Lesson Plan Idea: Expanding an idea

This is a report on how I took a cool lesson plan idea from Ian James (Twitter: @ij64 ) and threw in a few more bits and bobs in the mixer to push the strong Int/Upper Int material to challenge my high-level students in an advanced conversation class.


Go to Ian’s personal blog to download the lesson pdf. While you’re there, make sure you check out his other great lessons, too!
Ian‘s lesson is about NOISE and starts off with this viral vid.


1. Brainstorm

Board ‘NOISE’
Ss (1min) come up with anything that comes into their head when they think of the word NOISE.
EMERGENT LANGUAGE: neighbours, sound, bang, clap, heavy metal, street, class, sound, thunder, barking,



Ss (40 s) sit in silence and write down anything/everything that they can hear. I nicked this idea from Luke Meddings. I saw him do it in a staff training once at SGI and also here…

It’s a great activity for coming up with unusual language and I thought it would work nicely as a counterpoint to the lesson theme.
EMERGENT LANGUAGE: breathing, pencil scratching paper, murmur, hubbub, children chattering, footsteps, rubbing, something being dropped, clatter, cars passing, mumbling



Followed Ian’s instructions with predictions from image. But also developed the vocab as much as poss.
EMERGENT LANGUAGE: concert, recital, genre, classical, relaxing, chill-out, virtuoso, novice, annoyed, irritated, pissed off, audience, rolling his eyes, shook his head,


4. Ian’s SOUNDS AWFUL Questions

Q1 was pretty run of the mill
Q2. Developed an interesting and lively debate on the advantages/disadvantages of being woken by birds at 5am.
EMERGENT LANGUAGE: dawn chorus, the cock crowing, tweet, chirp, pain in the neck, lolling of the waves, the sounds of summer, sends a shiver down your spine, gives you the creeps, screech on a blackboard, grinding of teeth,



I had pre-prepared this dictogloss below (which I had quickly modified from a passage from the interent after googling, ‘noise’). Yes, it’s v advanced – but these are quite high level learners. The oldest class member was quite resistant to the activity (not wanting to write anything down initially) so I got her to give the class the gist – which she could do very well. On 2nd & 3rd reading, she noted down some of the valuable words that the rest of the class were missing – Teamwork!

Ss were v interested in the vocab in bold.
DICTOGLOSS TEXT: This might seem like a bit of just deserts for all the times people have been woken up early by chirping birds, but human noise pollution is making it impossible for birds to mate. Yes, as far as birds are concerned, humans have pretty much become the inconsiderate roommate from hell, blasting heavy metal at all hours of the night while the birds are trying to get in the mood for a little romance. I’m not sure what the actual solution to this is, but maybe we should club together and buy the birds some noise-canceling headphones.


6. MORE Ian’s SOUNDS AWFUL Questions

I got Ss to choose the questions they wanted us to discuss. Of course they chose no#3!!!
After some Ss discussion, I threw in an authentic example of a problem I had with my ancient neighbour. Her 30 year-old grandson (who lives with her in the week) goes away on weekends leaving his alarm clock to ring from 6:45 for an hour…which is clearly audible in my bedroom, too!
Ss had to come up with solutions for the problem and roleplay the verbal ones.
Q3 EMERGENT LANGUAGE: anti-social, washing line, pegs, estate agent, earplugs, deterrent, had it up to here, little old lady, hard-of-hearing, deaf as a lampost, would you mind not (inf)-ing please?

Q17: Great discussion on passionate feelings about anti-social teenagers playing music on public transport. Discussion focussed on why people don’t do anything about it.



As I went through the class, I wrote down emergent language on a piece of A4 that was divided in half. I wrote the vocab randomly on either side of the dividing line. With about 10 mins remaining, I tore the paper in half, split the class into 2 groups and they tested each other on the new language.



Write a short story that contains at at least 8 new pieces of vocabulary from today’s class. (Normally I would get Ss to do this in a spoken fashion, using videomail through eyejot or mailvu, but there are 2 older ladies in the group that don’t even use email, so the connected classroom is a non-starter for the group as a whole!).
The 2 youngest students (that have smartphones) also agreed to do Ian’s suggested homework of recording irritating sounds on their mobiles.



Hopefully this shows all you newbies out there that you don’t have to be a slave to the next page of the textbook. You can take the bits you like, but also have the confidence to throw in some activities/tools that you learnt from your teacher-training (like Dictogloss, role-playing, low TTT (in the peer 2 peer review section), brainstorming, recycling language etc) to get the best out of your classes and keep the motivation and energy of the students (and yourself) high.
Make sure in the next lesson that you recycle the new language – Maybe cut out some cards with the vocab on, to test the students with a game they can play against each other: 2 teams…Turn over a card: 1 point for a definition of the vocab and 2 points for a sentence using the vocab in context. Something like that … etc etc
Hopefully, this also shows that you don’t need to be afraid of teaching a very high-level group. Lots of times in the staffroom, I’ve seen novice teachers getting worked up about an upcoming advanced class and searching through Advanced textbooks, anticipating that they wouldn’t be able to handle the grammar etc.

Ian’s original lesson plan is not pitched at C1 (which some of my students definitely are), but you can see that you can take a lower-level lesson (if it’s a good idea) and push it upwards in terms of vocab by the input that you and your students put into the lesson. Lots of the emergent language listed came from me. Advanced level students will love you for broadening their vocab knowledge, so don’t be afraid to add to it. It’s impossible to elicit everything. Plus, as Jeremy Harmer said at English UK conference last weekend, if you can elicit everything from your class, then you’re not really teaching anything, are you? He’s got a point, hasn’t he?

Of course there are issues about top-down teaching and vocab frequency/usability, but as a newbie, you don’t need to worry about all that TEFL hand-wringing crap at this stage of the game. Just enjoy the lesson with your students and make sure that you confirm that they are learning the new language by questioning them about it at subsequent times – 5 mins later, 20 mins later, end of lesson, next lesson, 1 week later, 1 month later.

Thanks, Ian James for the original lesson plan!

Bren Brennan

About Bren Brennan

Bren initially trained here at SGI and then joined the staff in 2005. Since 2006, he has taught abroad in Budapest, Berlin and now at Mondragon University in Spain. He returns to teach at SGI London every summer and completed the SGI Trinity DipTESOL in 2011. He also regularly writes posts for students here.
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