Last lesson at FELLOW: facing the future

FELLOW has been particularly calm so far this year – no double-booked rooms, dramas or unwelcome intruders – but this week’s turn of events was particularly unfortunate. Four teacher cancellations in as many days! Although we have a lot of eager volunteers, it can be very difficult to find extra support at short notice so, if someone does become unavailable, we usually end up cancelling the session altogether.

Luckily, though, help was at hand. We have a new volunteer who is currently training to be a teacher, and she very kindly offered to teach all four of the short-staffed classes: a first! I am incredibly grateful for her involvement at FELLOW, and I hope she gets a lot out of the experience. Her amazing teaching resources and beautifully-prepped class certainly put mine to shame last lesson.

I took the higher group once again this week and, after the success of my last vocabulary lesson, I was eager to revise the language we had covered and build on the topic. However, plans changed when the previous night’s teacher told me that she had covered future forms with the group, they had struggled, so maybe I could cover it again?

Uh-oh. I’ve had limited success teaching grammar to the higher group and on top of this, I sometimes feel as if my career has been marred by the poor teaching of future forms! I would be the first to admit that I struggle to teach will, be going to and present continuous together: even with the help of the finest grammar books, I find it challenging to communicate the nuances of meaning effectively.

So there we have it. FELLOW. Grammar. Future forms. Yikes.

I had to treat myself to a pre-teaching comfort Burger King to steel myself for the confusion that was bound to ensue.

As it turns out, everything was fine. I began the class with a quick write-your-own-dictionary task to revise vocabulary I’d covered in previous classes. I drew a table on the board that included the target language and asked learners to complete the table with the part of speech, a definition, and an example sentence for each item.

Part of speech Definition Example sentence
toddler noun a child who has only recently learnt to walk My friend’s daughter is an adorable toddler.

Not quite a cohesive vocabulary set, but you get the idea…

Learners got down to this quite quickly and the results were really good. As things are constantly in flux – different teachers, different students – we don’t always take the time to review new language. The activity was definitely appreciated, and I’m aiming to take a few moments to recycle vocabulary at the beginning or end of each lesson in the future.

Then came the scary part: future forms. The previous teacher had led with a text-based presentation and I decided to keep up the deductive approach and ask students to analyse my own set of example sentences, first to establish the purpose (offer, prediction, arrangement etc.) and then to examine the form. We ended up with a learner-generated summary chart on the board that covered all the forms and their meanings. Learners then worked in groups to complete a worksheet of gap-fill sentences, practising the same approach that we had covered in the first part of the lesson. Inspired by Svetlana Kandybovich’s great post on developing gap-fill tasks, I had hoped to do some peer correction: learners would complete two items of the worksheet, then pass to the next learner to correct and then add the next two items. Unfortunately, FELLOW being FELLOW, I had 24 learners and only 15 worksheets. So we collaborated instead! Peer correction happened in groups, and seemed to work well – learners worked together to review another group’s work, before I elicited the correct answers in a class feedback session.

I wish I had had time to focus on production of the target language, but it was 9.30pm before I knew it – and suddenly, class was over.

Lessons learned? I didn’t find future forms as nerve-wracking when I was working with materials I had written myself, and I really liked spending more time on sentence analysis as it required learners to engage closely with the language at hand. I would have liked to have got to a productive task – but next time, better timekeeping needed!