There is this ‘thickness’ I like to refer to when thinking about a successful lesson. A ‘thick’ lesson, like thick pea soup, needs some specific ingredients which you have to weigh and measure very carefully to achieve the expected outcome. But let’s be honest, sometimes we just drop in a bit of this and that, in a fairly random manner, and still, the soup is quite tasty as well as nutritious.
I’d say that an experienced teacher can usually discern potentially ‘nutritious’ content at first sight. The trouble is, however, that even potentially nutritious content doesn’t necessarily have to result in what I call a ‘thick’ lesson.
The other day I found some very interesting material for my teenage students – I actually wrote about it here. I thought the content of the given text would be perfectly suitable for what I wanted to achieve; my aim was to introduce the topic (Teenage problems) in an interesting and authentic way and I also wanted to have a lead-in to a discussion. I prepared a matching exercise; I cut the text into pieces so that students could in pairs match the solutions to the problems.
I used the text twice – with two different groups. Although it was an authentic text rich in unknown vocabulary, both groups did the matching exercise successfully and quickly because there were lots of keywords which helped them. The problem was that they did it too quickly. It seemed to me that some students could actually match the corresponding bits without having to read the text at all. I can’t really blame them, though. I somehow assumed they would read the texts except that most of them didn’t – simply because they didn’t need to in order to successfully complete the task. What was worse, those few who did try to read the text closely did the task much longer than the rest of the class, which inevitably resulted in some chaos (the fast finishers obviously started chatting and disturbing the ones who were doing what I assumed they should be doing).
Although the students dealt with an authentic text and learned some useful concepts which we could later work with, I nevertheless had this feeling of ‘flatness’ or ‘shallowness’ after the activity because we hadn’t exploited the text to the full, which was a pity. Things just didn’t pan out the way I had expected probably because they hadn’t been designed and thought-out well. Considering the fact that I had spent about 30 minutes only copying and cutting, I think I should do better next time.