In my first class with a pre-intermediate adult class last night, a beautiful moment happened.
It was after break time, before that the students and me had been getting to know each other and I was feeling good in the class and building a lot on what they were saying to encourage improvements and correction.
Then after break, a staff member entered to inform the class about an English club taking place the following week. This announcement was done in Vietnamese. When he left, I asked the class to translate what we said and write an invitation for me to come to the club. They did and I took them. I noticed one thing: the language was overly formal for what was supposed to be a social club invitation. So I boarded some examples:
- Exchange information
- Notice me if you can come
- Organize an English club
I drew a cline: Formal _______ Informal and
asked the class to translate these words so we all knew exactly what I was referring to. I told them that their invites were nice and I would probably come, but they were very serious, very formal – the English club didn’t sound too fun at the moment!
So I tried to elicit and supported them in converting the boarded language into a more appropriate tone. After a few minutes we had:
- Share information / stories / network
- Let me know if you can come
- Run / have / set up and English club
Honestly, the class were engaged. Genuinely engaged. It was great.
For homework I asked them to email me another invitation to the English club, but this time try to make it more informal. Their reaction was largely laughter and I think they are actually going to email me – which is a better reaction than usual when I ask my students to email me for homework. This one had a legitimate purpose.
This sequence encapsulates elements of task repetition and adding complexity to student language – upgrading their language, pushing them to explore nuance and discovering how, with a few tweaks, their language can change in ways they may have never really noticed before – or considered to be important. It was a truly fulfilling feeling for me and one of the first times this idea of complexity, which has come up continuously in my studies over the last few months has surfaced naturally in class.
My worry is that as soon as we start using the course book, these real moments will struggle to appear as the book tends to block them from happening. So a plan of action may be to have extended discussion time at the start of class and “see what happens, what can be extracted and, importantly, what complexity can be added. Certainly, adding complexity in the form of switching from formal to informal is one way.