Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
I was recently invited to pitch to a major ELT publisher for a Teacher’s Resource Book to go with their new Adult coursebooks. Simple brief – a truly communicative activity to go with the unit selected. The unit had past simple vs past continuous for interrupted actions or vocab associated with feelings. I chose the grammar.
I wrote the below pitch in one evening mid another very consuming project, unlike me, the day before the deadline. I didn’t get the gig I should say. At the risk of everything I say sounding like sour grapes rather than offering an insight and asking for further insight, I was, at the time, quite pleased with what I came up with.
With any kind of writing – EFL, fiction, blogs, whatever, I feel an enormous sense of relief and Go Nicola! when I have sat down with myself, demanded that I create and come up with something from nowhere. And in this case, I thought and think I did a pretty good job of coming up with an original take on a familiar game – Alibi.
So, at the very least this post gives you a halfway decent classroom activity for free (download below). Always nice.
But the interesting part is the feedback. You’ll see what editors are looking for (as did I) and you can suggest improvements if you see any. Here’s the feedback.
We have had a number of submissions where the level was very high. However, we have had to make a decision based on the following criteria:
Level of material; Originality of the activity; Adult feel of the activity; Staging and support through the stages of the activity
I’d say mine satisfied the first, second and third criteria and that the negative comments following relate mainly to the fourth criterion.
We enjoyed reading your activity very much, but your submission does not quite meet all the criteria we are looking for in this course. We have some points of feedback which we hope will help in future submissions:
The idea for the game is solid and the lead-in stage sets the activity up very well.
There is a problem in that no individual student is designated as being guilty, so the most convincing alibi is likely to be awarded to the best student.
The level of challenge up to stage 7 is rather low – students merely read the sentence on their card – but the steps beyond stage 8 require a much higher level of language manipulation and creativity, which leads to a slightly imbalanced sequence.
The follow-up task provides a good opportunity for post-class activation.
Now, what do I know? And this is where it’s going to sound like sour grapes. I looked at it again and I am disinclined to agree but I will at least disagree politely and am quite happy should anyone feel like correcting me.
Firstly, I don’t see point 2 as a problem. The best student wins? Er….yes. Best in terms of creativity, interest, effort…not necessarily best in terms of grammar and ability to reproduce the form accurately so working on fluency while enabling the teacher or peers to correct. If you designate someone as “guilty” there’s no motivation to be creative, interesting, make an effort or work on fluency. A short, robotic grammar reproduction will do.
And point 3? Also deliberate. Students get scaffolded practice building up to free practice. That’s imbalance? I think they firm up the structure and then might be more likely to repeat it when the fluency part starts. Weaker students will have had that structured practice and can participate to their own level aided by the support of the Q&A format.
So, I see that if this wasn’t what they were looking for, I didn’t get the commission and fair enough. But in terms of learning something I think what I’ve learned is this:
Course book editors are not willing to take anyone that might need – God forbid – editing. As certainly the build up could be altered to take in their wishes (even if I don’t understand why the activity would benefit or actually be more “balanced”) and I suppose a designated winner could be introduced by having students choose from 3 alibis written for that particular crime.
Much more boring if you ask me but I’m a very flexible writer. If you want boring, I can do it!
Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think, as readers, students, editors, teachers. I am open to changing it, especially if anyone tests it in class. Here’s the past simple cont Photocopiable Activity if you do want to try.
Title: It wasn’t me!
Aim: Practise past continuous and past simple
Time: 15-25 mins (depending on how creative the class is)
Lead in (5 mins)
e.g. Who were you with? Did anyone see you? (The more creative and imaginative the questions the better)
Activity (15-20 mins)
Crime cards (9) in a facedown pile in the middle. Alibi cards (18) shared out facedown between the three students. Students should not look at the cards they are given.
Optional follow up (15-20 mins)
Suggested vocab only as it can be changed to recycle vocab from lessons.
Crime Cards (9)
|A fire started in my school yesterday morning at 10 o’ clock.|
|Someone took (or stole) my wallet this afternoon at 4 o’ clock.|
|Someone killed my goldfish last night at 8 o’clock.|
|Someone broke my window this morning at 9 o’clock.|
|Someone used my phone to call London for 3 hours yesterday afternoon.|
|Someone put insects in my bed yesterday.|
|Someone crashed into my car last Monday morning.|
|Someone ate all the food in my fridge on Sunday night.|
|Someone deleted all the files from my computer at lunchtime.|
Alibi cards (18)
|I was sleeping.||I was eating dinner with friends.|
|I was flying to Spain.||I was cooking lunch for my mum.|
|I was feeding my cat.||I was doing my hair.|
|I was reading a book.||I was watching a film.|
|I was having a shower.||I was cycling home.|
|I was walking my dog.||I was studying English.|
|I was listening to music.||I was playing football.|
|I was chatting on the internet.||I was writing a letter.|
|I was tidying (or cleaning) my room.||I was driving to work.|