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Developing Grammar at Upper
Intermediate Level
by Sam Smith
- Lesson Plan 1

Preliminary Information

Level: Upper Intermediate

Time: 1 hr

Timetable fit:
This lesson comes about 5 months into a general English extensive course. The group meets twice a week for one and a half hours, so we have been together for about 65 hours. The course book we are using is Cutting Edge Upper Intermediate and we are now in unit 8. It is a supplementary lesson, connected with and adding to units 7 and 3 where the focuses were annual events and past tenses respectively. In unit 7 the only focus on 'used to' and 'would' was a couple of exercises in the work book, which will be done for revision of this lesson at a later date. It also connects with the topic of verb forms (unit 8) and modal verbs in the past and present (unit 9). It's main purpose, though is to extend the students' linguistic precision when talking about their lives, a topic which is relevant throughout the course as the students' (and teacher's) personal experience has been one of the main ideas, central to the classes. It will be followed up at home with written homework from the content of the lesson and relevant exercises from the students' work book and in class with a further spoken fluency exercise and a reflection exercise a week later. As Scott Thornbury (Uncovering Grammar, 41) suggests maybe production activities should be delayed as 'Learning is remembering you have understood something'.

Throughout the course, we have been focusing on communication, due to a noticeable difference in the students' level, enabling the weaker students to feel part of the group, breaking down barriers of shyness and feelings of inferiority.
This may have been to the detriment of some of the better students' developing interlanguage. By encouraging strategies for communication in listening, speaking and reading, I may not have been pushing the students to try out, hypothesise and structure and re-structure their language.
I feel that I have been trying too hard to get the students to simply communicate, and through their success they have not felt enough the need to develop and refine the grammar they are using to get their message across. While we have made considerable progress lexically, the students' vocabulary and ability to notice and use collocations has improved considerably, and they are all much more fluent than at the start of the course, the students need to improve their use of grammar as a process when speaking, particularly in the finer points of grammar.
The methodology behind this lesson is aimed at redressing this balance, by making focusing on form important to meaning, not putting too much pressure on students when producing the language (by giving enough preparation time), by helping students notice the target language in a naturally occurring context and that its use does have an effect on meaning and by repeating the production tasks (or similar ones) in later lessons so as to revise the structures or help students 'remember they have understood something'.
So far in the course we have looked at the larger area of tenses, past, present and future and more recently we have begun to look at more intricate points, specific verb structures, clauses and word order in them and soon will move on to modality, realised verbally and lexically and then hypothetical language.
The chosen language, that of 'used to' and 'would' for past reference is a similar area where the students can realise their meaning in communication more exactly and efficiently. It is something that has not been represented in any significant way in the course book and is also something I have noticed to be lacking in these particular students and in general in my students up to proficiency level. To highlight this point, I recently taught this language point to a 'First Certificate' group and was unpleasantly surprised to find that half the group claimed never to have met 'would' as used to talk about a past habit before.

We will begin this lesson by predicting and then me telling the students about the differences in my everyday life between living in Ukraine and in Spain as a way to interest the students, give them an example to work from and setting up the context, i.e. when something was different in a past period in life.
The students will then prepare their own version based on their real experiences but the actual telling or doing of the task will be delayed to a later stage to allow a chance to provide input of the target language. Thus, creating a need for the target language as opposed to just presenting it and practising it with no need having been created as in a PPP approach or putting in the input when it is already too late, i.e. after the production stage as in Test Teach Test or the Deep End Strategy.
A second prediction and listening stage (this time from a tape of a colleague who lived in Zimbabwe) will then serve as a vehicle to introduce the target language through a noticing and analysis activity after the text has been first processed for meaning.
Once the meaning of the target language has been made salient, we will briefly focus on its perception and pronunciation through a teacher led dictation and drill before going on to some practice activities. Firstly, in a gap-fill exercise where the form is vital to the meaning of the sentences and secondly, in a jigsawed mini-task where the students have to prepare and then pass on some information using the target language as a deciding factor in the making of a decision based on their shared information.
Finally, the content, prepared near the beginning of the lesson will be used in the final task of talking students about themselves, comparing life now with a time in the past. This is aimed at providing some sort of freer practice where the target structures are likely to occur and also to serve as the basis for the students' homework which will be writing a summary of what their partners have told them.

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