My reflections on lesson 2 on Describing food

This lesson was different with each of my three groups. With all groups they started to find describing difficult as soon as we went beyond the immediate foods we were learning, and in each group something new and different came up. In the other groups the game went as follows:-

Word: Spaghetti
It’s long.
It’s food.
It’s round.
It’s yellow.
It’s from Italy.
It’s medium.
It’s very, very long.

This was difficult, and afterwards we discussed why. It was hard to describe spaghetti with the words they had. They also ended up with the parameters of ‘Feel’ and ‘Where from’, but when I asked what was useful they could see immediately that ‘It’s food’, didn’t help, and ‘It’s round’ was misleading, also it’s medium – again, size needs to be qualified. What helped eventually was the last sentence and when I asked why, someone realised that’s what’s special to spaghetti. Up to this point the pupils had really just been practising their English, making descriptive sentences, and thinking up as many as they could.  Now they got the idea that to describe something well, you really need to think about the defining features of what you’re describing. What’s important in this situation to help someone guess the food?

It was good that we got to this point as we’ll then be able to play the game again and try to use as few sentences as possible, so that we really need to think about what the most important parameter is to recognise a particular food, and we’ll notice it’s different for different foods. Maybe we can make a chart of some kind to help us, and then see if we can pick out the defining parameters for different foods. I’m not deciding exactly what we’ll do next as I’ll see what the pupils themselves come up with.

With the third group the word was: Cheese
It’s soft.
It’s yellow.
It’s blue (sometimes).
It breaks easily.
It has holes.
It’s good.
A mouse eats it.

This group was the most inventive and they wanted to give ‘better’ clues. We didn’t have time to reflect on their game (we’ll have to do it next time), but when we got to 6 clues, the bell rang, and they were desperate to get the pupil at the front to guess. I asked them quickly if all these clues really help? Can they find a single, ‘superclue’ which will help with just this word?  What’s special about this food? Spontaneously quite a few of them started trying to make a sentence about a mouse, and they managed together. I was very pleased to see them really using the little language they know. And the pupil guessed, so they left the class happy!

One thing which came up with this group was that they were really helping each other to think of clues, and arguing back and forth about what was useful or not, so when someone suggested, ‘It’s good’, someone else said, ‘That’s just what you think!’ It was pretty noisy and a bit chaotic, but all the noise was concerned with the game. I think this is an ideal situation when they speak to each other about it and not to me, but I have to find a way of teaching them to make the discussion more ‘structured’, to have rules for discuuing in the classroom and to practise doing it in English. Maybe I could do this with some simple games, where they have to argue on a simple point. It would also help if I changed the layout of the classroom so that instead of being in pairs facing the front, they would be able to see each other, maybe in a horseshoe.

Learner Reflection
With one group the above actually took up two lessons as we were also doing other things. After their first trial of Password, before we had time to reflect together, I gave them out small notebooks, which we called, ’My English Learning Notebook.’ They had to write answers to three questions and you can see their answers below:-

1. Do you think you can describe foods well in English?
Not at all; yes, some; a bit; yes; yes; yes, I can; maybe; I can; just fine; maybe
2. Did the  ’Food gadget’ help?
Yes;It did; a bit; yes; yes, it did; it helped, yes; a bit; maybe a bit; yes
3. What do you still need to know to be able to describe better?
shapes; I could repeat the words lots of times and say them more clearly; I could practise more; animals; more vegetables and fruit; English; read about fuit and vegetables;? ; nothing; more shapes.

I wanted to see how the pupils would answer these questions. As they're not used to reflecting there's lots of room for learning here. I’m going to show them their answers and we can think about them, and in the light of the next lesson or two, think if they would still give the same answer. Question three in particular confused them, so that will be something to work on. How can they start to notice what they need to know to be able to do something in particular? Their answers to question 3 show they're thinking about vocabulary and pronounciation above all. Obviously they're not able yet to think it terms of models or strategies since we haven't really spoken about them, even if we've used them jsut a little. Of course, to do this they’ll have to understand the aim well. I'm also not sure what the best 'reflective questions' to get them started might be?



# Irina Buchinska 2014-02-23 19:51
Hello Susan,

So nice to hear from you. I have read all your posts and will comment on all of them.

What I really liked in your approach:

1. involving students at all stages of learning, I think these are true learner centred lessons

2. I liked the idea of starting "My English learning notebook", as organising students' notes has always been a problem for me and I think for other teachers as well, especially at this early stage of learning English, I mean year 3.

3. Speaking about your work with parameters, especially understanding that not all parameter are equally important in different contexts, I think it is very important and it is good that these young learners do this. I particularly liked the idea of "superclue", it's a good term by the way :)

4. I still have a question about 'selling the problem ( or whatever)" open as I can't say taht I use it successfully. And I think this is a question for many other teachers. I understand and agree that the best variant is that the learners understand and accept that this or that knowledge is important for life, like in your case being able to describe the word if you don't know it in English. But what about putting the task into a closer for them context, e.g. " A shop assistent has dropped boxes with food (fruit, vegetables and berries) and all of them got mixed, help the shop assistant to put them in order". I understand that here we can speak just about the 'type of food', but my question is to what extend can such tasks be used to 'sell the problem to the learners" or can't be used?

5. Another point is what to do next with all these descriptions? You have a pretty big list of these things, I would maybe just add a couple. a) Riddles, short, simple and later creating a mini-book with their riddles, as kids of this age like something tangible, in case, of course, they can already write. b) 'odd one out' game; c) as you mentioned yes/no game. d) the teacher should also think about a task where parameters will be a tool for fulfilling a task not only thinking of for the sake of finding parameters, but I can't come up with an appropriate example at the moment.

And I agree with one of your learner that they need some text to read about the things you worked with.
# Susan Granlund 2014-02-24 18:24
Nice to hear from you too, Irina, and thanks so much for your very helpful comments!

I like the idea of the shop assistant dropping boxes! I'm sure that kind of context would have helped to 'sell' the idea of sorting. I'm not sure in general though if it's necessary to 'sell' all the tasks as long as the pupils are aware of and accept the overall aim and see the tasks (whether sorting, games, or whatever) as working towards this. What do you think? I agree that context is very important and I do have some ideas for future tasks which will be more in context and will hopefully 'sell' themselves.

I also really like your idea of a book of riddles - we'll be describing animals soon and starting that kind of 'project' would fit in very well. Yes, a text would be good too and a task to be fulfilled by using parameters. Your commets help me to keep in mind the 'larger' picture and how I really need to get the learners using what they learn through different kinds of language activities. Thanks!
# Irina Buchinska 2014-02-25 22:07
Thank you Susan for the reply.

I think the question about how to 'sell' the task, idea, problem ... to students is one of the general methodolocical points and would be interesting to hear what other teachers think.

I, personally, very often just ignore it or don't pay much attention to it, though, I agree that it is important for students' motivation, as in your case when you wrote about the group where the students were more 'focused and interested' when they accept or 'buy' the idea. I just don't know how to do this properly, and I sometimes just do with students' interest in the task or the context.
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