Just #onething from class today

Just one thing, eh? OK.

Today in the middle of class two students were discussing something about some  usual vocabulary related to climate change. I gave students 30 words grouped in sets of three related words. They were asked to “choose the odd one out.” In this one slice of the lesson I am talking about the words might have been preserve, save, and protect. Students were tasked with choosing the one word that didn’t fit with the others in the set and then were asked to explain their choices to their partners, while keeping in mind there is no right answer. One student, let’s call her Darlene,  gave her response to her partner,  Elvis, who didn’t seem to get it. Elvis asked for clarification and Darlene said her reasons again. It made sense to me but Elvis didn’t seem to get it. Darlene tried again and Elvis and Darlene gave me a confused look that I took to mean, “please help if you can.” To be more clear, they just looked confused and perhaps I interpreted this as a cry for help. I paraphrased what I thought Darlene wanted to say. Elvis nodded in what I took as agreement and I felt pleased. I was ready to collect the Teacher of the Year award. But then, Darlene asked if she had said something wrong. I think she took my intervention as a disagreement of her points or her point of view. She said, “Was I wrong?” in a way that sounded a bit sad or potentially hurt to me. I quickly said, “No, no, I was just trying to say it another way. In fact, I fully agree with you and I had the same exact answer. It doesn’t mean we are right though!” She smiled and nodded and I felt better about my intervention.

This thing got me to thinking about how such interventions from the teacher can be taken in different ways. Sometimes I do want to make a point about the content of what is being said. Sometimes I want to make an English focused point. Sometimes I want to make a point about how the task is being conducted. In this case, perhaps my intention was not 100% clear to Darlene. I also had reservations about sort of short-circuiting the communication between Darlene and her partner but in the end I was fine with how things turned out. I’d like to believe and actually do believe the students were as well.

Perhaps this was one of those  small moments in class that didn’t turn out to be anything major in the flow of the class but it was nice to give it some thought.

onething (1)
In case you’d like a bit more detail. I think today’s class was fairly typical of my usual Tuesday classes. The title of the course is “International Discussion” and I usually have 9 students (4 from Korea, 3 from China, and 1 each from Taiwan and Russia). It is a nice mix of students (in terms of nationalities but also personalities and English abilities as well as passion for and knowledge of international issues).  Related to my post from yesterday I was hyper aware during class but also a bit anxious. You know, waiting for the perfect #onething to reveal itself. There was some sort of weird new calculus and criteria for the class, something different than questions like  “are my students more comfortable with English than they were 3 hours ago?” and “are my students better equipped to take fluent turns expressing their opinions in English?” or even stuff related to specific lexis, patterns or common pitfalls. This doesn’t mean I forgot these things, it just means there was another thing there in the back of my mind.  Thanks to Anne for introducing the #onething blog challenge.


  1. Sandy Millin

    This sounds so familiar! I think it’s a common issue, particularly in multilingual classes, and one which I’ve never (seen) written about before. It’s important to make it clear to students that sometimes even the best communicated ideas might not be understood if the listener hasn’t made the necessary logical leaps. Communication is as much about listening as it is about talking.
    Thanks for sharing this Mike.

  2. mikecorea

    Thanks very much for reading and commenting, Sandy. I like your point about the importance of listening here. It makes me think that maybe instead of “helping” the speaker in that moment perhaps there were some other areas of communication I could have explored then or later on.

    On a separate (probably) note, it is amazing to teach multilingual classes here in Korea for a few reasons. The first is that for many of the Korean students it is their first time to be the stronger speaker and they have to learn to adapt and grade their language and things like this. It is also a great chance to listen to accents that are not North American which takes some getting used to for many students.

    Thanks again for the insights!

  3. Pingback: #onething that happened after class a few weeks ago | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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