Dave Dodgson: A year in review. Three Quick Ideas to Start your 2015 Classes

Just like that another year has passed and I find myself missing the deadline for festive posts not just by a day or two but having spilled over into a new month and a new year!

Just like that another year has passed and I find myself missing the deadline for festive posts not just by a day or two but having spilled over into a new month and a new year!
So, it’s a good thing I planned to share a post of lesson ideas that fit in with the theme of New Year rather than Christmas and ones that can be used to kick off your first classes of 2015.

Idea 1 - R&R: Reflections and Resolutions

An obvious angle to go for at the start of the New Year is Resolutions. However, this lesson can often have the same problems as resolutions themselves – generic, hollow, and something that is quickly abandoned or forgotten.

However, a couple of years ago while focusing on reflective practice during my MA course, I decided to apply some of the principles of teacher reflection to a New Year’s lesson for my students and the results were much better and it has now become a recurring feature of my late December/early January teaching.

  1. First of all, I ask students to think about everything they did, were a part of, or witnessed in the year just gone. Their first task is to identify and list the three best things from the year. This is done as a silent individual activity with plenty of thinking time – it’s often harder for people to remember the good things than the bad!
  2. Next, the students pair up to compare their personal ‘best of’ lists with plenty of questions encouraged.
  3. To complete the T-P-S (Think-Pair-Share) cycle, each student shares what their partner told them with the rest of the class.
  4. Now time to focus on the things that could have gone better. Again, students get thinking time to consider what didn’t work out so well (whether through their own involvement or something beyond their control) but they must also identify why these events could have been better. I generally tell them to stick to one or two things so the overall tone of the lesson remains positive.
  5. Steps 2 and 3 are repeated as the students compare and discuss with a partner before sharing with the class.
  6. And now for the resolution part. Focusing on those things that could have been better, the students must decide what they can personally do in the New Year to address these shortcomings, solve these problems, or make these improvements. Their goal in this stage is to write out two specific and focused resolutions (with help from the teacher to modify and reformulate when necessary).
  7. These can then be shared either orally or through Post-Its on the wall or a class blog if you are into that kind of thing. Don’t forget that students will appreciate their teacher taking part in this process too!

Idea 2 - The best (and worst) of 2014

This is a more recent idea that I have used in the last couple of years as part of my game-based learning classes but it could just as easily be done with films, TV shows, music, or books if your students are not gamers.

Depending on what your class are interested in, before the lesson you should pick out one of the many ‘best of’ lists that circulate on websites and in the wider media at this time of year*. Try to keep it short – a top 5 is enough and it shouldn’t be more than a top 10. For low level classes, a simple list will do. Higher levels might be willing to get to grips with the write-ups that accompany the picks as well.

*There is an alternative to this, which is presented below.

The rest of this brief write-up will use games as an example but the principles are the same whatever media you choose.

  1. Start with a discussion question: What new games did you buy/play this year? Again, give some thinking time before asking the students to compare their ideas in pairs and groups. In the whole class discussion, direct the class to identify which games they enjoyed and which ones were disappointing (it might be a good idea to get some of the titles up on the board).
  2. Present each pair/group with the list you picked out before the lesson. Tell them which website/media source it is from and stress that it is just an opinion. Ask them to read through the choices and discuss whether or not they agree.
  3. Task each group with drawing up their own ‘best of’ list for the previous year. How they do so is up to them – they might try to reach a group consensus, they could each choose one or two titles to go on a list, or they could vote. They must be ready to explain their choices to the rest of the class afterwards.
  4. Higher level students could be asked to prepare an article introducing each game and explaining why it was chosen.
  5. At the end of the lesson, students can refer back to the games from the past year they didn’t like and make an alternative list of ‘the worst games of 2014’. If you have time, you could present them with another article to kick-start the activity (plenty of the same websites that present ‘best of’ lists also have ‘worst of’ round-ups).

*As an alternative, you could not pick out a list for students to look at before the lesson and instead ask each group to search online for a list of the ‘best games of 2014’ and present it to the class This is a nice way to hand control over to the students.

Idea 3 – Word of the Year

This is a new one I tried out just before Christmas when I read a news story that the ‘word of the year’ for 2014 (as chosen by the Oxford Dictionary of English) was ‘vape’ (as in the action of using e-cigarettes). This is a rough outline of how I did the lesson:

  1. Write the word ‘vape’ on the board and ask if anyone knows what it means. If they don’t (my students didn’t), ask them to first guess and then look it up (they will need to look it up online to find the meaning). If they do, great! Ask the person who knows to explain what it means and go to the next step.
  2. Ask the students if they can work out why you presented them with this word (if they had to look it up online in step 1, they may have found the answer while searching; if they already knew, they may have to get searching now). Invite discussion as to why this was chosen as the word of the year.
  3. Discuss with students how new words enter languages, especially their own native languages. Is it through common use? Featuring in a dictionary? Through an official establishment? (As many of my students are French speakers, we had an interesting discussion about the Académie Française and I also told them about the Turkish equivalent, the Türk Dil Kurumu).
  4. Get the students to research previous ‘words of the year’ (they may also find an American version, which makes for interesting comparison). Did they know any of these words already? Which ones did they find the most interesting/bizarre? Why do they think these words were chosen? (One interesting trend my students spotted were the number of words relating to economic problems like squeezed middle and credit crunch, as well as the environmentally themed words like carbon footprint and social media related phrases like selfie, which they felt reflected our times).
  5. Make a prediction – what words have been circulating in the media recently and could be the word of 2015?

I hope you have found something useful for your first classes of the year (please share your experiences with a comment or a blog post if you try any of them out!) and I wish all of you English Language Teachers out there all the best for 2015. ☺

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