“Silence is Golden“:
Going to Extremes to Reduce TTT
by Gabi Bonner
Then I wrote ‘page 43 please’ on the board. Students turned to page 43 of their textbook, and I pointed at which task I wanted them to do. It was to read the first paragraph of the text about mountain climbers and decide what they would’ve done had they been one of the climbers in the story. I then checked my instructions by pointing to the other paragraphs and putting on my ‘questioning face’. “Just the first one”, someone said. I nodded in agreement. Feedback for this task was conducted as a whole class and consisted of me picking a few students to tell the class what they would’ve done had they been in this situation. This led to a bit of a debate too, which I sat back and watched as a spectator. My students were actually taking responsibility for their learning and giving themselves opportunities to speak!
I was ecstatic J This routine of the students reading the paragraph and then responding to the questions continued for the five paragraphs of the story. I then drew several smiley faces on the board with different expressions, and I pointed to the story, and students discussed their impressions of the story and how they felt about it. By this time it was half way through the lesson, and I was ready for the fun part to begin!
I decided it was time for some re-grouping. I motioned for the students to stand up and come into the middle of the room. I pretended to draw a straight line on the ground with my finger, and then I stood at one end of the line and reached my arm up as high as it would go, and then I stood at the other end and put my arm down low. I then picked the tallest student and got him to stand at one end and then I got the shortest student to stand at the other end, and I gestured for the other students to find their place in the line according to height. When they’d accomplished this I put them into new pairs according to who they were next to in the line and they sat down with their new partner.
I drew several mountains on the board, and then pointed at the highest one. “Everest”, someone shouted out. I nodded in approval, and then pointed to the map of the world on the wall with my ‘questioning face’. “Himalayas”, “Tibet”, “Nepal”, right! I then showed them an OHT with instructions for their first task. It was to select five people for their team in the race to the summit of Mount Everest to win the £5 million prize. The team members could be famous people or people the students knew, but they had to justify their choice. I then had them come and write their proposed team members on the board, and they then had to explain why they’d chosen these particular people, and they debated it and eventually came to an agreement. Task two was to select their equipment from a list of possible items (including English File Upper-Intermediate, a teddy bear and roller blades!). The same procedure was followed as for task one, with a debate and finally an agreement. Subsequent tasks included choosing their guide, choosing a team member to lose when the food supplies ran out, choosing a piece of equipment to lose, deciding whether or not to let Pavel Bem join the team when we run into him on the last leg, and planning the party for when we reach the summit. While students were discussing and carrying out the tasks, I sat on the sideline thinking about how proud I was of my students for making their lesson such a success, and I was aware that I was witnessing the almost complete subordination of teaching to learning. I have to say I was thoroughly entertained as well! I mean, listening to people discuss whether Superman, Batman, David Beckham or Tom and Jerry would be most efficient at getting to the summit of Everest can only be hilarious!
When I finally spoke at the very end of the lesson, the students seemed really surprised, and not the least bit relieved. They filled in the same questionnaires as for the control lesson, and they gave me some oral feedback. One student told me he thought I should act in the theatre! I’m not sure if this was a compliment or not.. but I think I’ll take it as one, because as mentioned above, the Silent Way teacher is supposed to take on the role of a ‘dramatist’!
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