This post leads on from the post on keeping TA going (only just!). Having been keeping it going somehow, I felt I wanted to have some TA in the next test I gave the classes. This meant that when they had a traditional test at the end of the next unit they had a voluntary extra exercise which was to describe a food in English. They didn't have to say what food it was, only describe it, and I, the teacher, should be able to recognise it. I wanted to see if they could still do it, and how much attention they paid to choosing good parameters. At least half of the pupils did this and this is what they wrote:

• It’s green. It has water inside. It’s really big and it’s a little red too.
• It’s green or red or yellow.  (an apple)
• It’s brown. It’s big or small.  (a hamburger)
• It’s small. It’s red.
• It’s a vegetable. It’s oval. It’s orange. It’s medium. What is it?
• It’s round. It’s red. It’s small. It’s a vegetable. What is it?
• It’s long. It’s green. It’s oval. It’s a vegetable. What is it?
• It’s brown. It’s square. It’s a rectangle. I like it.
• It’s green. It’s a circle (It’s round?)
• It’s yellow. It’s a crescent. I don’t like it.
• It’s red. It’s oval.
• It’s small. It’s round. It’s green.
• It’s blue and very small. It’s a berry. It’s round.
• It’s long and orange. It’s also big.
• It’s yellow. It’s oval.
• It’s red. It’s round. It’s small. It’s soft.
• It’s long. It’s orange.

Lesson 3    February 2014
Some of these descriptions were very clear and easy to guess; others not.  After the test we looked at them together and I asked them some which were easy and they guessed them easily; then I asked some which didn’t work so well, like, ‘ It’s green, or red or yellow.’ They agreed there wasn’t enough information.  I asked what information’s needed and they said they needed to know if it was a fruit or vegetable. With this we got back to their parameters and revised them, looking at their charts, to help them remember what parameters they could use.

I then showed them their own sentences for ‘Cheese’ from an earlier lesson and we started to evaluate the sentences. They agreed that ‘A mouse eats it.’ was the best. This discussion didn’t take long, but it did remind them of the vocabulary we’d used and the ideas.

My reflections
I should have had this discussion with them with a clear idea in mind of why we need to look again at these sentences, and I didn’t have, so their interest began to wane. Of course they need to know why they're looking at this, they need to know our aim very clearly, as I myself have discussed, but as a teacher I just keeping forgetting things! Maybe I need instructions to myself on the wall! We played a game of Password and this helped them to be more creative in looking for other parameters, relevant to a particular food. All in all, I hadn't thought this lesson out well enough, but at least I saw from their test descriptions what they'd remembered.

I need to remember: - motivate learners for task, find a good context, share aims with learners! I was really just seeing how this went, but it should have been linked to a clear further plan.

One group was more interested and I asked them what else we could describe in this way so that it could be recognized easily. They suggested animals, which was good as it was just what I had in mind. Unfortunately many things turned up after this and we didn't manage to continue with the animal topic in the way I'd envisaged. However, we did return to to TA and food at the end of the term when practising a shopping conversation. (See: Starting TA with Class 3 beginners: 8 The Chump Problem, practising parameters.)


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