Teaching a new subject for the first time: Inglés práctico for Bachillerato.
Mª Jesús Nava teaches Bachillerato students at CP San Jose de Calasanz in Valencia. In this article, she shares her experience of teaching Inglés práctico for the first time, and includes a range of activities and projects that helped to make the first year of the course so successful.
Like many other English teachers in Bachillerato, last year I was faced with a new and suddenly-introduced subject called Inglés práctico with only the assistance of a rather broad set of guidelines published in an official paper at the end of July. These were to be the basic features of the newborn subject:
It was quite a daunting task! September came, and I was given a large group of over twenty students. As we’d had little time to plan, my colleagues and I had to develop the contents of the course as we went along. Having the computer room available twice a week helped. A year later I can look back happily on a very successful course and I would like to share a few of the most memorable activities.
Breaking the ice
We began the course with an activity called Souvenir Bags. Every student received a paper bag (similar to those you can find in a plane for air sickness), which they had to fill with 5 objects that would help them to explain their summer holidays. The following day, students sat in groups of five, explaining their holidays through the objects they had brought. When everybody had finished, each student voted for the most interesting holiday in their group. The winners moved to other groups to show their objects, but this time they could only answer questions. All the students enjoyed this activity. It was an opportunity to relive their holidays, and they felt comfortable talking in small groups, with the teacher moving around and offering help and language as required.
The first listening activities consisted in watching Barack Obama talking to high school students in a course opening ceremony. Since I didn’t know how difficult this might be for them, I prepared a handout with the script of his speech. We watched the video once without subtitles and I asked some general questions to check how much they had understood. Then I handed them the script. In small groups they chose the sentences which they felt had the most impact.
It was also a good activity for finding out similarities and differences between Spanish and American education systems. They liked it so much that they asked me for some more videos with Obama! So during the second term we watched the last part of Obama’s inauguration speech, followed by an activity in which they had to find the answer to some questions about American history based on the speech and to prepare questions to interview the President.
Using the computer room meant that students could watch the videos as many times as necessary. A good resource was www.eslvideos.com. Videos were subtitled in English and were accompanied by comprehension exercises. Other resources we used included www.teachers.tv, www.aprendeingles.com an episode of Friends and the BBC World Challenge, where our students voted for what they considered to be the best business project presented on the programme. I also discovered a really useful webpage called www.ted.com. There, the students had to choose three lectures according to their interests and talk to their teacher about them in our end-of-term interview.
Every term we watched a film with follow-up activities. The films were carefully chosen by the teacher:
- Crash allowed us to study immigration in Los Angeles and different accents
- Slumdog Millionaire introduced students to the variety of English spoken in India
- The Boat that Rocked was used to explain the difficult situation of radio stations in Great Britain and allowed us to talk about music, which forms an important part of the film. It also gave students the context for our last project.
I wanted to get the students working on projects as mean of getting them to speak and work together. We proposed two main projects:
During the second term they had to prepare a TV programme (a news programme or some sort of contest) or adapt a theatre play to 20 minutes. They had several lessons to prepare this, and they also worked on it after school. Some adapted theater plays like Alice in Wonderland and Hamlet. Others prepared a news programme, including interviews, a weather forecast and advertisements. The performances were great, very entertaining and well put together.
Our second project consisted of choosing a film they liked because of its soundtrack. They had to present the films focusing on the music. They took their task seriously, creating wonderful Powerpoint presentations and learning their lines by heart. Some even included activities for their classmates.
Finally, you may be wondering how we evaluated our students. We asked them to keep a portfolio, writing a short description of every activity, with the date, including vocabulary they had learned and a mark from 1 to 10. In this way we received feedback about their interests. The portfolio had to be ready by the end of each term when the teacher had a personal interview with every student. In those interviews, we commented on the activities they had enjoyed the most, the videos they had watched at computers, which activities they hadn’t liked, and we asked them for suggestions as well. Then we read their portfolios.
There were then three sets of marks awarded: one for their participation in group projects, another for their personal interview (fluency, pronounciation, vocabulary) and a third for their written portfolio. We could also plan the following term including their proposals.
These are just a small selection of the activities we did over the course. The key was to choose resources that motivated the students and got them talking. They deserve praise for their enthusiasm, involvement and suggestions. This year I can really look forward to teaching Inglés práctico!
Mª Jesús Nava teaches English at Colegio San Jose de Calasanz in Valencia.