I had previously watched one of her classes in the morning and this was our return visit. I decided I wanted to show her poetry in action with a group which I had done 'Remember' by Christina Rossetti with before (please see previous blogs for more info.).
Now I haven't been observed by a peer or a boss in a very long time and I was quite excited by the idea - especially as my colleague is also my friend and someone who's opinion I respect and value. We recognise that we have different teaching styles and from this we gain most benefit. Seeing how another, very experienced teacher goes about the classroom, manages her students and structures the class is very useful. Going for so long without an observation only adds to the feeling of teaching in a bubble. I felt elated both after watching her class and after giving my own. I used the peer observation notes available on this website to help me prepare and they were great.
'Remember' is such a melancholy poem and the fact that my students had actually commented on this, I felt the need to do something a little more positive. Though the weather here is rubblish again now, last week we had a beautiful Spring-like window of a few beautiful sunny days and hopefully a taste of what is to come. With this in mind, I chose Wordsworth's 'I wandered lonely as a cloud' and planned a class around my Cambridge Proficiency group, part one reading paper which is a multiple choice cloze test focussing on vocabulary in context (collocation). Here is an example for those of you unfamiliar with it:
The ladies standing in the corner __________ their long mascara-coated eyelashes at the young men, each hoping to be the first to be asked to take the floor. (a) blinked (b) flashed (c) fluttered (d) sparkled (*)
It's a particularly hard exercise to 'teach' and can be phenomenally difficult for students to be good at. I say 'teach' in inverted commas because it is impossible to help students with any strategy to do this activity, infallible to all questions. It's a time-consuming and laborious task, going though each question and talking about the nuances of the four options. I always recommend a wide literature base as I believe this is the only real way for any student, or indeed native speaker, to broaden their vocabulary. However, recycling such vocabulary in class is simply never ending. That said, it must be tackled in class, and this is one creative way to do it.
Back to the poem then. And the weather. I do it love when it rains as you can cash in on all that rainy vocabulary and wealth of expression that English has to describe it. I'll detail the plan here and then comment on how it went:
1. Brainstorm words / phrases / expressions to do with rain. Draw spidergram to this effect.
e.g. drizzle to be wet through, soaked to the skin soggy, damp raining cats and dogs (not really used) thunder and lightning hailstones spitting splash pitter-patter puddle slush, to thaw heavy / light rain a drowned rat clouds it never rains but it pours every cloud has a silver lining to be on cloud nine etc.
2. Take the simile form and ask students in pairs to write weather similes either using a weather adjective to describe something, or another adjective to describe the weather.
e.g. as adjective as a noun as fickle as an English summer's day
3. Taking the phonemic symbols of the rhyming sounds from the poem, give each pair three sounds and ask them to think of as many rhyming words for that sound as possible.
e.g. /ain/ dine, fine, line, mine, nine, pine, Rhine, sign, align, vine, decline, incline etc.
4. Comment on the idea of rhyming couplets with either a pentameter (like 'Remember') or tetrameter (like today's poem). Show a daffodil and comment on how it's symbolic of Spring in England. Look at a quote from Dorothy Wordsworth about the Wordsworths' first view of the daffodils at Grasmere (culture content). Give out poem and ask students to find the rhyming words for their sounds in stage 3. Feedback.
5. Teacher reads poem out loud asking students to pay particular attention to how the punctuation is read as well as the meaning of the poem within the rhythm. Students then take one verse of their choice and read it a few times with their partner.
6. Ask students to take out all verbs of movement and of sight from the poem and put them in two lists. After feedback, comment on the nuances of the words which makes one more appropriate than another (use glance and glimpse as examples).
7. Refer students to a photocopy taken from collins cobuild (www.cobuild.collins.co.uk) showing concordances of 'flutter' and 'tossing' taken from the poem. Talk about the collocations and difference of meaning in the sample sentences. This is to illustrate appropriacy in context and raise awareness that the key to the answer lies in the phrase around the gap, not merely the adjacent words.
8. Students are given a CPE Reading part 1 activity and have a go.
9. For homework the students are asked to imagine a beautiful image from their region and write a verse or couplet using the simile form to describe it.
I found the students very responsive and enthusiastic despite the difficulty of some of the stages of this lesson. They were adventurous when creating similes and thus motivated for the reading of the poem. In the next session I hope to further encourage memorising one verse of the poem to recite.
Tomorrow my colleague and I will feedback about the classes we observed and so I'll post a blog on what she noted. I must admit to being a little reticent about doing another poem (after 'Remember') as not all the students were really into it the first time. However, I am very pleased to say that I think the participation this time was 100% and it was definitely worth doing.
(*) the correct answer is (c)