Go light!

feather (4)Everybody would probably agree that material light or material free lessons often turn out to be the best ones. I don’t know why it is so but I suspect that the feeling of not being pressed by the material one has (decided) to cover in the lesson is what makes this type of teaching so fresh and satisfying for both the teacher and the student. Maybe it feels so fresh to me because I don’t teach unplugged on a daily basis, so it’s a nice tweak to my regular teaching techniques. And my students can obviously sense the freshness too.

I’d say that any material – provided it’s in the centre of the teacher’s attention – can be a hindrance rather than an aid. The material lying there on your desk ready to be used diverts your attention from your students – it makes you constantly think of the timing and it often forces you to interrupt your students in the middle of an exciting, fruitful activity – just because you have another fabulous plan (read: material) up your sleeve.

The truth is that you can design a successful lesson in less than a couple of minutes and all you and your students need is paper and pen. This is something I did earlier this week and I’d like to share my little success here on my blog.

Czech students of all ages and levels generally struggle with determiners. Articles are undoubtedly the most notorious linguistic troublemakers belonging to this group. However, I don’t really panic if my students use them incorrectly because I consider this type of error just a cosmetic imperfection, so to speak (with some exceptions, of course).

However, quantifiers, for example, can be more important for the intelligibility of the message and/or they can completely change the meaning of it if used incorrectly. For instance, the difference between a few and few is not trivial. Yet, my students keep messing these two up. For some reason, they also struggle with each (of us/person)every (one of us, person) and all (of us/people/of the people). No matter how many exercises and gap fills we have done and how much extra homework I have assigned, they keep making the same errors.

Earlier this week, I suddenly felt desperate about my Ss’ inability to grasp determiners, so before the lesson, I quickly scribbled the following 10 sentences.

  1. Every Czech person should be able to speak some English.
  2. Few people like poetry.
  3. Most Czechs are fat.
  4. Every student should read a few books a year.
  5. Some people in the class are very talented.
  6. It’s better to have no siblings.
  7. All teenagers should get a little pocket money.
  8. Pupils should get little homework at school.
  9. Each of us can achieve anything in life.
  10. There isn’t much to do here in Šternberk.

I decided to go really light and although I felt the temptation to give students printed copies, I finally did not type the statements. Instead, I divided the class into A students and B students and I dictated the sentences one by one – the A students recorded all the odd number statements and the B students took down the even number statements. This shortened the writing stage, but at the same time, it made the students concentrate much more than if they just had to look at a handout. An A student then got into a pair with a B student and they shared their statements. Their task was to say if they agree or not and why.

I was surprised how lively the discussion got in a matter of seconds and what great ideas Ss kept coming up with. They were discussing commonplace statements, after all, which I had created in only five minutes. I don’t really know why some conversation activities go well and why some topics are totally uninteresting for my students. After so many years of experience, I can never quite estimate in advance whether Ss will like the topic or not.

Nevertheless, I stopped the chatter after about 15 minutes and we went through all the statements together. Each time, I asked one student to express his/her opinion and the others could react briefly. This was also interesting and more useful language as well as new ideas were generated throughout this stage.

Finally, we focused on the determiners a bit. I got Ss to change the determiners to make sentences that would express their real opinion, e.g. It’s better to have a few/many/some siblings. Some/many Czechs are fat.

I should stress that although the activity was originally designed and tailor made for a group of 18-year-old B1/B2 students, and it was supposed to last up to 10 minutes at the most, I also did it with two lower level classes later on, despite the fact that according to the syllabus, we were not supposed to ‘be doing’ determiners. Obviously, the groups came up with different language outputs, made different errors and expressed different ideas, but the activity worked equally well in all groups.

This brings me to a thought that it’s perfectly possible and pretty easy to design meaningful material light activities/lessons which are adaptable, versatile, recyclable and save the teacher a lot of time and energy. And I believe it’s worth putting some effort into such activities.


Published by

Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages and levels for almost 30 years. You can find out more about me and my passion for teaching here on my blog.

12 thoughts on “Go light!”

  1. Hana,

    This is such a great reminder. Sometimes, less is more! When I have a beautifully-designed, perfectly formatted worksheet or game that I have put lots of time into, it’s harder to step back and just let real discussion and discovery happen. I’m more attached to the almighty plan.

    On a more specific note, what a great lesson! It could also lead into a discussion on stereotypes and generalizations.

    Thanks for the ideas!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kate,

      Thank you very much for visiting this blog and leaving a comment. I agree that a perfect, elaborate worksheet can sometimes kill a fruitful discussion and I won’t pretend it has never happened in my classroom.

      I’m happy you liked the idea I used in the lesson. It was very simple; I believe that the magic of such activities lies in the fact that they are tailor made a specific group of learners.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great idea. I read somewhere recently that the teacher’s job is to help decide what the students should be doing then get out of the way and let them use the language. This is an excellent example of this.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I absolutely agree, Marc. I was the observer and I was in awe of my students’ ability to keep the discussion going for so long, using the language meaningfully and appropriately. I didn’t have to step in at all and that’s what I was really proud of. Thanks for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it.


  3. I loved your post, Hana.
    I agree with you that it’s perfectly possible to design meaningful and versatile material light activities/lessons that will be enjoyable and refreshing for students. Simple creative ideas are usually best, very stimulating and rewarding both for teacher and students.
    Thanks for the great idea 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, Ljiljana. It was very rewarding, especially because it’s June and my students are interested in summer sprees and all they’d like to do at school is watching movies. I was very happy that the activity went well under such circumstances. 🙂 Thanks for dropping a line.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I used the dictation + discussion idea in class today, using statements about good writers and good writing. It generated great discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hana, thank you so much for this post. It came in handy after a really long day when I hardly have any energy to create a cool lesson in short time. I’ll give my students some similar statements for discussions.
    In case you practice more unplugged teaching, please, do blog about it!

    Thanks again! You saved some time for my sound and sweet sleep)



    1. Thanks a lot, Kate. I’m happy you find the post useful and I promise I will definitely post similar things in the future. Have you checked my latest post? There are links you might find handy too. Anyway, I’d like to hear about your lesson too. I hope you’ll blog about it soon 🙂


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