I returned to work this year after taking a sabbatical, during which time I had time to reflect on my own teaching practice and as a consequence my teaching has evolved probably more than at any other time in my career. During this time I started reading blogs by practitioners like Ross Morrison McGill, José Picardo and Gianfranco Conti, which I cannot recommend highly enough.
Three of the main differences to my previous teaching practice have been (i) flipping vocabulary learning using Memrise (ii) re-appraising how I incorporate tools like Quizlet into my lessons and (iii) increasing the amount of reading and listening input I want my learners to absorb before moving on to production tasks.
I was asked recently to give an account of how I incorporate individual listening into my lessons, so by way of example, I want to outline a recent sequence of lessons which I did with my Year 7 Spanish class, who are at the time of writing working through Chapter 3 of Mira 1. The topic was ¿Cómo eres? and during the week we have a 70-minute double period and a 35-minute single. All students have access to tablets, which allow me to quickly share sound files with individual students as well as complete online activities.
Ordinarily, the aims of the lesson would be to (i) to consolidate understanding rules of adjective agreement and (ii) apply modifiers in the context of describing family members. This was still the basic success criteria of my lesson, but I also wanted to (iii) introduce the comparison structure más … que and (iv) re-capitulate adverbs of frequency, which the group had been introduced to in a previous unit of work.
Prior to the lesson, students had been tasked with the homework of completing this level of the Mira 1 Memrise course I’m creating this year. The aim of this was to expose them to new vocabulary in familiar sentence structures. I like using Memrise for students to pre-learn key vocabulary because it means we can be more efficient with our limited class time.
Students enter the room, get the date and title down and are immediately directed to a Quizlet set which gets them to immediately re-activate the key vocabulary. It also gives me time to circulate and ensure students have completed the Memrise homework, which is simply a case of them switching apps and showing me their progress level.
Next, we complete the first listening task from the book as a group. This has a low level of challenge and serves as a confidence booster for students. We review the answers using pose-pause-pounce-bounce and, using the key vocab, do some rapid-fire sentence building.
Next, the students completed a group race task using Socrative, which reviewed the vocabulary the learners had previously seen, but which also included examples of comparisons using más + adj + que. Like Quizlet Live, Socrative lets you review questions and answers at the end of an activity so teachers can identify and correct common errors.
There is then a brief Q&A about the comparison questions, and then get students to give working examples first within topic of descriptions (my dog is bigger than my cat) then from other topics (music is more fun than history). Recap with a slide which students can photograph for later reference.
Next students apply the concepts just covered answering a series of questions from the board based on pictures from the textbook. Upon completion of this, students are directed to another Quizlet task to further reactivate vocab from homework relating to descriptions of personality. I like including such Quizlet breaks, not only for review and practice purposes but also because it provides fast finishers a beneficial activity to complete whilst other class members catch up.
The next activity is a whole class listening exercise, and I give students the option to complete with or without the aid of the textbook. We check answers mid-way through and at the end, again using pose-pause-pounce-bounce.
Then students then complete a series of exercises with audio I created using my iPhone’s voice recorder. These exercises are designed to develop a range of skills, including decoding, proofreading and comprehension.
Each exercise has accompanying audio, and students listen after completing to self-mark their work. The audio has very specific feedback, and alternative answers, breaking sentences down word-by-word and then re-capping the full sentence at the end.
“Mi padre no es estricto. Remember no comes before the verb, which in this case is es – he is, so no es means he isn’t. Mi padre no es estricto.”
Not only does the feedback allow them to work at their own rate and correct their work, but I’ve found students to be more focused working in this way than when in group-listening situations. Additionally, listening to answers increases their exposure to pronunciation and allows me to only have to do a very quick visual check of students work.
The lesson ends with a Kahoot Jumble plenary based on comparison sentences with más + adj + que and students finish off un-answered tasks on the sheet for homework.
Single Period Lesson
Students are immediately directed to another Quizlet set which recaps vocabulary and structures covered in the previous session. This allows me time to visually check completed homework sheets and then groups is then brought together for a Quizlet Live session, which they always enjoy, using the same set.
Thereafter they are brought together for a timed writing task using all the language they have studied over the preceding session. We briefly go over task requirements, but then I’m free to circulate room whilst students get to work.
Workbooks are collected in and vocabulary learning homework set for next lesson, to allow me the chance to check what the students have produced. We can then review common errors as a group in a follow-up session and students can redraft selected sections based on feedback.
In this short sequence of lessons, I think some of the noticeable features are (i) previewing of language to be covered in class (ii) frequent low-stakes testing and (iii) lots of comprehensible input – both written and recorded – so that students have ample opportunity to absorb and practice manipulating the structures being taught at their own pace. If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to leave a message in the comments section below.