Unplugging day three: exploiting anecdotes

On our current CELTA course day three started like this…

Anthony told the trainees that something had happened to him the previous evening on his way home and that he was unsure about how he dealt with it. He told them that he wanted to tell them what happened and would like them to say whether they think he did the right thing or not. Anthony then told his story (which involved going to Burger King, being given too much change and having to make a snap decision about what to do) and trainees had a really animated discussion about how Anthony acted (they weren’t all in agreement!). Anthony went on to say that this wasn’t the end of the story and asked trainees to discuss in pairs what they thought happened next. Having done this they compared their ideas with what really happened. One trainee had predicted correctly.

We then asked trainees to tell each other some of their own stories. We encouraged them to see whether anything in the story they had just heard reminded them of something that had happened to them. After about 10 minutes they had had enough time to tell at least one each. We then tried to capture the essence of these stories. So for example, Anthony’s story was ‘a story about a time when I had to make a quick decision’. Trainee stories included ‘a story about a time when I was shocked by other people’s behaviour’ and ‘a story about a time when someone did something really silly because they weren’t thinking’.

Next we returned to Anthony’s tale and asked trainees to remember what reason Anthony gave them to listen to his story. They recalled that he wanted them to make a judgement about the appropriacy of his behaviour and then in the second half they wanted to listen to see whether their predictions about the ending were correct. We encouraged them to think back to reading or listening comprehension tasks they did at school and they came up with lots of workable ideas. One interesting thing that trainees noticed was that although on reflection they realised that Anthony had given them a ‘task’, while it was happening it didn’t feel like a ‘comprehension task’ because of the way it was set up and because it seemed like a real-life thing to do.

Types of task that they came up with were:

  • Comprehension questions (Who? Where? Why?)
  • True / False statements
  • Multiple choice questions
  • Prediction tasks
  • Ticking boxes or a table
  • Ordering pictures
  • Summarising or taking notes on some specific aspect of the story

If trainees suggest tasks such as “listening for any words that they don’t know” we acknowledge that focusing on new vocabulary is certainly something that is a valid in itself but that such a task could be done after the students have had a chance to get a solid picture of what the story is about. Unless the trainees volunteer it themselves we don’t feed in terminology such as listening for gist or skimming vs scanning and try to stick to this idea of ‘helping students to understand the stories’. There is time later on during week two to venture into a more detailed examination of different subskills but for now we just aim to keep things simple.

After this we asked trainees to come up with ideas for conversations that students could have after having listened to the Burger King story. Trainees came up with these things:

Do you have a similar story / experience?

  • Discussion questions related to the topic of the story
  • Retelling the stories from a different perspective
  • Role-plays of situations related to the stories
  • Interviews with characters in the stories

Once they had done this they returned to their own anecdotes and spent a few minutes thinking about which of the ideas would work well with their own story. At the end of the session they went away with the backbone for their second lesson. Of course it needed fleshing out and trainees needed guidance on language grading and length of anecdote but it was already in a workable form.

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