Vaughan Jones – New Inside Out pick
Intermediate, Unit 5 - Anecdote activity
I sometimes refer to anecdotes as ‘long turns’. All too often exchanges in the classroom are limited to short question-and-answer sessions or pre-scripted role-plays. Here, students rehearse and deliver a large chunk of spoken discourse. They are asked to cast their minds back to when they were children and think about a series of questions designed to jog their memories.
Why all the questions? Well, you can’t expect students to immediately be able to drag up memories of their childhood and start talking about them. These questions are an important part of the necessary planning time. They shouldn’t be rushed. In fact, what I usually do is get the students to relax completely, close their books, put their pens down and say nothing. I then ask each question slowly with a ’pregnant pause’ in between each one. Never be afraid of the ‘pregnant pause’! My students find that this slightly hypnotic technique can help them recall long buried memories.
The unit title for my lesson pick is ‘Edible’ so unsurprisingly the questions focus on food and mealtime routines. The questions also nicely contextualise the grammar area used to / would, which has been presented in the previous section. The key point though is that the ‘raw material’ for the anecdote (on p45) is based on what the students themselves bring into the classroom: their personal memories of family life as a child.
This sharing of personal stories can be unpredictable – you never know what language is going to come up. But that is what adds to the richness of the experience. Students will often learn language which is way beyond their level simply because it is essential to the unique story they are telling. I believe that it is the personal nature of this learning experience which makes anecdotes so rewarding and fulfilling.
When they are ready, the students take it in turns to tell each other their anecdotes and I wander around monitoring. Realistically, it’s only possible to properly monitor one or two pairs of students so I always note down who I listen to and make sure I listen to different people the next time.
And there must always be a ‘next time’. Repeating their anecdotes to a different partner in a follow-up lesson is an essential part of the process. Research on task repetition by Martin Bygate among others has shown that, given this opportunity, students become more adventurous and at the same time more precise in the language they use. We think nothing of asking students to redraft written work. Repeating anecdotes is a way of redrafting ‘spoken work’. Give it a go! You’ll be amazed at the results.
Vaughan Jones, New Inside Out co-author
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