After studying “The Weather”, our next task was Shopping. In the introductory interview, my student said he wanted to be able to buy foods in a Czech supermarket. It seemed fairly straightforward when I heard it, but less so when I started planning the pedagogical tasks. What are the tasks involved in buying food for the home?
I like constraints. They’re the spice of life. There had been two of them this time. I was planning for a 60-min lesson on Friday morning. However, I’d had an exhausting week at work and by Thursday evening, I was literally a walking dead. I knew I wouldn’t be able to spend an evening at the computer preparing my lesson. My only choice was to do it the next morning when I had only about 30 minutes of time.
What is more, I don’t have a printer at home – that is on purpose, not because I can’t afford it. So my lesson had to be materials light – there would be no time to go to the copy shop.
What did I do, then? I dragged myself to bed taking with me a supermarket leaflet and Willis’ Doing Task-Based Teaching. Rest assured my family thought I was crazy, and I heard some comments about being a workaholic.
Thinking and Planning
The hardest part was to pinpoint what the student actually needs when he goes shopping. It wasn’t to name the food items or write them down – or understand them being pronounced as it would be if he shopped at the grocer’s. It wasn’t to tell ice-cream from butter. When you go shopping, you know in which section of the shop you are. You know that what you’re holding in our hands is a yoghurt, not coffee. But is it white yoghurt? Creamy yoghurt? Vanilla flavour? Some odd Czech flavour you’ve never heard of? The variety was what I needed to focus on.
I also thought about the most suitable method of presenting the vocabulary. A quick look inside Doing Task-Based Teaching helped. I decided for a matching task. So, I had a rough plan and could fall asleep.
The next morning, I took the supermarket leaflet. I chose 15 food items and covered their names with a post-it note. On a different post-it note, I wrote the name of the same food items. I kept these separate. My items were e.g.: zelené a černé olivy, bílý jogurt, smetanový jogurt, kuřecí čtvrtky, krájený salám, olivový olej, etc.
In the lesson, I presented my leaflet as well as the post-it notes on a separate sheet. I told the student he was to find the corresponding name of the food item, remove the empty card and stick in the labelled one. This was to show me how much of the lexis he’d already known and to clarify the meaning of other words if needed, as well as to supply other food vocabulary.
Next, I wanted my student to actively use the words he needed, i.e. focus on the foods he buys and likes; not on those that he never eats. I asked the student to write a shopping list:
You have no food at home. You only have 300 Kč. What do you buy?
My student started writing the list and I was telling him the prices, either from the leaflet or from memory. This part had not been planned but it smoothly developed into a revision of numbers and Kolik to stojí? (How much is it?).
Focus on Form:
I had planned to focus on the form of adjectives – (1) Masculine, (2) Feminine, (3) Neutral – singular, (4) plurals and the “soft” adjectives (5)
I removed the labels from the leaflet and placed them in five columns according to their ending.
We ended up with:
Bílý jogurt (1), čokoládová zmrzlina (2), čerstvé mléko (3) , zelené olivy (4) , kuřecí klobásy (5)
As you can see, the ending of the adjective depends on the gender of the noun and on whether it is the soft (í) /hard (ý, á, é) type. Once the student understood, he started playing with the words changing the form according to their gender and creating other combinations:
Čerstvá zmrzlina, čokoládový jogurt, bílé klobásy…
This was the end of the lesson.
For the following lesson, I designed a multiple choice exercise based on the student’s first language. It occurred to me that this is how the student would be thinking while going to the supermarket.
I need some black olives, not green ones, and creamy – not just plain white – yoghurt.
That’s why the questions were in English but I kept the options in Czech.
The student did fairly well in the task. Upon Helen’s advice I asked him to self-reflect. He had not remembered all the words from the previous lesson but said he could now manage in a shop on his own and wanted to move on. He also noted that in a real shopping situation, his choice would be affected not only by a name of the product, but other factors, e.g. the country of production.
In spite of having taught Shopping a number of times previously, I realized this had been the first time I’d actually thought about the needs of a language user when shopping, and consequently about the aims of tasks.
How was this lesson different to a standard lesson on shopping? Firstly, the choice had been made by the student. Admittedly, I had pre-selected some words at the start, but they only served as a starting point for the student to tell me what he does and does not buy. I tried to include his choices in the subsequent Exit Task. Secondly, it was task-based; not grammar based. In Czech textbooks, Shopping would be commonly associated with a grammatical item – either the Accusative case after buy/like/can I have (Mám rád čokoládovou zmrzlinu), or the Genitive after amounts (a pot of creamy yoghurt – kelímek smetanového jogurtu). Countable/Uncountable nouns also come into play, and consequently the Genitive plural (dvě kila francouzských brambor); and things tend to get a bit messy.
The swapping of the empty cards for the labelled ones worked just fine and was, in my opinion, more “tasky” than drawing lines between two columns.
I believe the idea of a L1 x L2 “test” at the end is quite original, as I had never seen it anywhere, yet it is provokingly simple while reflecting the real needs of the learner. Nevertheless, the genuine task would still be to write a shopping list and go to a supermarket
DAVE WILLIS AND JANE WILLIS. Doing task-based teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.