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Narrative structure & video lesson plan
by Sandra Bradwell
- 1


Preliminary Information

Time: 1hr 20mins

Level: Advanced (CAE)

Class focus: Materials/Resources - Video

Timetable Fit:
We use Advanced Gold as a course book preparing for the CAE exam and at present are working from unit 9. In the last lesson we were looking at the variety of tenses in written narratives. The course book suggests students choose one of the stories to expand it and tell it to the other students in more detail to practise extended speaking or long turns. This provides an ideal opportunity for looking at the discourse features of story telling which as McCarthy (1991:139) rightly states, are rarely found in text books. It also provides an opportunity for consolidating some language for telling anecdotes and maintaining interest which came out of a listening task in unit 8.

Main aims:
· to sensitise students to the discourse features of oral narrative (stages 4/5/6)
· to raise further awareness of the listener's active role in story telling (stage 6)

Subsidiary aims:
· to develop the listening skill: listening for pleasure, gist (stage 3)
· to widen the students' range of vocabulary and expressions (stages 5/6/7)
· to provide an opportunity for students to prepare and practise story telling (stages 8/9)

Lesson rationale
Students at advanced levels need to be aware of features of a variety of spoken discourse to be able to perform well in this skill. The course book encourages students to tell stories but offers no linguistic or paralinguistic guidance on how to perform this very difficult task. I would like to take this opportunity to widen their repertoire of language skills and sensitise them, through awareness-raising activities, to the discourse features of story telling. Having a story on video provides the additional advantage of illustrating many of the paralinguistic features of spoken discourse: body language, facial expressions, eye contact that would be lost on cassette. I spent a lot of time looking for a video extract from a film to prepare this lesson but have ended up preparing a home-made version with a colleague. I think it is sufficiently natural and hope the quality will not impede comprehension or pleasure.

The first five minutes of the lesson I would like to welcome back students who were not in class on Tuesday and provide the students who were in class with an opportunity to share information about the lesson. We will then begin the lesson by discussing and commenting on prompts around the room in pairs. Not only will this provide some very valuable speaking practice and be an opportunity to move around, it will also lead into and involve them in the topic of the lesson: relating anecdotes and stories.

The next two stages of the lesson involve listening to a home-made video where I am telling a colleague a personal anecdote. The first listening is for pleasure - I only want the students to listen out for the bare facts of the story. Students will have an opportunity to share ideas before asking them what happened and eliciting the story.

In the next stage students will see the video and have a copy of the transcript. As this is the first time I have prepared a transcript indicating overlaps of conversation and turn-taking, I will invite students to skim read it to understand how it is set out before watching the video a second time. Reading the transcript will hopefully draw students attention initially to the 'messy' nature of spoken discourse: the hesitations, false starts, repetition of vocabulary, and incomplete sentences. While students listen I will ask them to pay particular attention to the paralinguistic features of spoken discourse: the voice changes, intonation and body language. They will again comment on these features in pairs before discussing them as a group.

The next two stages of the lesson draw direct attention to the structure and discourse features of the story telling. I will hand out a worksheet with information taken from McCarthy about the structure of stories and details about 'evaluation'. The back of the worksheet draws attention to the different strategies a person can use to show they are actively listening. First of all I will ask students to read the information about the structure of a story, check they understand it and then invite them to highlight language in the video transcript which could fit into each section. I will encourage them to use highlighter pens so that it will be easy for them to see the structures during feedback. I have also put letters at the side of each intervention to facilitate locating structures.
The next stage focuses on 'evaluation' features and on the use of tenses and vocabulary. I will encourage students to work in the same way with a different coloured highlighter pen, again to facilitate feedback. Finally I will ask students to look at the listener's role to analyse how many different strategies she uses to show she is actively listening. Students can compare their results with the back of the worksheet. I have decided to work on the transcript in depth, hoping that "..if learners are conscious of the strategies they could use and the pitfalls they should avoid, if they have a wider repertoire of set expressions and conversational formulae on hand , they could make faster progress towards becoming relaxed, polished conversationalists" (Dörnyei /Thurrell 1992: introduction x Conversation and Dialogues in Action)

In stage 7 students will predict the stress on key expressions for telling stories (the expressions in bold may be new to students). We will deal with each group of expressions in turn, students in pairs will predict the stress and intonation, I will highlight it on the OHP and we will drill it quickly. After each block of expressions, I will encourage students to spend a minute repeating the expressions they want to drill to themselves. There are four blocks of expressions. I realise that this is a lot of drilling but it is important that students feel comfortable with the expressions if they are going to use them later. I will try to keep the activity snappy and the student 'mumbling' drill will break it up.

In the next stage students will have five minutes to prepare a personal anecdote. Students who attended class on Tuesday should have prepared this as homework. It will mean a little less preparation time for the students who were absent. Preparation may help the students perform more confidently and successfully in the final stage of the lesson.

Students will have an opportunity in the final stage of the lesson to practise telling personal anecdotes and listening actively. I imagine that the need to concentrate on new language and expressions as well as trying to put into practise as many strategies for active listening as possible will affect fluency in this activity. I hope there will be time to change pairs and repeat the activity for this reason, to give them a chance to perform more successfully.

As a homework task I will encourage students to practise telling a different story and to tape it on cassette as oral homework. We have done this activity with other speaking tasks and some of the students have found it useful. I keep insisting with those who have not yet handed it in.

Assumed knowledge
· Some vocabulary may be new to students: to take some time off, to be up, to turn up, raring to go, to nip up to the toilet, to get worked up about something, grin
· Students will be familiar with narrative tenses but not with the use of the present tense in oral anecdotes
· Students are familiar with ellipsis

Anticipated problems and solutions
· I have never handed students a transcript with details of the overlap of conversation or turn-taking features. For this reason, I would like to explain the layout and give students a chance to skim through it before doing the second listening.
· Telling stories is a difficult task. Some students may find it difficult to speak fluently while incorporating new features and expressions into their oral discourse. I will drill the stress, intonation and mention body language when appropriate and then will give students time to prepare what they are going to say before they perform the task.

Class Profile
There are 8 students in the class. We meet twice a week for one hour 20 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 20.35 to 21.55. The age range is between 19 and 32. I have been teaching the group since the beginning of October 2002. Some students in the group have been studying at Chester for several years, others have just started this year. Marcial and Eva started classes in January. They are a lively class, who enjoy English and love speaking. Most students work and so find it difficult to do a lot of homework. I include a list of the students and a brief comment about each one.

Elisa - Keen, confident. Good at reading and writing. Interested in vocabulary, expressions and makes an effort to incorporate them into work. She has made steady progress in the exam preparation so far but recently has been very busy. She studies French too and this sometimes interferes.
Mª Mar - Lacks confidence, gets nervous when speaking in front of the group. Good at reading, ambitious when writing but makes mistakes. Keen to do well. She has made steady progress in the exam preparation so far. She works in a bank and has been very busy in the two months.
Ana - A shy member of the group who speaks quietly. Good all round student but a little lazy. She started work a month ago and has missed a lot of classes since then. She loves cinema and music.
Javier - Busy at work so doesn't have much time for homework. He is an engineer and uses English occasionally on the phone and to send emails. Makes careless mistakes when writing and speaking. Needs to work on grammar. He likes to provoke students and joke in discussions.
Carmen - Initially a quiet student in the group but now she participates a lot. Speaks well, works better in pair/ group work than in whole group work. Writing so far good. Not done much homework because she is very busy at work and studies French too. She has been applying for jobs recently and has had interviews in English and French.
Marcial - He studies engineering. He is very good at grammar and knows a lot of vocabulary. He is going to England next year on an Erasmus scholarship and so needs English for this reason. He hesitates a lot when he speaks but participates well in class. He doesn't do much homework.
Estibaliz - She is the youngest in the group and quite shy and quietly spoken. Her writing and knowledge of grammar are very good but she sometimes has problems understanding me. She lacks confidence in the listening and speaking. She has a sister living in London and so is excited about going to visit in the summer although she is terribly concerned she won't understand anything. It will be great for her confidence. She is lazy about handing in homework.
Eva - She is a journalist and needs English for interviewing film directors and stars. She also watches a lot of cinema in English. She changed into my group at the end of January. She likes speaking and makes notes of vocabulary and expressions that come up in class. She doesn't hand in much homework but participates actively in class.

Elisa, Mª Mar, Ana and Estibaliz have all done the FCE exam.
Javier, Carmen and Eva use English at work.
Mª Mar, Javier, Carmen and Eva have all been abroad to English speaking countries.

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