ELT BITES Materials-Light Lesson Challenge!

Thanks to http://www.flickr.com/photos/pshab/ for this image
Acknowledgement: Thanks to http://www.flickr.com/photos/pshab/ for this CC licenced image

Richard Gresswell over at ELT BITES posted a low-materials challenge for teachers recently – you can find the challenge and instructions here.  I thought I would try, so…

Lesson Idea: “What’s up?  There’s been a powercut”

True story – I arrived at work one morning many years ago to find the school in darkness and dismay – there was a powercut and nothing was working.  Our morning courses didn’t have coursebooks assigned but there was a course plan.  I had nothing prepared yet.

I was scheduled to review “present perfect 3” (if you know what that means, you’ve been in ELT too long!). I walked into the darkened classroom with 6 confused students and did the following:

  1. ASK students “Hi. Why is the light off? What’s up?” ELICIT “the lights aren’t working“. Ask for reason. ELICIT “There’s been a powercut – nothing is working
  2. BOARD EXAMPLE/CHECK UNDERSTANDING (So when did this happen? Do we know exactly? Is there still an effect now?)
  3. UNPACK FORM (POS: S + have/has + 3rd form verb etc…) and MODEL/DRILL contractions/sentence stress
  4. WRITE 4-5 SIMILAR SITUATIONS ON WB in de-grammared form (e.g. A) “What/happen? B) THERE/ACCIDENT. TAKE/TO HOSPITAL”). Students re-grammar examples.
  5. CONVERT TO “DISAPPEARING DIALOGUE”, removing key grammatical elements, students recall and perform each dialogue with partner with decreasing scaffolding until performance is entirely from memory.

Materials light?
YES. Only used the whiteboard present and the students’ notebooks (paper ones!)

Conversation driven?
YES. The situation in the school was leveraged but not contrived (I didn’t cut through the power lines just for the opportunity to do this!)

Focus on Emergent Language? Innovative? UNPLUGGED?
NOT REALLY/NOT REMOTELY!/ABSOLUTELY!!! I had a clear agenda so this wasn’t very Dogme in this regard. However, the students provided the working language and later contributed their own ideas/language to the mix.  The approach is pure Old School PPP but considering it was entirely on the fly, involved no materials and was a response to “the situation in the room” that fortunately coincided with curriculum requirements, I am still happy to consider this as my first Unplugged lesson.

What do you think? Did I meet Richard’s challenge?  Go to http://eltbites.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/5/ and see what others have posted in response to the challenge or take up the challenge yourself!


  • Thanks Anthony for sharing your experience which aptly demonstrates the advantages of material light teaching! I’m glad that you have brought in your interest of dogme and teaching unplugged, which the materials light challenge had in mind here at ELTBITES. I see from your blog that you also have an enthusiasm for using technology too which many people feel is at odds with dogme / unplugged teaching, like you I see an overlap between the two. Web 2.0 technologies are great with regards to learner-centred approaches, creating opportunities for conversation driven lessons, for example blogging, photosharing creating wikis etc . The ethos of Web 2.0 is all about sharing, collaboration and production so bang in line with dogme. I suppose the contrast is in that dogme adheres to a materials light approach while with Web 2.0 the focus is on ‘learner-generated’ materials. But I suppose they can be one and the same?

    Reading your story reminded me of when I started out teaching English. I was working and living in Bulgaria back in 1995 and power cuts were frequent then. The first words I learnt in Bulgarian were ‘Nyama tok’. ‘Nyama’ means ‘there isn’t’ while ‘tok’ means ‘electricity’. I always told my Bulgarian students this story when they asked me about my Bulgarian language learning, much to their amusement.

    • Nyama Tok! Heh, heh, When I first came to Germany, my first learnt chunk was “Ein Fünfkornquarkbrot, bitte” (A loaf of mixed wholegrain bread made with a kind of Fromage Frais), which took me a whole morning to master before I dared head to the bakery 🙂

      I think on the level of “emergent language/learner-generated content”, there may not be much distance between teachers espousing unplugged or EdTech values. Where I suspect they diverge is in a) where the starting point for the language is (imported or truly emergent?); b) the necessity of the resource (why is the use of technology necessary for the language learning experience?); c) the ecological impact (is there a simpler/less resource-costly way of achieving the same end?)

      This is where (at least for me) the emergence of Web 2.0 and mobile technologies since Dogme was first posited makes the internet and technology more broadly less problematic both ideologically and pragmatically for an unplugged teacher. As Gavin Dudeney and Nik Peachey (to name just two ELTTech advocates) regularly point out, the future is not in custom-made ELT EdTech (which would for a Dogmeist be the simple continuation of “coursebook bloatware” that Dogme cried out against early on) but rather in cross-functional apps – where the teacher and the learner can co-opt or subvert a tool for their learning purposes: which is, funnily enough, quite well aligned with unplugged principles 😉

      PS: I realise on re-reading your challenge rules that I flouted ALL of them 🙁 I’ll make amends by posting a cross-level idea as a comment later!

  • […] ELT BITES Materials-Light Lesson Challenge! Richard Gresswell over at ELT BITES posted a low-materials challenge for teachers recently – you can find the challenge and instructions here.  I thought I would try, so… Lesson Idea: “What’s u… (ELT BITES Materials-Light Lesson Challenge! Source: teachertrainingunplugged.wordpress.com […]

  • I don’t like this Anthony, I love it. Why? Because it fits in with Luke’s ‘back pocket syllabus’ idea. It dissolves planning to a ‘bare bones’ idea, much like a presentation plan on a card. I’m trying to figure out how to explain this but I think you probably understand. This is how I think T’s develop:

    1)Beginning teachers plan everything as they are unsure off what works
    2)As you get more experienced you plan but let things develop or change
    3)Later on you plan the main stages and choose activities that are appropriate
    4)You have ideas of themes/subjects/areas that are needed and let things grow

    This reflects the amount of experience of learning activities, grammar, subjects, what works with who/when etc. Which means you walk into a class with a mind full of far more than all the student/teacher books/TD books you’ve ever read. It also means that you are constantly 1 step ahead throughout the lesson thinking about the next or nextnext activity. The basic Dogme framework many of us use seems to help provide a basic framework Talk (let topic emerge) Focus (language) Write (summarise). A good teacher can use this for most lessons. For 121 I have Talk+Focus(minor points), Important Focus (major points), HW extension (+linked to previous activ), Writing (review+writing conventions).

    When I get time I’d like to transcribe the first bit to show how things emerge and are streamlined but v busy.

    Have a good weekend.

    • Thanks Phil – I think I do follow you but I’m intrigued by your reference to a transcript and am really interested to see what you mean!

  • In my 121’s I do the first 30ish minutes starting with “how are…” and depending on what comes up I help cement a topic. For instance, today my student was wearing casual clothes which developed into a discussion on attire for work, she then was very interested to hear about dressdown Fridays and charity fundraising, I then nudged it back to work stuff and we went onto corporate responsiility and what her company does such as donating money and PR activities.

    I think it would be interesting to record one, transcribe it and note the key points of development and how a teacher helps it along and refines it. Especially given that at the beginning you are thinking “where are we going?”, then “what shall I ask next?” and also responding to what the student replies. I think you could find a couple of strategies and phrases that new teachers would find useful.

    In fact, every person who teaches like this should try it to see what they are naturally doing.

    Any thoughts?

    • I think that sounds like a great idea and could develop into an interesting article, depending on the approach, for ELTJ. can’t wait to read the initial findings!

      • From my own reflections I think the interesting bit is what’s happening in the mind of the teacher during the 2nd and third stage of:

        Initiation (T)-Response (S)-Initiation (T),

        How he/she responds to answers, whether they think “yes, this is a good one,I’ll bring it out” or “try another angle” then how they help the topic develop with questions, statements etc. I’ve noticed that I:

        1)ask for clarification (bringing rephrasing)
        2)challenge the opinion and ask for convincing (bringing out support)
        3)ask for more information (bringing out lexis/grammar)
        4)ask why
        5)ask for the student’s opinion
        6)pose an opposing opinion/idea

        But how these are used and at what stages could be interesting to see on paper.

        Have you done anything similar?

        • This and a comment that Dale just made (about the localised nature of scaffolding and therefore its not being amenable to generalised procedures for doing it (perhaps), has got me thinking again. I hope both you and Dale write about this, as I get the feeling you both have more to say about it at this point than I do.

          I’ve thought (but not analysed) my approach like this before and it’s something similar. I need to write a bit more than a comment allows about this and the prelude to all this – listening.

          Thanks again!

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