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“Silence is Golden“:
Going to Extremes to Reduce TTT
Gabi Bonner
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The Control Lesson

I taught a control lesson which had the exact same stages as the silent lesson would, working on a receptive skill followed by a productive skill. The receptive skill we focussed on was intensive reading. Students read a series of mini-sagas (English File Upper Intermediate) and we paused after each one to fill in a missing word and re-tell the story in the students’ own words. I then had students complete a (productive) Task-Based problem-solving activity, in which they were required to organise a class trip to Venice. The unit in the textbook is ‘A Moment in Venice’, so it was connected to the theme of the lesson. I gave instructions, checked them, and conducted whole class feedback as usual. I administered a short feedback questionnaire at the end of the lesson (see appendix). At the end of the control lesson I announced what I was planning to do in the next lesson. They were used to my experiments and had learned to tolerate them, but this time they looked at me as if I had completely lost it. Maybe I had… but then I convinced myself that some guy with a really cool name who has written heaps of books and even invented a whole approach to language teaching MUST at least have some idea what he’s talking about. I begged my students to promise to come on Thursday.

The Silent Lesson

 Thursday morning 8.45am. I enter the classroom with a feeling of slight trepidation riddled with excitement and anticipation. I have eight students. Not as many as had promised to come, but enough. I wrote ‘Please try to speak only English’ on the board, as I’d been warned that these type of experiments can lead to students reverting to their L1 if they don’t understand something. I waved hello, pointed to myself and then a smile and thumbs up to let them know I was well. I then pointed to my students with a questioning expression. “I’m fine and looking forward to the lesson”, said a shy girl who hardly ever speaks. Not a bad start, I thought to myself, encouraged by this initial positive response. I then pointed to other students and they told me how they were. My next aim was to find out what they’d been up to since I last saw them on Monday. Easier said than done, or easier said than gestured! I wrote ‘Today’ on the board. “Thursday”, someone called out. A nod and smile from me. I then gestured behind me to try to elicit the past. “Wednesday”, someone else said. Again. “Tuesday”. I wrote these days of the week on the board and pointing to each day, mimed what I’d done. For example, Wednesday I read a book, Tuesday I went for a walk etc. I then pointed to several students and in turn they told me what they’d done since Monday. So far so good!

Next, as a lead-in to the extreme sport of mountain climbing, I showed the students pictures of some extreme sports such as bungee jumping, hang gliding and skydiving. I elicited the names of these sports using a hangman-type procedure where students guessed the letters. I then used gestures to put them into pairs. I drew a smiley face and a sad face on the board, pointed to each sport picture and made myself lose all traces of self-consciousness (and possibly sanity as well!) by miming each of the sports and whether I would like it or not like it or be scared etc. I had the students in stitches, but they understood that I wanted them to discuss with their partner how they felt about these sports. I monitored as unobtrusively as possible. I then conducted a whole class feedback session in which I got several students to report on what their partner had said, using gestures and/facial expressions to let students know how I felt about students’ opinions on each of the sports. If I heard a ‘silly’ mistake, I put on my ‘sad face’ to let students know that something wasn’t correct, and to my great delight one of the other students was able to correct their colleague’s mistake! I then wanted to know if any of the students had ever tried any of these ‘extreme’ sports. I drew a timeline on the board and labelled it ‘now’ on the right-hand side and ‘past’ on the left-hand side. I then pointed to a sport, then to the students, and drew several crosses on the timeline at different points before ‘now’, and put on my ‘questioning’ face. “You mean have we ever tried it?”, someone asked. Triumphant nods and smiles from me. It was actually working!

Next came the pre-teaching of the vocabulary needed for the subsequent reading task. I held up the handout I’d made and gestured that they were to match the words on the left with the definitions on the right in pairs. I then managed to check my instructions using gestures. I pointed to the handout and put on my ‘questioning face’. Some lovely person got the idea and said, “matching”. I wanted to hug them. The whole class feedback for this task was fast and efficient, with me picking students to share their answers and then using my by then famous ‘questioning face’ to check if the other students agreed. I pointed to my mouth to let them know that I wanted to hear the pronunciation of each word. I waited until I heard the correct pronunciation, and then I got that student to repeat it again and I drilled the word several times. I even managed to ask a CCQ using gestures and miming; I have to admit I was fairly impressed with myself for this J . The word was ‘horrified‘. I wrote a number one and a number two on the board, and then I pointed to number one and made a happy and relaxed face and then pointed to number two and made a horrified face. Then I pointed to the numbers and made my ‘questioning face’. “Number two!” YES!!!

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