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English Lessons at EC

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'Good morning everyone, open your books, and please do all the exercises on page 43...
...and the answers are: exercise one...'

Is this your experience of English lessons? I hope not. And you won’t find too much of that at EC. Of course you are supplied with a course book and there are exercises that are helpful to complete - necessary practice even – but we favour a far more communicative approach and get students to check their answers together, before we feedback as a whole class and discuss why the language is as it is and try to help the students work out their errors for themselves.

A typical class generally follows the course book Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but it is up to the individual teachers as to how they use the material in the book. If a teacher feels that an area of language presented in the book could be better dealt with using other materials, or in another manner, they are encouraged to do so. The class dynamic may change on a weekly basis, with some students leaving and others new students joining, so our teachers have to be flexible in their approach and each new student brings something fresh to the class.

On Tuesdays and Thursday, classes swap teachers and there is a freer choice of topics and skills to be covered. The teachers liaise with each other as to what they think the students need to work on, but there is a lot of emphasis on what really matters; communication! Getting a really good class discussion going on is a great way to bring up new language and each student is encouraged to voice their own opinion. One of the best ways to do this is during a reading lesson. Reading is a superb way of improving vocabulary and absorbing language in a natural context, and if each member of the class has a different task to do while reading, the discussion that follows can be really productive. Depending on the number of students, this can be done as a whole class or in groups.

Short stories are particularly enjoyable in class, but before reading students may be given one of the following roles;

  • Discussion Leader
  • Summariser
  • Connector
  • Culture Collector
  • Passage Person
  • Word Master

(Thanks to the Oxford Book Worm series!).

The Discussion Leader will do exactly as the title suggests and lead the after-reading discussion, perhaps by asking a few general questions such as whether their class mates enjoyed the story, or by getting them to give the story a mark out of ten and the reason for their score. The DL is responsible for ensuring that the other roles have an equal part to play and no one hogs the show (look this idiom up!). The next one up is usually the Summariser, who again does just that; summarises the story by giving their interpretation of it, and also by asking the others in the group to add to it. The Connector links topics within the story to real life, their own experiences and those of the other students, while the Culture Collector does similar, but with a focus on cultural differences between that in the story and that of the students. The Passage Person talks about parts of the story that they feel are particularly descriptive or that in their opinion are most important to the story. And the Word Master pays attention to individual words in the story, often guessing or asking about the meaning of unknown words, but by using the context rather than a dictionary to work out the meaning.

Throughout all of this, a lot of language is being generated, questions are being asked, and opinions are being expressed. The teacher may take a back seat (another idiom), allowing the students free-reign (and another), only stepping in (phrasal verb) if the atmosphere gets too heated! But they are monitoring constantly, giving help when appropriate and recording on the board useful language for reviewing and recycling at the end of the lesson.

But aside from the practical use of reading in English, what a joy it is to able to transport yourself away to a different place and time through the magic of the written word and your own imagination!

By Tim, English teacher at EC Brighton English school.