.
  • He is an actor.
  • She is an actress.
  • It is a dog.

Because he’d had so much trouble in the previous lesson with the idea of ‘I am’, ‘You are’, ‘I am not’, ‘You are not’ and the question forms, I decided we would write out these sentences in the different forms. These were the results:

Positive and negative forms (I, you, he, she, it + be)Question and short forms (I, you, he, she, it + be)As you can see, we did various things to highlight forms. The arrow shows that ‘not’ is how we make a very negative’ – in Czech ‘ne’ is used to say ‘no’ and is added to a verb to make it negative. I used an orange pen to show how the apostrophe in a contraction replaces missing letters. I also drew a line under the phrases to show how the contractions correspond to the longer versions.

This was a real lesson in how to teach beginners for me – there are so many things we take for granted with our students, and we ended up having a lot of discussions in Czech to help H understand various concepts – I dread to think how he would have felt if we couldn’t have done this. I know native speakers who don’t speak the learners L1 can teach beginners, but I can see how much easier it is using a mix of both languages. For example, even the concept of different word order for a statement and a question was very difficult for H to grasp, since in Czech this doesn’t change.

Other problems with L1 became apparent here too: there are no articles in Czech, so he couldn’t understand why he needed one in English even though his original sentences had them already. In the end I showed him the contents page of New English File Beginner and told him not to worry about them – they would be covered in unit 2A and we’re in 1B. The existence of contractions is another thing which Czech lacks – all words are equally stressed, so he found it hard to see why there might be more than one form of these phrases.

The last problem with L1 interference was with ‘dog’ – in Czech ‘pes’ is a masculine noun as it ends in a consonant. Therefore it is always replaced by the subject ‘he’. I extended the idea to ‘It is a bag’/’It is a table’ etc to show other ways to use ‘it’, but H decided to keep his original example sentence.

All of these discussions just from five ‘simple’ sentences!

Once we’d created these tables, we practised the I/you forms using the grammar bank activities in NEF Beginner. Here again we had a couple of problems. Although the two-line dialogues were accompanied by pictures, it wasn’t always clear who was speaking. In the end, we labelled the people in the pictures as A and B to make it a bit easier. H also can’t understand why we say ‘You ARE late’ instead of ‘You ARRIVE late’ like in Czech. I said to him that I can’t understand why they say ‘You ARRIVE late’ and pointed out that that’s why you have to learn other languages 😉 I recorded the conversations so that H could listen to them at home.

After all of that, we only had five minutes left, so I decided to introduce the five long vowel sounds from the English File pronunciation chart. I also gave him these to listen to at home. Ordinarily I wouldn’t rush him with all of these sounds, but we only have three more weeks in which to have lessons, so he asked me to try to do all of them before I leave.

In the end, it was a very educational lesson for both of us!

Diary of a beginner: Fifth Lesson

(If you’re interested, you can read about the first, second, third and fourth lessons.)

The first 45 minutes were spent revising what we’ve covered before, and I can definitely see that he is remembering things now. He’s making progress because we had time to do some writing today.

It took 5 minutes to go through my alphabet cards in a random order and say all of them, then pick them up when I said them – this is a real improvement!

I spelled the numbers and he wrote them, predicting the last couple of letters. The only one he still had trouble with was ‘twenty’, spelling it ‘twenteen’ by analogy with Czech where the ‘tens’ are counted in multiples of ten, so twenty is like ‘two tens’. I also taught him the idea of ‘double’ for the same letter twice, i.e. ‘double E’ = ‘ee’

For the days of the week I showed him the cards and he said them. I then asked him to write them all down in order. With a little prompting he remembered ‘How do you spell…?’ but had to be reminded to use it! He still struggled with Wednesday and Friday, but especially with Thursday which he has real trouble pronouncing and confuses with Tuesday (all of which I have to keep assuring him is completely normal!)

With the months, he put the cards in order, then closed his eyes while I took one or two of them away and he remembered them.

We revised the consonant sounds that we’d done previously and added the final six sounds. Unsurprisingly, he really struggled with the two pronunciations of /th/. He realised that he’d been pronouncing ‘this’ and ‘thank’ wrong, so was trying hard to correct himself.

We spent the last ten minutes of the lesson looking at ‘I am’, ‘You are’, ‘I am not’ and ‘You are not’ using New English File Beginner. First he looked at and spontaneously translated a dialogue, then listened to it. We then looked at the four phrases in the examples and thought about what they mean. There was a slight problem with the example sentence in the book because the dialogue used “You are late.” for ‘You are’. In Czech this would be translated as ‘You arrive late.’ without using ‘be’ at all. I showed him that this was the equivalent for ‘be’ and that this is the verb we use in this phrase in English.

He constantly surprises me with the amount of words he knows already, but they are still very isolated at the moment, with very little grammar to link them together. Highlighting to him that he knows this words is very important, especially when one of his final comments before leaving (in Czech, not English!) was “How will I communicate with people if I can’t speak?” I explained to him that he just needs time, that this was just the first time he had seen these things and that he needs 20+ times to really start to fix it in his head.

Diary of a beginner: Third and Fourth Lessons

The third lesson with my beginner student was two weeks ago.

We started by revising numbers and letters. I then tried to revise the days and the months, both of which I had sent him to practise after the second lesson. He hadn’t noticed them in his email, so didn’t know them at all. This really proved to me that the listening he does in his car is what makes him learn the words, as without it he was completely lost.

He had however recieved the third file I sent him, based on the 12 consonant phonetic sounds from the English File set introduced in lesson two. We spent a few minutes practising these and he remembered all of them without a problem.

After all of that we had about 25 minutes left (the lessons are one hour long). We used an information gap from the New English File Beginner Teacher’s Book, which I can’t reproduce here due to copyright laws. We each had the same 12 pictures. Under the pictures was either the word or a line. We asked each other “How do you spell…?” to complete our sheets. If he did not know a word, he asked “What is it?” first. I then recorded the words and the spellings for him to listen to at home. I also re-sent him the months and the days for homework, along with corresponding sets on quizlet (months, days).

We’ve just had our fourth lesson together. Even with a two-week break, he remembered everything really well. This is what we did:

  • Numbers: he put the flashcards in order, then closed his eyes while I removed 2-4 cards. Each time he had to say which numbers were missing. Then he said all of the numbers 1>20 and finally 20>1.
  • Alphabet: I placed the letters randomly on the table and he said them. Then I said a letter and he took it. No problems at all this week 🙂
  • Consonants: he remembered all of the words. I then got him to try to write them down as he only gets listening practice out of class. If he didn’t know how to spell the word he asked me. If he already knew it, he spelt it for me. This was good for practising spelling, and also to think about some common English sound-spelling relationships.
  • Days of the week: a year ago I was very happy to find a card game for children based on the popular book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In the card game, the players should put down the days of the week in the correct order (Monday, Tuesday…). When they have played all of the ‘days’, their caterpillar turns into a butterfly. The cards are really well illustrated, and I jumped at the chance to use them. I used two sets of ‘week’ cards (there are four in the pack). First he put one set in order, helped by the fact that each card also says “Day 1”, “Day 2” etc on it – especially useful for Tuesday/Thursday. I explained the story to him in a mixture of Czech and English, helped by the pictures on the cards. We then played pelmanism with both sets, with him saying the words as he turned over the cards. Despite the fact that the cards are designed for children, I think he appreciated their quality and understand the value of pelmanism for his pronunciation.
    For those of you not familiar with the story, here is a youtube version:

  • Months: he said the months, then wrote them down. As with the consonants above, he could ask me for difficult spellings.
  • Six more consonant phonetics: I introduced /h/, /n/, /m/, /l/, /r/ and /w/, the latter being the most difficult as this sound doesn’t exist in Czech. He also wrote these words down. Listening to this recording is his homework.

What do you think I should do in the next class? Should I revise everything at the beginning as a confidence booster? I’m planning to start introducing some of the most common question / answer pairs, but probably won’t have time to do a lot in class. Which would you say are the most important for a businessman in his 30s (i.e. “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” etc)?

Read about the first and second lessons.

Diary of a beginner: Second Lesson

Alphabet Soup

Alphabet Soup (created using http://www.wordle.net)

I’ve just finished my second lesson with the beginner I’m teaching and blogging about (read the first post to find out more). For homework he had to practise the alphabet using the audio file I had sent him previously.

We started the lesson by using my laminated letters to randomly practise, and he got all but H and Y without a problem. Last week he’d struggled with more than half of the lessons, so it was great to see such a quick improvement – one of the reasons I enjoy lessons with beginners!

Next, I said the numbers 1-20 in a random order for him to write down. When he had trouble I spelled the word and highlighted anything he needed to rememeber. For speaking practice, I then said a number and he had to spell it out loud.

Once we’d consolidated numbers and letters, we moved on to eliciting any and all English words he already knows, designed to be a confidence builder and an evaluation task at the same time. He wrote the alphabet down the side of the page, then wrote any words he could think of. When he had spelling problems, I helped him out.

Through this we got on to talking about the phonetic alphabet, with me attempting to explain in A2/B1-level Czech what it is, how it works and why it’s useful! We got there in the end, and once he’d understood that we talked about whether he wanted to learn it or not. He decided he did, so this week’s homework will be me going through the key consonants which are similar sounds in Czech to start him off. That should give him at least 12 of the sounds straight away. I’ll use the English File symbols and pictures, as I think they’re the most useful version of the phonetic alphabet, using pictures to help you remember the sounds.

Do you teach the phonetic alphabet to students in general? And to beginners in particular?

Diary of a Beginner: First Lesson

I’ve just started teaching a new private student. He’s a complete beginner in his 30s, having studied Russian at school and learnt a little German when working as a waiter a few years ago. He’s recently decided that he really needs to study English as he’ll soon need it for his job (he’s a salesman in the Czech Republic). He constantly travels and spends many hours a week in his car. The lessons will be sporadic, depending on when he is away. I thought it would be interesting to catalogue my approach and his progress here, which he has agreed to.

Our initial meeting was conducted almost exclusively in Czech, as he really couldn’t understand anything I said to him. He couldn’t count to ten, so we decided to start with numbers. During our meeting, I recorded myself counting to 20 using Audacity, leaving gaps between the numbers for him to say them. I also sent him a copy of a powerpoint presentation I had made previously for young learners, without adapting it as I wanted to get him started as soon as possible.

(Feel free to download and use this with your own students if you think it will be useful)

The plan is for him to do as much self-study as possible, with internet support where applicable. He will listen to the audio files in his car and use the presentations as he likes (printing them, on-screen or on his phone). We will then consolidate what he has done by himself by practising it further in class. If there is time, I will introduce the next topic in the sessions too.

I have decided not to use a textbook and to record the audio myself, as I feel this will personalise the lessons as much as possible.

What do you think of this approach? Have you ever taught in a similar situation? Do you have any advice?

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