Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Module 2 Lesson: Making Comparisons

I taught and recorded my sixth grade intermediate-level classes for our module 2 self-reflective research paper today.  We have just finished reading a series of texts about weather and, more recently, about severe weather events.  After teaching the classes, I was aware of some mistakes I had made and some ineffective/inefficient aspects of the lesson had become clear to me.  These were the last three classes of a total seven which I taught today, so I was pretty tired by the end, especially because I was up late doing schoolwork and grading student journals last night.  In the very last class, I had to discipline several students for unproductive behavior and the classroom was heating up, making things quite uncomfortable.  Due to this combination of factors, I had a very negative perception of my performance in teaching this lesson.  However, after watching the video of my second class, I feel a lot better about how things progressed.

The objective for today's lesson was for the students to be able to make comparisons using Venn diagrams where both Venn diagrams and making thorough comparisons were new tasks.  I also wanted to use the weather-related terminology which we've been using for the past few weeks to practice and produce this kind of output.

The warm-up stages of the classes went fairly well.  We did a short greeting/memory activity to get everyone speaking English and played a short game to activate their weather-related schema.  In the game, one student joined me in front of the class and I gave that student a word card.  The student then had to ask questions or give clues to the rest of the class to elicit the word on his/her word card.  The words were related to the weather events we've been learning about.  I think the warm-up phase went quite well as the only difficulty I ran into was that it went a little longer than I wanted it to.  Because I was recording this lesson and I had made such a detailed lesson plan, I think I felt compelled to draw out the greetings into an activity which was unnecessary given the age and communicative competence displayed by the majority of these students.

I ran into some problems when presenting the new material for the day.  I decided to write the word "compare" on the board and have the kids work in their small groups to express what it meant.  This was difficult for them, as I probably should have anticipated, and I had to scaffold quite heavily to arrive at an agreed meaning.  I think a better approach would have been to make a model comparison, citing both a similarity and a difference, of two things before writing the word "compare" on the board and using it in a sentence.  For example, I could have compared ice cream and mud, written "compare" on the board and said, "I compared ice cream and mud".  I think these students would have been able to more easily express that comparing entails looking for similarities and differences had I taken this approach.

Beyond this point, however, things became much easier as it turned out the students had already been exposed to Venn diagrams :o  I had them compare tornadoes and hurricanes in their groups for a few minutes and provided them with paper to record their thoughts.  I then took volunteers and wrote their answers in the Venn diagram.  At this point, I had intended to elicit why I wrote similarities in the circles' intersection and differences outside of the intersection, but I only remembered to do this with the third class of the three.  I think the combination of the students' clear understanding of Venn diagrams and my own mental fatigue caused me to overlook this part of the lesson.  Still, it would have been a valuable isolation activity, if only to have the students produce L2 output to express something they clearly understood on a conceptual level.  In any case, the students came up with a lot of similarities and differences and were able to express them in sentences.  I was careful to make sure they identified both tornadoes and hurricanes as the subject when expressing a similarity and to point out that the use of "but" or "however" was necessary when expressing a difference.  When giving feedback, I tried to use clarification requests in lieu of recasts such that the students' opportunities to manipulate meaning were not negated, but I think slid a few recasts in there as well.  At this point, time was beginning to run short.

I ended the class with a production of new output activity which I used to check their mastery of comparative statements.  I gave each group a printout with a blank Venn diagram and told them to choose two objects and compare them.  After a few minutes, I had a different member from each team verbally tell me about either the objects they compared, the similarities between those objects, or the differences.  Most of the students were able to create accurate sentences and all of them understood the material on a conceptual level.

If I could teach this class again, there are a few things I would have planned differently (Shorter warm-up, more intuitive presentation of "compare"), but I think just as many of the things I would change resulted from my mental state at the time.  This is a challenging class to teach as this hectic schedule repeats every Monday and Tuesday and those are the only meeting times we have.  I think I'll be focusing on how to improve my performance under these conditions in future reflective tasks..


  1. That is what I have found with developing a thorough lesson plan also. Time goes fast and the presentation stage of a lesson can be extended to 20 to 25 minutes. I guess this is not so much of a bad thing if the students are getting quality comprehensible input. Sounds like it was a successful class, well done.

  2. Wow, Nate you have done a pretty awesome job! This was well documented and even though you had some difficult students and circumstances you have succeeded. Well done