Day Four: a guest post, + taking a stand on the stand

by celtaconfessions

Those of you who have read Day Four, I was left to hang would have noticed that I left out the tutor’s criticisms of me, claiming them too hurtful. Perhaps I was exaggerating a little, but I have my reasons. Freya, one of the other trainees in my group thought it unfair of me to “criticise” the others but not myself. I thought she had a point. I’ve been wanting others to voice their opinions for long enough and have said so enough times too, so I jumped at the chance and told her straight out, “Why don’t you write it?” I claimed that I wouldn’t be objective enough. Since the tutor wasn’t playing fair with me, in my humble opinion, I’d refused to repeat all the things he’d pointed out.

Needless to say, I was over the moon when Freya accepted! It’s short, but better than nothing! Thanks Freya!

Freya says…

As Chiew mentions in his post about this lesson, he was the final teacher of that morning, a difficult job considering the fact that students had been there since 10am without a break (it would be 11.20am by the time Chiew started teaching) and although it was the first week of October, this is southern Spain, and the mercury was still hitting 35C most days.

These factors combined, the class was a tad sleepy and energy levels were definitely low.

Chiew responded very well to this – if I remember correctly, he asked all of the students to stand up (everyone seems a bit sleepy = introduce some kinaesthetic learning asap!) and asked them to sit down when he said the time they had woken up that morning. He began at 7am, listing times in 15 or 30 minute intervals until everyone was seated. A simple task but it was great as it got students out of their seats and gave them a chance to revise the time. Even if it wasn’t directly related to the topic of the lesson it certainly engaged everyone, woke them up a bit and helped build a good rapport.

Chiew then moved on to the main part of the lesson, revising regular and irregular past simple forms. The students enjoyed the lesson and definitely got something from it. One of the things I think could have been improved was during the “test” part of the lesson, where the teacher tests the students’ prior knowledge (especially important during the CELTA course as you don’t know what the students have learnt before), Chiew only selected 3 students to give examples of regular/irregular past forms. Contrary to what I would have thought before teaching, most (if not all) of the students are keen to share their answers and will always want to know if their answers are correct, therefore it was a shame that Chiew didn’t get feedback from all of them.

I enjoyed the story that Chiew chose for the students to work with and thought he created interest in it very well, initially showing just a photograph and the title and asking them to try to predict what the story was about. Chiew had also pre-prepared visual aids to help with some definitions [I’ve written in my notes that you showed the students a picture of a purse when one of them asked what it was, apologies if this never happened!] Although this was helpful, it meant that Chiew didn’t elicit a definition from the students – this would have been a good opportunity to ask the group if any of them knew what a purse was, and encourage them to use the English words they knew to explain the meaning to their peers. The image then could have been showed to the group for clarification if anyone was still unsure of what a purse was.

Chiew replies…

Thanks, Freya, for your contribution, and, with your permission, I’d like to comment on a few points.

I remember the kinaesthetic activity; what I didn’t remember was that I did it in this lesson and that I’d use “the time I’d woken up” prompt. I suppose it must have been very much in my mind – all those 5am starts…

On my stage plan, I’d written the warmer as “to ask about the previous two lessons, to ask what they’d learned…” but I recalled that they looked as though they were ready to go back to bed, or to head to the nearest pool. They had hardly engaged in any speaking activities; they’d hardly moved; they’d sat through reading and listening tasks and I wasn’t about to add to their agony by some god-almighty grammar explanations! So I said sod it to the stage plan. That was the first and last time I did that with Ian’s class. At a later date, I would try it once again with Ceri, but that was the very last time I veered from my (written) plan during the course.

CELTA, to me, is a bit Govish in its attitude; it’s like going back to rote-learning and you aren’t encouraged to think on your feet, make changes as you see fit to adapt to the students in the class at that particular time. It’s about planning and sticking to your plan. Real-life teaching is very different to the CELTA training practice. You liked that activity, didn’t you, Freya? You saw how the class reacted, being the observant teacher you are. I decided on the activity a minute before I stood up to take the stand. I wasn’t going to be the lamb about to be slaughtered. It was a no-win situation. From one point of view. Either I get slaughtered for sending the students to sleep or I get slaughtered for veering from the plan. I chose the latter. Because I knew I’d win with the students, which I’d placed on a higher pedestal than CELTA’s rigidity. Of course, as we neared the closing stages, I wasn’t going to risk not passing and became more like what they wanted.

Ian didn’t mention this change of plan on the feedback session, but remarked it on paper.

But, you know something else? Perhaps even you had failed to notice… the activity wasn’t only to get their blood circulating, but also to subtly get their minds into ‘past’ mode: What time did I/you/she wake up? I woke up early. No, earlier than that. Irregular past. Interrogative. Past auxiliary. Comparative. 2-syllable comparative ending in -y.

No, Ian didn’t notice that. Or, at least, didn’t want to.

I could have done the whole 40-minute class using this activity alone. Probably. And chucked the lesson plan out the window. And still achieved the aim. This isn’t being arrogant – I apologise if it appears that way. I’m just saying real life is about adaptability. About knowing your students. Example: I could get them into pairs or groups and they could say something like, “If you drank more than 3 beers last night, touch your nose with your left elbow”. [Your left elbow, Al, your left! Sorry. Couldn’t resist that! ;-)] Just think of the fun (and the language). They would have forgotten about the heat.

Image beers in a bucket by Chiew Pang

More than 3 beers… Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

Anyway. Too much said. Onto the next point.

The “test”. Ah, yes, the test. This was one area where I goofed BIG TIME. You are right, Freya, and I would have gone through the whole test…in real life. It took me three random verbs to know that they didn’t have problems. So I moved on. Reason: one of my aims was to prove to CELTA that I could stick to the timing. And I did. 40 minutes to the second. But, this came at a price, and one of this was, not so much that I didn’t go through the whole test, but I’d forgotten to tell them that the answers were on the back of the handout! I swore I believed I’d told them, but apparently, I didn’t! And Ian repeated this enough times in the feedback to make sure it registered in everyone’s minds. It was a mistake for which I didn’t forgive myself, and I spent the following few days thinking how I could have missed it, but in real life, it wouldn’t have mattered the slightest. I’d bring it up in the next lesson, period. With Ian, it was like I’d forgotten to cross all my Ts in my final test paper.

Maybe you’ll all look at me very critically, but still, I’ll say this: other trainees have made mistakes like this before (and after), and I have recordings to prove this, but he’d say, ok, you forgot that, but it was in your plan, so that’s ok. You achieved your aim. That’s good. Good lesson. Well done.

Next point. The purse. Yes, I did show it on a visual. I had anticipated this so I’d prepared the image. I thought it was enough to show them this rather than spend talking time on this non-blocking lexis. I did, however, think it useful to point out the differences between UK and US usage, but Chris poured cold water over that one! LOL. According to him, US say the same: a handbag’s a handbag, a purse is a purse.

More criticisms

OK, Freya, you win. I’ll mention a few more “awfulness” that you’d missed (maybe on purpose?) but with my justifications.

Although Ian mentioned “clear instructions” in the overall comment section, further down the page he said, “slow down your speech when giving instructions, ss had difficulty understanding some.” No doubt he was right. However, it was probably towards the end when I had an eye on the ticking clock approaching 12…

In the feedback session, and this hurt, he himself said it that others had done the same (but surprise, surprise, he hadn’t mentioned it in any of the feedbacks before, and after all the bad things he’d said, he chose to tell me, in my session, adding salt to the wound: AVOID using “Do you understand?” Avoid asking “What are you going to do?”  (For more maxims, read The Ten Commandments)

There’s more. I hadn’t anticipated someone asking “Is burglar the same as thief?” Another goof. I should have been prepared for this. I knew this was an issue, so I had no excuse. I stumped at that moment. In my defence, others have made more serious errors, such as wrong grammatical explanations, but no word of them was mentioned during feedback. The tutor had his reasons I guess. But it beats me.

You want more?

I should have written instructions on my second worksheet. Obvious as they were, I still should have done so. Point taken. But, same as above – he should have said the same for the other trainees, too.

Then, there’s the game. Remember? The observers at the back read a past simple verb, students (who were divided into three groups) wrote them down. When they’ve finished writing all the verbs, one from each group then came up to the WB to write their list. I thought this went well. The students moved, and had a great time. But, again, this was shot down. Quote: CONFUSION, CONFUSION, CONFUSION! INSTRUCTIONS WERE VERY QUICK AND NOT CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD!

I don’t remember this. Maybe I did rush through the instructions – I blame the clock. But point is, they understood me, didn’t they? Or they wouldn’t have been able to play the game. So? Because I repeated the instructions? SO GODDAM WHAT? They were complicated instructions for this level. Did I achieve my aim? Yes. They listened, they spoke, they moved, they read… They realised the difficulty in understanding some past simple verbs and I demonstrated how the same word could sound different depending on the speakers – I got them to hear some words spoken in a Southern British, Kiwi, Australian, American, and my own peculiar British-influenced global accent.

And, to cap it all, in spite of there not being enough time to do everything I’d done, especially if I were to slow everything down a further notch, he said I could have done another activity… for them to discover the rules for forming past simple forms! That would take another 20 minutes, for crying out loud!

There you go, Freya. Now, do you see why I didn’t want to do this in the first instance? I knew I wouldn’t be able to control myself. Now, I’ve let it all out.

If any of you have anything to say, I’m all ears.

What would I change…

if I had this lesson again? The warmer will remain ad hoc – depends on the students at the time of the lesson.

Yes, I would definitely remember to tell them that the answers are on the back of the test. Would I do the whole test? Maybe, maybe not. There were only 12 verbs, so I might do them all – much depends on the timing, how long I spend on the warmer. Lots of learning can be done in the warmer stage, too, and when students are having fun while learning at the same time, well, I never stop them.

I’d try to give even clearer instructions, but if I had to repeat them, that’s cool. It’s listening practice. As regards the game instruction being confusing, I honestly don’t remember it being so, but if I noticed it, I could do a demonstration with a couple of verbs first.

I’d make sure I know how to explain the difference between a burglar, robber, thief, etc.; in any case, if we had to have a full lesson plan prepared, it would have come up in the language analysis. Remember that at this stage, we had only to prepare a stage plan.

I would include instructions in all exercises, regardless of how obvious they are.

Guided discovery? No, definitely not. Not with this schedule. At a later date, I did do a guided discovery with Ceri , in Intermediate, in a 60-minute lesson – and she loved it, but that’s for a future post.


I’d like to thank Freya again for her contribution. It was much appreciated. Now if any of you (since only about 6 from my course read my stuff, I’m addressing to all the rest of you from all over the world, trainees, past, present or future, even trainers…) would like to contribute your point of view, drop me a line – it would give me tremendous pleasure.

Thanks for reading!