Masaryk University Faculty of Arts



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  1. Plan (create the skeleton of the story and add activities according to your aims)

Since this section is about creating a lesson plans, it is the section where symbolic frame and language teaching connects to create enjoyable lessons. There is more than one approach to the creation of lesson plans, but I will try to describe the procedure of creating lesson plans for the experimental classroom.

Firstly I broke the whole story into smaller units which could be easily covered in one lesson and I determined where the peaks of the story were. Having the peaks it was important to think about attractive activities for the peaks. These could be thought up in advance without really knowing the whole syllabus of the course because the peak lessons were also introductory or revision lessons. After the peaks, the language aims for the individual lessons were established. While creating the aims I had to think about the plot of the story and also the activities that could be done with it. For example, in the seventh lesson when we had a party to celebrate the birth of David’s sister Petra, students were revising modals of probability. They were using them to talk about what Petra might be like when she grows up and also to gossip about other people at the party. Another thing that students practiced, was language for arranging meetings, because they were helping David’s aunt to arrange an important meeting with David’s mother.

Planning individual lessons like this is probably the most difficult part but it is also the most creative part. The teacher must have some experience and predict what language students will need to use in each symbolic frame situation. It also takes some imagination to create fun activities which are nicely linked to the story. The teacher must imagine the role of the students in the story. In this case, they were partially a part of the story helping David and his friends. For example, in lesson ten the story is that David’s little sister Petra wanders away to the distant forest and her life is threatened by a deviated animal that ate her pony and wants to eat her. She telepathically communicates with David and his telepathic friends and they come to save her. They are unfortunately followed by Jerome Skinner who becomes suspicious about why they are there. In the story they manage to evade his suspicion. In the class this is not easy to put into some interactive activity. Since there were a lot of characters present I decided to make a role-play with the students. They already knew a lot about all the characters from previous lessons so it was not difficult to act out some of the characters. I put myself in a role of Jerome Skinner. We had a conversation in which students had to use some phrases of agreement, pleasure, sympathy and surprise, which we had learned earlier, to try to get rid of me.

However, the story line does not always have to be followed exactly. Some of the teacher’s own ideas can be added where suitable. For example the birthday party in lesson seven was a completely made-up event which served many purposes. It put the students into a real-life situation, they were also practicing a language form which they had just learned and they were enjoying themselves. It must be added that no matter how good the plan is, sometimes the situation in classroom evolves in quite different direction. With the symbolic frame it sometimes happens that the part of language which was on the syllabus for a particular lesson is not really necessary for students to know in order to communicate in a certain symbolic frame situation, but some other thing comes up. In this case I suggest that the teacher follows the frame and teaches in accordance with the new situation. It is because a symbolic frame puts students into situations in which they have to use the language to resolve them. Since language should not be taught for the sake of teaching language but for students to be able to communicate, it is better to flexibly deal with the situation students are in and to teach them the language they currently need.

Another part of the symbolic frame lessons are games and activities, which are inspired by the symbolic frame but that are not directly related to the story. In the experimental lessons the most popular of these activities was one called telepathy. In this game one volunteer thought about some activity he or she would like to do that evening. For example painting a picture of his grandmother’s dog for her birthday. To find out about the activity other students then had to ask questions to which he could reply only yes or no.


  1. Libretto (details are important!)

The libretto of The Chrysalids was, with only slight changes, directly taken from the book. As it was mentioned before the changes in the story were made because of various activities, but the main plot of the story remained.

  1. Materials (create and choose carefully the materials you'll use)

In the experimental course I decided to use various materials connected to the symbolic frame. Probably one of the most important from the symbolic frame aids was a team scoreboard where we kept track of the points that each team received. In our case, there were not exact rules about how many activities in each lesson would be competitive. The only rule was that each team could receive a maximum of twenty points for each lesson, ten points for homework and twenty points for projects. However, before each activity the students were expressly told if it was competitive or not and how many points they could receive. Another symbolic frame aid was a map of the Labrador Peninsula with the villages Waknuk and Fringes. During the course, as the story progressed, other places connected to various events from the story were added. Students wrote on the map brief notes about the events that happened in each place, creating thus a visual chronicle. The map also served as a part of the feedback and students could add to each event stars to evaluate the lesson connected to this episode.

Other teaching materials used in the class were usually decorated with pictures from the story of symbolic frame. Among these the most useful once were comic strips with the parts of the story on which the tenses were usually described. The advantage of these strips was that they could be extended by the students and they were easy to remember, because they were linked to the frame story. From the decorative category of classroom material costumes should be mentioned. They were used for Petra’s birthday party and for role-playing of certain scenes from the story by the students. They nicely comprised the atmosphere of the story.


3.1.2. Other Devices and Strategies


Because the planning of lessons with the use of symbolic frame is a very creative process, various methodological devices and strategies were incorporated into the planning. Some of these devices were activities that support classroom dynamics. These were used mainly to prevent group dysfunctions and also to deal with the problems of group functioning as they arose.

From the first interviews with the students, I found out that they more or less shared characteristics exactly described by Jill Hadfield in her book on Classroom Dynamics. “Students may not have defined their own aims clearly themselves; they may have only a hazy notion of what learning a language involves; they may think that traditional grammar-translation techniques are what language learning is about; or they may have a very precise and narrow aims of their own, which may conflict with other’s aims or the wider aims of the group” (Hadfield 2011: 134). The peaks of symbolic frame helped the cooperation of the group, because they had to work together towards a certain goal. A slight problem was only when I wanted students to be aware of their language goals. This was because a symbolic frame takes students “out of” the classroom and they start learning through it without being consciously aware of the fact that there is some learning process going on. Therefore, I tried in the middle of the course to add some activity that would raise awareness in students of their learning goals. It was important not to place this activity at the very beginning of the course, because each student had a different idea of the course and also about what learning in the course would involve. I borrowed this activity from the book Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield. It is called “Visualize it” and during this activity students are asked to visualize themselves after the course in some situations in which they are using English. Then they are asked to reflect in small groups on what they saw. The activity worked very well and I found other activities on classroom dynamics useful as well, because they are structured similarly as the symbolic frame concept and thus they can nicely complement each other.


3.2. Evaluation of the practical part


The evaluation of the practical part can be divided into two sections; the evaluation of the lessons from the methodological point of view and the evaluation of the students’ progress. Both of these sections were evaluated by both the teacher and the students.

I am aware of the fact that self-assessment of the lessons is a very subjective point of view, but hopefully the students’ perspective adds some more value to this self assessment. After every lesson there was feedback from the students, so the self-assessment was partially influenced by the students’ feedback every time. It can be said that overall the lessons ran quite smoothly and the syllabus and the lesson plans were usually followed. However, there were some things that could be changed for the next time.

While preparing the syllabus and also the individual lessons it is important to think about what might go wrong in advance. There are some factors that cannot be influenced, such as our mood, the students’ mood, if the technology will work, if all the students will come etc. but some of the problems can be predicted in advance and teachers can prepare themselves to face them. One of the anticipated problems that proved to be a problem was the placement of the actual peaks in the symbolic frame, especially the first one. It was placed in the fifth lesson and consequently the lessons at the beginning had a very slow progression. This might not have been a problem with a class of completely new students who did not know each other. However, in this class the students knew one another and therefore the group formed very quickly. By that time the group expected their first challenge; in the second or third lesson, there was no challenge. The result was that students became bored and the general energy in the class decreased. This also negatively influenced the students’ motivation.

Another organizational problem was that the students of the experimental class were not required to purchase the textbook. This might have partially influenced the lessons. During the lesson students were not required to take any notes, however some of them did. At the end of the lesson they were always given handouts with all the important things that we went over in the lesson. On the handout there were always additional exercises with the key and additional resources for practice. At the end of the course questionnaire the students evaluated the support materials as excellent and they appreciated that the material from each lesson was given to them on one sheet of paper only, because it helped them to keep their material organized. However, some students said that they would have appreciated the actual use of course book, since the course was based on a course book. These students also said that they prefer a course book over a pile of handouts, because it helps them to stay organized.

Surprisingly, there was no problem with attendance and homework in the course. While creating the course I thought that this would be the biggest problem since the course was for free and doing the homework was only a matter of students’ intrinsic motivation. It might partially be because of scoring system and that actually the students had to come to the class to help their team. Also it might be because of the advice I took from Will Richardson’s book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms and who claims that “a survey last year [2008] by the Pew Internet and American Life Project Estimated that over 60 per cent of adolescents had a MySpace or a Facebook account.”(Richardson 2009: 10) Following Richardson’s advice I found out that all of the students had their Facebook account so I created a page for the course on Facebook and during the course kept in touch with students through this page. During the course many students admitted that the posts during the week on the Facebook site raised their motivation to come to the classes and to do their homework. Since some of the homework could be done online students could hand them in during the week on the Facebook site and they could also see the progress of their colleagues.

Progress of the students in their language skills is the most important part of any course. However, with only a fourteen-lessons long course it was very complicated to have any measurable results. The main material that was used for measuring students’ progress was an audio recording of the first and the last lesson. Comparing these two recordings it might be said that by the end of the course students did not make attempt to speak their native language during the class. The frequency of their speech also increased. For example, the weakest students said only seventeen sentences during the first lesson. In the last lesson it was forty-two. Students also started to use longer sentences and they were not afraid to ask questions. In the first lesson, only eleven questions were asked and from these eleven question students only asked three questions among themselves. In the last lesson, students asked over fifty questions and most of them they used to communicate among themselves. Students in the feedback also admitted that their communication skills improved. “I’m happy that I am not afraid of speaking in English. And I also don’t worry so much if I make a mistake. Now I know that it is important to try and speak” (Student 3). Another student claimed that her communication skills increased because of the stress on group work. “My English improved because I had to speak a lot with my team. When we had to complete some task there wasn’t any other possibility than to discuss all the things in English” (Student 5). Since the students at the beginning had a good reading skills and their weakest skill was communication, a statement from Student 6 was very interesting to the role of the symbolic frame in the class. “I think that the story we had here was very interesting. In the middle of the course I bought the book in English and I read it in one week. It was the first book I read in English and I think that I will read more books now.” (Student 6) I also think that at the beginning I underestimated the role of the teams working on some task. At the end the teams’ work on the tasks and in the games was a thing which was praised the most by the students. One of them even admitted that “I hate study languages and I hate English but I love this course because of people here and our team. I think I learn here more than in school because I want my team win.” (Student 8)

To sum up the evaluation, the strongest points of working with the symbolic frame was that it encouraged students to cooperate in the language and it kept their interest in the course even during the week. Additionally, it raised interest in the students to start reading in English and to become interested in the language. It also showed students that they could use the language for real communication solving problems, and not just for the exercises they have to fill for an English class.


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