One-off 90-minute lesson for mixed intermediate level

I had to cover a standalone lesson after my normal evening class. I was apprehensive. It was mixed intermediate level. I had no information about any of the students. But I took it and decided to turn to Teaching Unplugged. I was also eager to see if I could try out some ideas I got from a workshop by Ken Wilson for mixed ability groups.

Personal goals for the lesson:

  • Use the learners as the primary resource
  • Let the conversation flow as learner-centred as possible
  • Have an overall theme

Running order (with feedback during and after each activity):

  1. Tell a partner something different about yourself (15′)
  2. Introduce your partner to as many classmates as you can (15′)
  3. Personal headlines (45′)


Activity 1: I bet you didn’t know…..

The students would have come from different classes, so I thought there would be a good chance that they wouldn’t know each other. (I checked and they didn’t.) But for conversation to flow, I had to give them a chance to get to know each other a little so they would be more comfortable sharing information later.

In Ken’s workshop, he talked about what to do when walking into a new class. I modified one of his “Find Someone Who” activities. I asked my students to write down one thing that is a bit different about them, something the other cannot see, something that has happened to them recently. Students get into pairs, introduce themselves and tell their partner that special thing about them. The partner would listen, then make a comment or ask a question. The pair would continue until they run out of things to say or when I say change.

A: Hi, I’m Connie. What’s your name?
B: I’m Mayu. Nice to meet you.
A: I bet you didn’t know that I’ve just got myself a cinema point card!
B: Cinema point card? What’s that?
A: …….

As the activity was under way, I monitored and fed in language when needed. I decided to give minimum intervention because I really wanted to draw out the slower speakers and to get a feel of everyone’s levels. I also wanted to give them time to come up with things to say before I jumped in to help. The other good thing was that sometimes their partner was able to jump in before me! From the warmer, it was evident to me that this group could be pretty talkative, so going with a freer conversation driven style would be a good call.

Activity 2: Speedy introduction: Have you met….?

At this level, I’ve noticed that most learners are pretty good at talking about themselves but could still work on talking about others. Allowing them to make use of the information they just gathered, I decided our next activity should be a speedy introductory type thing in which a student takes a partner along and has to introduce that person to as many others in the class as possible.

C: Hey Miki, have you met Jo? She’s ………
M: No, not yet. Hi Jo, I’m Miki.
J: Nice to meet you Miki. ….

C: Hey Ran, I’d like you to meet Jun. He’s ….
R: Hi Jun. ….
J: Nice to meet you Ran. ….

This went pretty well. What I would change next time is that if you wanted it to be a bit more controlled. Ask your students to get into pairs. Give a time limit, ask one of the students to make the introduction. Then swap role. In my version, it was a bit chaotic and people just kept talking after the introduction. It wasn’t too much of a problem as everybody seemed to be quite up for a chat.

To round off, I asked each student to tell us something about a person they had spoken to or been introduced to. By the end of the 30 minutes, the group has got to know each other pretty well.

Activity 3: Personal Headlines

From what I heard during the monitoring, I thought some students were weak on present perfect and some types of question forms, especially those involving the present perfect and the present perfect continuous. I thought the next logical thing to do would be the “Headlines” activity (p38) from Teaching Unplugged for recounting recent personal events.

Each student wrote down a personal headline, something short and sharp so people had to ask questions to find out what it was about. I showed them my headline and got them to ask me a few questions as a class, deliberately not giving too much away for each question so they had to keep asking for more. The student showed me their headlines before I got them to choose a coloured-strip of paper to write out their final version. The students made two circles, took turn to interview each other. I monitored and fed in language and helped with questions. Just like that, 45 minutes went like a blip. To finish off, I asked the students to share their favourite headlines or questions. We got some pretty interesting stories.

Here are some of the favourite headlines:

  • Long drive
  • Excited by German Christmas market
  • Felt so nervous at the party
  • Getting the result on 12/22
  • Waiting for the right photos
  • Sore throat after a Mexican restaurant
  • Paris and London next month
  • Everything is brand new at the office

Quite a few people loved the long drive story. Driving from Tokyo to Miyasaki, many of us were curious how the wife was OK with that. Apparently other road trips like driving from Tokyo to the north tip of Japan have also happened.

One of the students (felt so nervous at the party) just came out of the office Christmas party feeling a bit down. With hundreds of people at the party, there were only two of them from her department. She didn’t know anyone, everyone else preferred to stick with their own teams. They went so late that much of the food or drink was gone. Not a great party.

Waiting for the right photos guy works at a fitness magazine. They did a photo shoot the other day but then the photographer sent them some random photos that weren’t from the shoot. His deadline was tomorrow but he still seemed quite chilled about it. A few of us were worried for him and was surprised that he still turned up for the class knowing full well of the imminent deadline but having no contingency plans.

I really enjoyed the lesson and loved the fact that everybody was given the chance to share what was dear to their heart and finding out that others were interested in what they had to say.

But did I do enough feedback? I continue to struggle with that question.


About Connieay

I have taught English in Japan, Qatar and Egypt. At present, I'm taking a short break to raise my little munchkin and finishing a Masters on TESOL/Applied Linguistics. My teaching life started in Tokyo back in 2009. And yes, I was there during the massive earthquake in 2011. That day, I was in school waiting for my students to arrive. My very young learners did come after the quake and we all hid under the table during the numerous aftershocks we shared. That night I continued to teach my classes and was stuck in school as all the trains were stopped. I was taken in by the lovely Miss Satou and shared that eerie night with her shaken dog Oscar which kept licking my face throughout the night. Before teaching, I lived and worked in London as a science editor and researcher. I enjoy dancing salsa and love travelling. Having a Chinese root means food is crucial to ensure my happy existence. Teaching is an experiment that I hope to carry on for a long time. I am interested in multilingualism, CLIL and how the brain is involved in learning. If I were a bird, I would be an albatross, a bird with stamina, persistence and the ability to go far and high. I value long-term relationships but am perfectly happy being independent and can endure solitude if necessary.
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6 Responses to One-off 90-minute lesson for mixed intermediate level

  1. Ken Wilson says:

    Hi Connie!

    so pleased to hear that you were brave enough to try out one of my activities – it’s very reassuring for a presenter to know that the ideas don’t just go in one ear and out the other! 🙂

    The activities you describe here are much richer and more varied than the ones that I did in the JALT mixed-ability workshop, and I’m sure the students loved them.

    I hope you continue to enjoy your working life. It’s been fun reading about it.

  2. Hi Connie. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the description of your lesson, and how you got the students working, interacting and communicating effectively with such minimal resources, true Dogme style. I look forward to reading more of your posts.


    • Connieay says:

      Hi James,
      Thanks! I guess the less I know about the students, the more I feel I need to use them as the main resource. Luckily, it worked out with the group. I had planned something completely different but I just tossed it when I saw them getting so involved with what’s being generated.

  3. Adam Beale says:

    Hi Connie,
    Great lesson write up. Some really good, simple and effective ideas to get the students talking. I tried out the ‘headlines’ activity in one of my very first ‘unplugged’ activities and got the same exciting and pleasing results. Looking forward to reading more of your blog.


    • Connieay says:

      Thanks for the comment. I was really inspired and encouraged by both newish and experienced teachers on their use of simple activities. When done properly, they are the best tools we could ever hope to possess. I hope I will get more opportunities to experiment with dogme in a more systematic way like you and Dale.

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