Presentation via a situation…an oldie but a goody!

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Presentation via a situation isn’t the most fashionable way to teach a language lesson these days. However, I’d argue that there are plenty of reasons not to totally discard ‘via a situation lessons’ and to have a few good ones up your sleeve. In this post, we’ll look at some of those reasons and some classroom ideas.

What do we mean by presentation via a situation?

This is sometimes also referred to as a PPP lesson (Presentation, Practice, Production). We get students interested in the topic of the lesson, we involve them in the building up of a context, (often through the use of pictures or drawings), we elicit examples of the language from that context and then we clarify the meaning, form and pronunciation of this language before going on to practise it. (For more detail of these stages, see here…)

Why use a situation to teach language?

1. Variety

Both students and teachers get bored with doing things the same way every lesson. Mixing things up keeps teachers motivated and gives them the chance to be creative – if we as teachers are engaged in our lessons they are usually a lot better! Variety also keeps learners engaged because the lessons have not become a series of predictable steps where they know exactly what’s coming and when.

2. Students’ preferences / skills

If we always, for example, teach language through a text, we may not be catering to all our learners. Some may really enjoy learning language through a text, while for others, the extra reading or listening load may be stressful / distracting. Variety means there is something for everyone at some point.

3. Teacher-focused vs Student-focused

Presentation via a situation is often criticised for being too teacher-centred, but there’s no reason we can’t apply guided discovery tasks and techniques in the same way we do to a presentation via a text or Test-Teach-Test lesson when we get to the clarifying meaning, form and pronunciation stage.

4. Not technology dependent

Students can forget their books, photocopiers can break down, we can be called in to teach at a moment’s notice…but if our lesson doesn’t absolutely need much in the way of materials or technology we needn’t panic if something unexpected like this happens. With a few simple drawings on the board, a good idea for a situation, and the right techniques, we can still have an effective lesson.

5. Personalisation and making it memorable

Because we the teacher, (with the help of the students – also another reason it can be engaging) are creating this context, we can tailor it completely to our students’ interests. It’s also worth remembering that although we don’t want to make ourselves the constant centre of attention, or give away too much personal information, students are usually interested in their teacher. We constantly ask students to tell us about themselves and give their opinions on topics, and this can sometimes feel rather one-sided to students who may know little or nothing real about us. Presentation via a situation can offer the opportunity to harness their curiosity and redress that balance a little. For example, when presenting vocabulary for describing family members and the use of possessives, the coursebook may have a famous family or perhaps a fictional character talking about their family. We may engage students’ interest a lot more using our own family tree and trying to elicit the target language from that.

When we use a text from a coursebook to deal with language, we are sometimes faced with a topic which we know our particular group of students may not be that interested in. For example, a certain text might be unsuitable. We might not have the time to spend looking for a new one which is both interesting and contains examples of our target language. When this happens, we may be able to create a new situation relatively quickly, or we may have one we have used previously and we know that it will work and our students will enjoy it.

6. Familiarity for some students

For students who have come to their classes with experience of a much more traditional way of teaching, presentation via a situation has some elements that may feel a little familiar and comfortable. If all your English grammar lessons to date have taken place with the teacher at the front, explaining, being immediately thrown into Test-Teach-Test or Task Based learning could be rather intimidating. Although we still want to maximise student interaction and engagement when we teach grammar through a situation, the more recognisable format may give a little bit of welcome familiarity for these students while they make the transition to new ways of learning and classroom management.

Top tip – build up a base…

Thinking back to point 4 above, having a base of situations (either mentally or physically filed) that you can use without too much extra preparation is a great help in many circumstances.

Here’s a classic example to get you started.

Used to

Get students interested and engaged. Show the first set of pictures (or draw something similar on the board).

1 copy

This is my friend Bob.

What can you see in the pictures?

These are all about Bob’s life. With your partner, make guesses about his life, his situation. Use the pictures to help you.

Feedback – eilcit ideas – try to elicit that Bob doesn’t have a lot of money and examples about his life using present simple. Such as:

He doesn’t have a lot of money.

He eats a lot of toast / cheap food.

He lives in a small apartment.

He walks everywhere / He doesn’t have a car.

He buys his clothes in the sales.

Now tell students that the first picture is actually about his life in 2010 (or any other previous year). Write the year above the first pictures.

Show the second group of pictures.

2 copyAsk what happened. Try to elicit that he won a lot of money. Write ‘now’ above the pictures of the car and the large house.

What can we say about now? (He lives in a big house.)

What about his house in the past? (He used to live in a small apartment. If students say, He lived, ask, Is there another way to say this? If you cannot elicit the sentence – give it.)

Elicit examples of positive, negative, question forms and short answers. Ask students what they can say about his life in the past compared to now, (He used to eat a lot of toast / cheap food / He didn’t use to spend a lot of money on food), and his life now compared to the past, (He didn’t use to drive a sports car, He used to walk everywhere).

Clarify meaning, pronunciation and form through teacher to student interaction at the board, student-centred guided discovery tasks, or a mixture of both.

Do you have any favourite situational presentations?




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