I had this lesson twice, the same but with different groups, 3a and 3b. They've been learning English 2 hours a week since last August. We’d done some work previously on describing food (see diary entries, Starting TA with Class 3 beginners 1 - 7) and had made a very simple ENV in the form of a chart (or passport) to help with this. We hadn’t done work like this for quite a while.

Content Aims: to revise food vocabulary, the vocabulary for describing food and the vocabulary of parameters and to add new ones; to learn and practise a shopping conversation (‘Can I help you’, ‘Can I have.., please’ ‘How much is it?’); to learn, ‘Pardon?’ and ‘I don’t understand.’; speaking.
Competences: the pupils should be able to describe a food in the context of a shop conversation where they maybe can’t remember a word. They have to be able to find a good, relevant way of describing the food (so they should be able to find suitable parameters for this situation), and they should be able to do so calmly, aware of what is needed, and aware how a shopkeeper, for example, might respond.
Thinking Aims: to revise the idea of parameters in the context of describing food. To expand the idea and notice if the chart or ENV for describing a food helps in a particular situation. Noticing the importance of the relevance of the description and seeing where the model (in this case ENV /chart) needs to be expanded and changed.

This lesson is related to Chapter 14 in their course books (Yippee!3) where some new foods are introduced and the situation is buying food in a café.

- There were pictures of food on the blackboard (some new) and I described one for them to guess.
- They tried describing and the others guessed. With one group in particular this was very easy – too easy. The other group remembered words quite well too. They looked at the wall, where there were posters with parameters and values they could use (shape, colour,size,type of food).
- With one group we quickly revised the idea of parameters and looked at some of the vocabulary; with the other group I didn’t do this as they found the first revision task so easy. We looked back in their notebooks at the charts they’d made in an earlier lesson, ‘Food Gadgets’, which were basically ENVs, or passports, for describing a food, just to remind them that they existed.

Challenge Step 1
Now we needed a context for using what we’d learned previously (describing foods), so we decided to go and buy food from a kiosk. I chose a small kiosk as in a supermarket you don’t have to ask for anything. The pupils hadn’t done a shopping conversation before, so this was all new to them, and I decided to practise a very simple conversation with them before presenting it in the form of a challenge. This was therefore pretty traditional. I had a picture of two characters on the blackboard and a picture of a kiosk, and I elicited from them how the conversation might go. The result was more or less the following:-

SHOPKEEPER                                                                CUSTOMER
 Good morning. Can I help you?                                      Good morning. Yes, please. Can I have a
                                                                                    ______, please.
 There you are.                                                                Thank you.
 Goodbye.                                                                        Goodbye.

I deliberately missed out paying for the food to see if they’d notice it was missing, just so they’d have to think a bit themselves about what’s relevant and necessary in this situation. We looked at their books where there was a mechanical speaking exercise on using foods with a similar short conversation, which they then practised in pairs. One group asked how to ask the price; the other group didn’t, but when I asked what was missing they realised, and they all continued their conversations with pairs including asking the price.

Once they were getting the hang of this I stopped and said now we have a new situation. Now Whiz, the character in the course book who comes from another land and who hasn’t eaten food before, has come to the kiosk. (Whiz is a ‘supertoy’, who is becoming a boy.) Whiz has now started to eat and has seen foods, but he doesn’t know the names of foods, and, a bit like a small child, has decided to call all foods chump, an imaginary word.
STEP 1: Challenge
Whiz goes to the kiosk and asks for a chump. What does the shopkeeper say when Whiz asks, ‘Can I have a chump, please?’? How does the conversation progress? They suggested that the shopkeeper might say, ‘What’s a chump?’ or ‘Pardon?’. We chose pardon, and decided that Whiz would probably repeat the word, a chump. The shopkeeper would then say, ‘I don’t understand.’ The pupils then realised that Whiz would have to describe the food to the shopkeeper. I tried this with one pupil and then they did it with their partners in pairs.
It was surprising how much more difficult it was for them to describe the foods in this situation as the task was basically the same as at the beginning of the lesson. As shopkeepers they were quick to say that they didn’t understand, so ‘Whiz’ had to think of more and different ways of describing the food. In many cases they seemed to be stuck.
STEP 2: Building the stairs
Everyone agreed it had been more difficult now, so we looked back at our ‘Food gadgets’ to see if they could help. I had already made an extended version of it, basically to save time (we have almost no lessons left before the summer), which meant there were more foods on it, and there was also room to fill in more parameters. I asked if the task might be easier if we had more parameters and words, and they agreed, so they started filling in the new charts.

This was lead too much by the teacher, but as the whole idea is new, I thought it might be good like this now and another time (when we have more time) they can work out for themselves how they could improve the chart. Some of them asked if they could add parameters, and they asked for more words. They were keen to fill in the chart as it seemed like concrete help – otherwise they were floundering.
STEP 3: Reflecting on the model    
The lesson ended here, and I don’t really have any more time with this class. However my plan was that they would try out the chump conversation again, using their new passports to help them, and we’d discuss if there was still something missing, thus taking us to Step 3, reflecting on the model. I’m thinking that at this point I could even introduce the word ‘parameter’, as it would make it so much easier to talk about the model. We would then test the model with a new challenge.

See here: Starting TA with Class 3 Beginners:9  for how I planned to continue this topic and for teacher reflection on the lesson.

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