Last week I was at the I. Béla Gimnázium in Szekszárd to do a demonstration lesson for English teachers using New English File. I’ve done plenty of demonstration lessons over the years and have been observed teaching countless times, too. On those occasions, I have always been in my own classroom with my own students. This time I had to go to another town and teach students I’d never met before from a book I don’t use regularly. That’s quite a different challenge!
The lesson I was teaching was from the Upper-Intermediate level of NEF. The topic was burglary and pickpocketing. If you know NEF, it’s File 3A ‘The one place a burglar won’t look’. Looking through the book the day before, I was again struck by what you might call the user-friendliness of the materials and the teachability of the topics. As someone who has spent years trying to get reluctant teenagers to engage with a topic in the English-learning classroom, I think I have a good sense of what is going to work and what isn’t. I had a sense that this was going to work. The quiz about burglars would provide a challenge, allow personalisation and get the students working in pairs. The listening task about pickpockets was both enjoyable and instructive in a real-world sense. I hoped the students would talk so much that I wouldn’t have to go past the first speaking and listening section.
The big day. I had to teach some lessons with my own students in the morning, so I decided that if I couldn’t have a dress rehearsal with the students in Szekszárd, then I could at least try out the lesson on one of my own groups. So, armed with photocopies of the pages (sorry, OUP!) I had a dry-run with my tenth-grade intermediate students. I wasn’t worried about the lesson being too difficult for them (this was NEF upper-int and we use Solutions intermediate) as I know they have tremendous English and can ‘punch above their weight.’ And so it proved. The rehearsal lesson went really well, the materials really got them talking, thinking and debating. I was delighted.
I planned a couple of ice-breakers for Szekszárd: a what’s-in-the-box? guessing game revealed a light bulb, which led to an information-gap anecdote about a market trader selling burnt-out light bulbs, which I thought offered a nice introduction to the topic of thieving. I then found some great pictures of items of value camouflaged to make them seem less desirable. The students had to examine the photos and try to see through the subterfuge, as a way of getting warmed up for the topic of the first task, which was beating burglars. My final ploy was to bring along a bag of szaloncukor, shamelessly taking advantage of the holiday season by using them to bribe the students to get involved in the lesson.
The pickpocket consultant interviewed in the listening section talks about the technique of ‘misdirection’ as being key to a pickpocket’s success. Just before playing the track I ‘accidentally’ dropped one of the szaloncukor on the floor next to a student’s desk, seizing the moment as he stooped down to pick it up to pinch his name card. I was trying to demonstrate the concept of misdirection. Pretty smooth, huh? Just a pity that the whole room saw me do it, even the guy I was stealing from. I guess I’d make a lousy pickpocket. Better stick to teaching, I suppose!
I won’t pretend the lesson went as well as I would have liked it to. The students were extremely attentive and well behaved, but I found it hard to get them to talk. It’s hardly surprising, when you think about it. When there’s a strange teacher you’ve never seen before teaching you and a load of people watching you, the smart choice is to keep your head down and say as little as possible. Given the difficult circumstances, I think the lesson was OK, at least in terms of providing meaningful input and stimulating some interaction. I just felt that it was a pity that there was so much TTT. Further evidence – if any were needed – of the importance of establishing a relationship of mutual trust between teacher and students before any real progress can be made. I was basically being sized up for 45 minutes. Thanks to the students for giving me the benefit of their doubts 🙂 I enjoyed the afternoon.
Returning to I. Béla Gimnázium reminded me of the first time I ever went to the school. It must have been about ten years ago. The gimnázium was hosting an English language competition, and I’d been asked to be one of the judges. I took the bus from Pécs to Szekszárd (about 60km), then got a taxi to the school. Not much of an event in itself, but for me it provided a lasting memory: the Best-Ever Conversation With a Taxi Driver. The guy in question was fairly garrulous, and we were chatting away in Hungarian (both moaning, I expect) about this and that. At one point he turned to me and said, “Where did you come from, again?” I knew from the wording of his question that he was asking about my journey, rather than my nationality (Honnan is jött?) so I told him I’d come from Pécs. Longish pause. “So is that a Pécs accent you have? I didn’t realise they spoke so differently there.” When I told him I was English he did an actual double-take, one of the few I’ve ever seen in real life. I’m fairly pleased with my spoken Hungarian, but don’t often get mistaken for a native, so this was one of those champagne moments. I gave him a handsome tip.