Aim (in terms of subject matter): To revise the vocabulary covered before, to diversify the “family presentation discourse”.   

Aim (in terms of thinking): To practise grouping sentences (ENV model).

Target audience: Year 1.

Time: 1.5 lessons (60 minutes).

Task description: during the lessons the students have to prepare drafts for their essays about their families. To make the task more creative and demanding I told the students that they were describing the family in order to win the right to accept an exchange student for 1 year.     

Learners’ response: the students were given 15 minutes to go through the textbook units they’ve covered and write as many sentences as possible about their families. The aim was to revise vocabulary, especially the less popular words, so I asked them to write atypical sentences in order to prepare for the next step. Some of the students brought their family photos and when the preparation time was over, I asked each of the students to say one sentences about a photo on the screen, repeating previous sentences wasn’t allowed. So each student got a random picture and they had to improvise to some extent, not simply read the sentences they wrote. The sentences they told I wrote down on the board, they copied the ones they didn’t have. We had 2 rounds of such picture-sentence matching (15 minutes).

Then I reminded of the aim – to prepare for writing an essay and that writers present information in a logical and structured way, even in Chinese. The next step was to group the sentences. Since the students aren’t familiar with abstract notions in Chinese and can’t give names to categories, I asked them to use questions for naming the categories, eg, not ‘age’ but ‘how old are you?’, not ‘eating habits’ but ‘what do you eat?’. I wrote the questions on the board, they copied. I insisted on copying whatever new information they saw on the board, because they need to train writing skills and need a stock of sentences for the future use. This took us 10 minutes.  

Grouping made them revise the vocabulary and grammar once again. I would agree that the task itself mainly focused on linguistic aims rather than thinking ones. After having grouped the sentences on the board I asked the students to write more sentences individually (5 minutes). And again they had to read them trying not to repeat what had been said before. Each new sentence we either added to an existing category or made a new category-question (10 minutes). The students copied the sentences into their notebooks.

At the end of the activity each student had to say one sentence that would show the uniqueness of their families (5 minutes). It was nice to hear that the majority found something atypical to say.  

Teacher’s role: I was the pusher and time controller during these lessons. Since the aim was to revise as much as possible I concentrated on speed more than on correctness, the latter was not bad, by the way. We had some trouble with questions, and here I applied the same technique as usually – reminded them of the algorithm of asking questions, which is ‘before asking a question think what the possible answer is and then use the answer’s word order for building the question’. If they still said a question in a wrong way, I asked them to give the answer, wrote it on the board and asked to substitute necessary words.

Overall reflection on the task: for the first time I tried to use the ENV model. I can’t say that the students understood what we were doing and why, but their essays about their families demonstrate positive trends – there are paragraphs, the ideas are fresh – contents are a bit more creative than usually. It was Step 2 of the Thinking Framework. I think I should share the best essays and discuss how grouping sentences helped to write a good essay, this might be Step 3.   


# Alexander Sokol 2013-03-11 10:50
Marija, lots of good ideas from the language learning point of view and organising students' work in terms of procedures. Let me focus on the thinking bit, though. You are saying it was the first time you tried to use the ENV model. Can you be more explicit here? Do you mean YOU yourself or are you referring to students being asked to apply the ENV for sorting sentences? If the latter, it'd be useful to have more comments on that.

As usually, I like the idea of giving the meaning to the writing task through adding a real-life aim. I wonder though if this is remembered during the evaluation. It's also interesting whether you encourage students to use the ENV model to plan the content of their essays in order to reach the aim.
# Marija Nikolajeva 2013-03-23 12:04
Thank you for the questions, Alexander.
I meant that I myself used the ENV model for the first time, because I didn't really understand the idea of this model before. Hopefully, now I'll be able to give more tasks of such type and this will help to enhance the students' vocabulary, which is another reason why ENV models are not very popular with us - we just can't make enough sentences to notice the model. Or, we do it too slowly, it seems boring to the students.

I told the students to plan their essays according to the parameters we discussed at lessons and structure their essays accordginly. There were several people who did so and they got the highest evaluation, and some people wrote many good sentences but in a poorly structured way. There were many people who simply didn't write the essay, the discipline is quite bad in terms of doing homework, but I use the group of 'better' students as an indicator of tendencies.
Unfortunately, I didn't read the best essays to the rest of the class, because I was waiting for the missing essays in order to evaluate all of them at the same time and with the same criteria. As a result, I didin't get many essays and now it's the school holiday. So in the future we'll have to fill in this gap and deal with ENV in more detail.
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