A web site for the developing language teacher

Speaking and Conversation with a
Focus at Elementary Level
by Sam Smith
- lesson plan 1

(To use this lesson per se, you will need the second listening extract about meeting a long lost relative - from Cutting Edge Intermediate Students' Book, unit 2 - not included here)

Preliminary Information

Level: Elementary

Time: 1 hour

Timetable Fit:
The lesson comes after about two and a half months of studying together, in this time we've been revising some basic grammar from what the students did last year, trying to increase the students' basic vocabulary, especially for talking about yourself and things closely related to immediate life, but mainly working on the students skills work, particularly listening and speaking. This has come from the wide range of levels in the group and the difficulties we have had working together on communicative tasks resulting from this.
This lesson is part of a series of lessons looking at features of conversation or specific speaking skills. We have already worked on narrative tenses, functional exponents for agreeing, disagreeing, stating your own opinion and asking for clarification. We have also spent quite a lot of time getting students used to what is expected of them in pair and group work.
The topic of the unit we have just finished is the family and friends, with a lot of importance being paid to childhood friends, relationships with brothers and sisters and the family in general. The subject of this lesson, therefore follows on from that.

In this lesson we are focusing on phrases for showing interest as a way to improve the students' conversational skills, having looked at other aspects of conversation (as mentioned above) in previous lessons and we will continue with the same in future lessons too. The reason for focusing so much on conversation skills in general is that as the group has a wide range of levels in it, the weaker students have shown signs of getting frustrated at not being able to say what they want and often resort to using Spanish. I hope that by making them more aware of some useful phrases and conversational techniques in English (along with a lot of work on vocabulary) they will begin to use them instead of resorting to Spanish.
The main focus of the lesson, showing interest in what another speaker says, is something I have noticed to be distinctly lacking in my students' repertoire. In my opinion, this is a cultural difference between English and Spanish, having never noticed anyone using questions, or simple phrases such as 'yeah' in my experience of interacting in Spanish. From my own experience of learning foreign languages I realise the difficulty students have with doing something like this naturally and hope to raise their awareness of this so that it can be something encouraged in future.
The second conversational or discourse feature looked at in the lesson is that of 'fillers' to give yourself time to think and a few phrases for getting back on to your subject or framing what you want to say, e.g. 'well, erm' and 'what I did was.....' but essentially, helping you speak by reducing processing time and again, gaining time to think.
The reason for looking at them is essentially the same as the reason for looking at the phrases for showing interest, that I've noticed them lacking in my students, and often hear 'bueno' and 'pues'. Again, from my own use of Russian and Spanish I realise their importance and the difficulty in using them well.
The third thing, important to this lesson is giving students preparation time before telling their anecdotes, repeating the task and encouraging them to notice some relevant features from the listening. This is all with the aim of developing the students' language use in terms of using structures well, using a better range of structures and finding the right vocabulary item that does not appear at the time of speaking, but can possibly be recalled from a deeper store, asked for from the teacher or found in the dictionary and then used.

The 1st personalised task is listening to the teacher after 1st making predictions about his story. It is aimed at introducing the topic of the lesson, providing the students with an example and hopefully some inspiration as well as some useful listening practice.
This is followed by the students preparing and then telling a similar anecdote to a partner. The preparation should improve the quality of the students' language and the interest in each other and chance that the story might not be true should provide a reason for listening.
Students will then evaluate their spoken performance with a view to noticing the gap between their own English and what they later hear.
The next activities focus on a listening text, firstly using it for practising skills of predicting content and checking predictions before using it as a jigsaw task to notice the above-mentioned features of conversation. After the students share their information from the noticing activity, they use the same text to 1st practice intonation and secondly try and predict the phrases used before listening to check their predictions in 2 'controlled' practice exercises.
Again with a small amount of preparation time the students then retell their anecdotes to a different partner, to maintain motivation, while an observer pays attention to the phrases used by both the speaker and listener. This should give the students some more freer speaking practice and hopefully get feedback from the observer that they have done the task well.
The lesson finishes with some self evaluation for the students' on-going progress and some feedback for the teacher as to their opinion of the lesson's usefulness.

Class Profile:
The group is an in-company, closed group in the Ministry of Justice in Madrid and classes are held in a 'meeting' room in the ministry.
The course runs from November to May and is supposed to have only half as much content as a general English course in the main school due to the need to revise so much after the long break in the summer.
The students are all working people in various departments of the ministry with a rough age range of late twenties to early fifties, there are 8 women and 3 men.
There are 11 students in the group and their level is roughly elementary, though this is a very broad statement. When the group was formed, 2 groups were combined, one of them having done a similar course at this level before and the other not, thus creating a very large difference in level between the students in the group. This was caused by a lack of resources from the ministry and all students were aware of this before beginning the course. The students of the higher level had the choice of doing this course or no English at all. Due to this and good nature, they have been very tolerant with their weaker class mates and so far we haven't had any real problems of frustration causing a lack of motivation and do enjoy a good supportive atmosphere in class.
The difference in level at the beginning of the course, in my opinion was also exacerbated by the 2 initial groups having very different attitudes towards learning caused by their success in language learning in general, their natural abilities to learn and their previous teaching. The stronger group were very positive about their prior learning experiences when we talked in tutorials, whereas the weaker group were negative about their progress and ability to learn. From talking to their previous teachers I also got greatly different opinions about teaching them, the weaker group was very difficult last year apparently.
This year though, the atmosphere in class has been good and the main problems due to the difference in level has been the slower pace in general but particularly the lack of communicative confidence and power of the weaker students causing them to rely a lot on their stronger partners and robbing them of the spoken practice they really need.

Isabel is one of the weakest when listening, instructions often have to be explained several times and she does badly in listening activities, though she is improving. When we began the course she hardly said anything in English but now she tries to express herself, though very inaccurately.
Marta is making good progress despite having a physical hearing problem. She was one of the weakest, but now she finds speaking in English easier and makes good use of her good basic grammar.
Carmen is one of the oldest in the group and has a lot of problems speaking and listening, her negative feelings towards her own progress are restricting her improvement, but she tries hard and succeeds when she knows what to do with simple structures and activities.
Julio was in the weaker group but even though his self expression suffers from his pronunciation he is making excellent progress and is now one of the most communicative in the group. His grammar and other skills work are fine at this level.
Aurora finds most activities challenging but is improving her listening and speaking. Her grammar and vocabulary are quite limited though.
Anna is making good progress and improving on a strong but basic knowledge of the language, she is confident to express herself and shows a desire to improve all round.
Carmen Bueno is probably the strongest in the group and finds most tasks relatively easy. When given the chance she is keen to use her English fully and has a natural ability to pick up and use a lot of new language.
Rosa is a strong student, having little problem in all skills work. She takes a little time to warm herself to a difficult activity but when she gets into something she really gets involved and can communicate with great fluency.
Julio Serrano is very good in all areas of the language and is very keen to improve and learn. He is quietly spoken and sometimes a little shy and usually allows his class mates to speak first.
Juan Carlos is a good lively student with a good ability to communicate. He is always trying to improve and asks lots of questions. He shows a wide knowledge of vocabulary and grammar and is in the process of integrating it all, thus he makes a lot of mistakes and needs and asks for a lot of correction.
Belen is one of the oldest in the group, she has a good knowledge of vocabulary and grammar and does try to improve, however her learning style is poor, she knows what she thinks is right and what she thinks she should be doing and it is sometimes difficult for me and the other students to persuade her otherwise.

To more preliminary information

To the article

To a print friendly version

To the articles index

Back to the top

Tips & Newsletter Sign up —  Current Tip —  Past Tips 
Train with us Online Development Courses    Lesson Plan Index
 Phonology — Articles Books  LinksContact
Advertising — Web Hosting — Front page

Copyright 2000-2016© Developing