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Lesson 9 – Business and a nod to M. Lewis.

October 20, 2011

In the early stages of unplugged classes I usually find myself actively looking for the emerging topic or communicative situation that will provide the impetus for the rest of class. In today’s business class that didn’t happen because one of the Ss had come in with an email that she needed help understanding. She then went on to try to explain what it was all about, largely out of frustration and certainly not because she thought it would be an interesting lesson topic. It was a horribly complex situation regarding new import/export rules imposed by the Korean government and the chaos of a stranded shipment. Certainly not a lesson topic.

But as is often the case with these classes, as we know, beginnings and endings can be messy. People often don’t leave their baggage behind at their desk. They bring their working lives and problems right into the room with them.

The great benefit that Dogme has brought to my teaching is the ability to engage with these situations and turn them into an interesting and meaningful lesson for everyone in the class, even if the problem originated with one person. Not all that long ago, given the same situation, I would have continued the conversation for a few minutes, shown a bit of sympathy, and moved on to the prepared lesson (which had to be curtailed because of the time spent talking at the beginning).

So given a rather dull topic like this, what can you do with it? Tomoko was clearly frustrated with the problem and was really trying to explain the background.

1. I continued the conversation, involving everyone else, scaffolding to help get meaning across, taking notes all the time.

2. This continued for some time. I felt it was important to deal with the topic satisfactorily. We had to be on the same page or it ceases to be a genuine communicative exchange.

3. There was a lot of language that came out, too much to deal with. At that point I wasn’t sure where to take it.

4. Some errors on the board, Ss discussed and corrected while I reflected on the language myself. (Do you ever find that the appropriate language to work on eventually presents itself on its own?)

5. A lot of discussion over ‘they refused to’ and questions emerged about ‘deny’ and whether it was the same.

6. Quite a few phrases and collocations emerging. Board was erased, books closed, and a collocation matching exercise written up on the board. (see board photo)

7. Continued discussion over ‘refuse’ and ‘deny’. In the original story, the problems centred around the Korean government refusing to issue import papers. I decided to go with this because of its relevance to the story and Ss emerging interest in the language.

8. An example sentence of each written up, patterns and substitutions elicited.

9. Up to this point, fairly standard lexical work. But this language isn’t easy for them, so how to deepen it? Variation of an idea from Lewis (1997) – ‘what you think/what you say’. Having already covered the reported language (“they denied us more time”), Ss discuss what was originally said by the speaker (I.e. “you can’t have more time”).

10. Contrastive analysis. Ss translate the examples into Japanese and discuss nuances. Not as straightforward as I’d expected. Turns out you can say ‘refuse’ in three different ways in Japanese depending on degree of politeness.

I feel like we’re getting there.

11. Ss test each other on the language. One person reads the Japanese sentence and the other has to say it in English. Ss correct each other and I drill each correct sentence as it is produced. This is great fun.

60 mins

Comments: In reflecting on my own progress in Japanese, I’ve often been surprised at how hard it is to cover even a small amount of language thoroughly in the space of an hour. There has never been any sense in my own learning trying to learn too many new items in one lesson, after all you can do that on your own.

What the teacher can bring to the lesson is strategy to deepen your knowledge of the language. Was it Willis who said something like “little language, lots of talking/using”, something like that?

Given the quantity of labguage that emerges in an unplugged lesson, Dogme teachers should be sure to ask themselves if they are dealing with language in enough depth. Are we reducing uncertainty of language enough for learners to have a clear understanding?

Translation reveals a lot that we may not be aware of as teachers. People translate in their heads whether you like it or not, so as teachers we should explore what it means for learners. In this case, I discoverer that the complexity of ‘refuse’ in Japanese meant that Ss were likely to need more work on meaning.

The concepts of a Lexical approach are very compatible with Dogme. Of course we already knew this, but just flicking through the exercises in Lewis (1997) reminded me just how good a resource it is. Dogme teachers would do well to keep a copy close to hand out of lessons… Or even in lessons.


  1. Great point about spending lots of time on a piece of language. Having that attitude makes lessons much easier to do, I loved Lewis’ book The Lexical Approach. That book, about grammaticalised lexis and collocations, and The Mind Map book are what made me come up with language plants.
    Made me smile, your point about how, a few years ago, you would have spent a few minutes listening to her, expressing sympathy, and then getting “back on track”.
    Some nice linear plants you’ve got on the board there.

  2. dingtonia permalink

    Hi Oli
    This is what I do every single day. The starting point isusually the relating by the students of a personal experience based on a fairly general, but business-y topic such as – A bad decision. Each student tells his/her “story” about making or having to deal with a bad decision and then we proceed exactly as you have here. The advantage of having a topic is that you can make an educated guess as to which linguistic structures, lexis and functional language may emerge. Select objectives to work on and away you go.
    Just love teaching like this – it makes everything the students learn meaningful, relevant and interesting TO THEM.

    • Thanks for your comment. You’ve summed up what it’s all about very succinctly – thank you!

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