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Discord or syphphony: tips for orchestrating your lesson by Jonathan Lewsey

Discord or symphony: tips for orchestrating your lesson

by Jonathan Lewsey

A musician needs to master notes, chords, sequences and so on, in order to create a piece of music that is pleasant to the ear. A conductor must inspire, monitor and lead the performers in the orchestra in order to produce a symphony. Equally, the teacher may have to be musician, conductor, and even player, to make possible the delivery of a lesson that is harmonious rather than discordant.

To compare a lesson to a symphony may be to stretch the imagery too far, but surely ELT can learn from music to enable more effective lessons. It would be idealistic to expect every lesson to be like a philharmonic performance, but no teacher wants uproarious noise in the classroom. So let’s start with some tips for reducing discord.

Just as the musician will know an A minor from a B flat, the English language teacher can benefit from mastering those pesky ELT abbreviations. So how do we avoid hitting the bum notes? Well, for example, T.T.T. does not stand for Take Two Tablets before your lesson (even  though you may need some afterwards)! Test, Teach, Test, is a tried and tested way to establish your students’ knowledge and weaknesses, clarify and reinforce learning, and give them useful practice. ELF may sound like an engaging little fairy, but leaving fantasyland and treating English as a Lingua Franca will be more useful in the real world. A TBL lesson will hopefully not be ‘too bloody long’ but to be effective it may include Task-Based Learning, a way for you to elicit and enable language practice by setting an engaging and realistic task.

Learning notes is not enough to play a tune; a teacher needs to speak effectively and clearly to get a message across or to convey language learning. Phonology is not the art of text-messaging, so we shouldn’t be afraid to model and drill pronunciation or stress (without getting stressed). And of course, to be an effective band leader or conductor it helps to master the Speaking Skill: first open mouth, then emit air whilst forming appropriate shapes with voicebox, mouth, tongue and teeth. But do remember to engage brain first!

So why not create your own memorable linguistic chords, mnemonics, abbreviations or acronyms? Perhaps you want to remember to FART:  Find Authentic Reading Texts. But no, we want to avoid those discordant schoolboy sounds! So here’s one that may be more useful and pleasing to the overburdened ear. On day one of the CELTA course we were coached to ensure that lessons include the following major elements: Set-up; Instructions; Monitoring; Feedback. So I created the (almost) acronym SIMF: a short jump from ‘simf’ to ‘symphony’ helped me remember this best practice advice.

Following a harmonious sequence should help keep your lessons in key. For example to achieve your receptive skills aims your melodious lesson plan should include as a minimum: creating interest, pre-teaching vocabulary, eliciting and modelling examples and usage, giving and checking instructions, tasks with appropriate feedback and correction, and a coherent follow-up activity. Even if you don’t achieve the kind of symphonic perfection of a classical music concert, at least you should avoid the discordant noise of a punk garage band.

And of course the kind of feedback we want is not a shrill burst of distorted output coming back through the poorly-wired microphone; rather we want a well-sung chorus of clarification, correction and practice that sends students away humming happily a lovely memorable tune of fluent English language.

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