IATEFL Poland: Jeremy Harmer's "Live Lesson"

IATEFL Poland: Jeremy Harmer's "Live Lesson" - hancockmcdonald.com/blog/iatefl-poland-jeremy-harmers-live-lesson

Jeremy Harmer ran a wonderfully informative, engaging, practical and thought-provoking ‘Advanced Lesson for Teachers of English’ session involving text analysis, language use and prosody. Rumours of how good this repeated session had been the day before, plus a growing interest in the new conference presentation types, meant that over 100 participants had to be relocated to a much larger room before the session could start. Some might have gone along to improve their English – the original purpose of the session, but many others went simply to observe Jeremy giving an advanced class. 

He began by presenting a wordle, and our initial task was to work individually, and then in pairs or small groups to find as many phrases as we could - noun-noun, adjective-noun, idioms, collocations (weak or otherwise) or clichés. As he elicited the phrases we’d found, Jeremy got us thinking about the strength of the association between the words which made up the phrases. We were fully involved and working with language from the word ‘go’, and, by the time we’d examined many of the phrases, we were in a fairly strong position to identify the text in which these phrases occurred, along with its purpose.  

 We then watched and listened to a video clip of part of Michelle Obama’s speech addressing the Democratic National Convention on 4th Sept 2012, before analysing its structure and discussing what features had made it extremely effective. One of the participants even revealed that she had been moved to tears.

 We looked at the use of comparatives, the reiterative use of ‘if’ and the appeal of reference to iconic American historical events, the use of the word ‘surely’, the ratcheting up of the rhetoric, and the role of pronunciation, pausing, pitch and word stress – to name but a few of elements which contributed to the overall effectiveness of the speech. You might like to have a go yourself.   


 Jeremy threw the effectiveness of the speech into high relief by reading it to us, but this time so it was stripped bare of prosody. Quite clearly, this second version wasn’t going to convince anybody that Barak Obama should be given a second term in the White House.

Turning to a sonnet by E.E. Cummings, Jeremy orchestrated various choral drills so that we were all able to read it with appropriate metre, meaning and conviction. Then, using a disappearing text drill (with slides in which parts of the text were gradually removed) we practiced and practised, gaining confidence in our delivery as we went along. We then returned to Michelle Obama’s speech one more time, practicing again before a volunteer read it aloud to the assembled.

 Jeremy stressed the importance of spending class time getting students to speak well. When the session came to an end, he asked us to practice saying the sonnet to ourselves as we left the room. Off we all went, able to recite the sonnet with confidence. A most enjoyable and illuminating session, packed with great practical ideas to take into our own classrooms!      


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