The sixth day of the CELTA course was especially good because we had a chance to look into the most crucial stage of an effective lesson plan, the LEAD-IN stage. Its importance lies in the fact that it is the foundation on which you build everything you design.
There are already-established ways of enriching the lead-in stage by using pictures, realia, and the Internet, but there is something else which I believe every teacher should practice. That is story-telling.
It is very normal to think that story-telling is not quite a big issue as everyone can present anecdotes from their lives in a story format, yet an ordinary story could be presented in an extra-ordinary manner if parts of it are elicited from students.
Ri Willoughby, in her session on Monday, gave us a good example of that. She started talking about her father and what he used to do every Sunday. She said “My father would leave before afternoon and spend the whole afternoon playing a sort of game very popular in New Zealand” and described some distinguishing aspects of the game, finally asking us “What is the game?” without breaking the flow of the story. Her descriptions were so explicit that it was not hard for us to guess that the game her father played every Sunday was “Cricket”.
As she went on, she unfolded many other points successfully eliciting from the class what the missing information was. When she finished, she was not the only one who had told a story; it was also us. What Ri managed to do by applying her amazing strategy was to give us a purpose for listening to what she was telling, thus engaging everybody in the lesson.
Story-telling strategy was not the only clue we had about effective lead-in stages. We were told that it could easily prove effective to show genuine interest in the answers students would give following the pair/group work activity set for contextualization of the topic. For example, teachers can introduce a follow-up question like “Oh, really? Who do you go there with?” if a student says “I go to cinema at the weekends”. Then, questions about the types of movies may follow and the student feels his/her answers are really taken into account, so s/he can get to be more responsive to the lesson.
It sounds like a simple thing to do, but I must confess it requires a lot of practice for a teacher to master such a skill. We, as a class of CELTA trainees, tried to do it during the session, and that revealed to us that we still had a long way to go. However, it was more than enjoyable, and there were moments when we burst into laughter.
In the next session of the day, we were with Chia. She enlightened us about how we could identify the main/sub-aims of a lesson in order to have an unshakable organization. She started by clarifying the 4 systems and 4 skills that every teacher needs to keep in mind.
The systems are pronunciation, lexis, discourse, and grammar. There is no doubt that teachers who understand what they really are will teach better lessons of listening, reading, speaking, and writing, which, as is known to every language teacher, are the 4 skills. I do not want to go into more details about every point Chia highlighted because I may not be as accurate as she was, but I can say that any lesson for which reading is the main aim could have a focus on lexis, grammar or speaking. Similarly, a grammar lesson will be more effective if speaking and reading are integrated into the plan skillfully.
I must point out again that it is not a walk in the park either because the key element here is creativity and the ability to adapt the content in course books according to what interests the students. My fellow teachers and I are still trying to figure out how we could plan ideal lessons although we have done 5 TPs already.
Everything that we learn broadens our horizons, and it is a great opportunity for us to experiment with new ideas. The road to teaching beneficial lessons is full of crucial tips to pick and practice, so we should always be ready for the unusual and keep our arms open to embrace numerous possibilities. Most importantly, we should not be afraid of making mistakes, for greatness can only be achieved by realizing what was not that great.