On Saturday 1st August I took part in my first ever Lesson Jam, organised by the creator of the concept himself, the lovely Tom Heaven. My first Lesson Jam also happened to be the first ever session that Tom has ever run internationally; some Lesson Jams have taken place in Berlin previously, but a teacher got in touch with Tom after his IATEFL talk on the same topic earlier this year, and asked if they could participate. Of course, Tom said yes, which is why I ended up spending 4 hours on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Tom’s envy-inducing roof apartment here in Berlin Skypeing with a roomful of teachers in Cairo! The teachers in Cairo were from Maha ESL Training, and it was the owner of that school, Maha herself, who was in charge their end.
I was originally going to write about the whole process in my trademark great, waffly detail, but Tom has already done a very comprehensive report on his own website, so please do have a read there for the full low-down. To avoid simply making a poorer second cousin of Tom’s post, I thought I would practice writing concisely, which does not come easily to me at all, and break the afternoon down into bullet points:
- English teachers arrive at Tom’s stunning flat: deposit snacks, admire view from Tom’s amazing balcony, and then settle down on the sofa.
- Tom gets Team Cairo up on Skype and there is a half-hour of general technology twiddling: the rest of us happily make idle teacher chit-chat. We were five teachers including Tom, but Tom didn’t participate, so we were a nice cosy group of four brains, against the larger Cairo contingent of about 9 or 10 teachers.
- Once everyone is ready, Tom goes into boss mode and gets the show, or Jam, if you will, on the road: we all introduce ourselves briefly and do lots of cringeworthy waving at Tom’s iMac.
- Tom explains how the afternoon is going to work, and then gives us our stimulus: an unidentifiable object with egg-related colours and a vicious pin inside…(see photo)
- Maha, the lead teacher from Team Cairo, gives her group their stimulus: a mobile phone.
- The groups break off for a 20-minute brainstorming session, consisting of 3 minutes of solo thinking about what on earth the object Tom presented us with could be, followed by 17 minutes of sharing said ideas. In this time, Tom thankfully confirmed some of our predictions about the object: it was an Eierpiekser, or ‘egg piercer’ – apparently an essential item in any German kitchen (they do love their hard-boiled eggs!)
- Team Berlin’s brainstorm spirals off into lesson plans based on cooking, processes, unusual objects, and focuses on functional language of explaining a process, using vague language to explain new objects and discourse markers to talk through a process. You can see the results of our multi-coloured madness in the brainstorm photo to the right.
- Both groups reunite on Skype and present their masterpieces to each other on the camera, and talk through them. Each group suggests additional ideas to the other group. This was actually one of my favourite parts of the session, as there was so much creativity flying about!
- Both groups break for lunch: Tom whips up some delicious bread for Team Berlin and we wash it down with Apfelschorle and excellent coffee, and feel re-energised for the main part of the session: writing the actual plan!
- I somehow became the scribe for the group (did I say I liked to write…?) and we began scribbling down our ideas.
- From the stimulus of our egg-piercer, we ended up taking the route of a recipe-based lesson, focusing on discourse markers such as ‘then’ and ‘after that’ to help students follow a process. So, this is my interpretation of our lesson plan, roughly aimed at an intermediate B1 class:
Our lesson begins with some photos of similarly obscure objects like the Eierpiekser, but from various zoomed-out angles so that students have to use whatever language they have for speculating about what something could be (‘perhaps it’s a…’ or ‘maybe it’s…’ for example.) We then eventually reveal the objects and they have to guess the connection (that they are for a specific recipe, such as the German favourite plum cake, Plaumenkuchen). The ‘official’ recipe is then revealed, and there is language focus on the discourse markers linking each stage of the recipe, with students being asked to find all examples of such linking language. This stage can be elongated or contracted as per time constraints.
Students have to then agree on a new recipe and each group comes up with their own (simple) version thereof, which is hung up around the room at the end of the brainstorming session in a ‘recipe gallery’ for other students to have a look at. (This is the controlled practice.)
For the free practice, students then write their own favourite recipe and are strongly encouraged to bring the results of their recipe in for homework in the next class 😉
- We scribbled for about 45 minutes, and then reunited on Skype one last time with Team Cairo. They presented their excellent ideas around mobile phones and then we told them about our recipe idea. Again, we each had a lot of questions for the other group of teachers and I think both lesson plans were further improved by this feedback and critique session.
- After lots more questions, Tom brought the session to a close. We agreed to keep in touch, and the session ended with lots more waving to the laptop!
Things I really enjoyed about the Lesson Jam
- meeting other teachers, and seeing how creative we can be when we all put our heads together
- coming away from the afternoon with some really good ideas for future lessons I could use – neither of which involve a course book at all! Happy days!
- the cultural exchange with the teachers in Cairo: amidst all our lesson jamming antics, we also exchanged comments on the use of phones in class, on homework and on the additional paperwork beyond the classroom. We learnt, for example, that it is essential for the Egyptian teachers to assess whether or not their students have met their objectives by the end of the lesson. For those of us in Berlin, particularly those of us teaching in a more Business English context, this kind of thing isn’t so integral, so it was interesting to hear how this skewed the focus of the end of their lessons.
- using my brain on a Saturday afternoon, and realising that all of this teaching must have gone to some good use, as I was able to contribute lots of ideas, despite being by far the most inexperienced teacher present.
Slightly less great things about the Lesson Jam, which we can easily improve the next time
- the sound was sometimes a little difficult to hear – it was much better once Tom connected his super-speakers, but then it would have been even better to have a bigger screen to really be able to see what the other teachers in Cairo were presenting
- Team Cairo sometimes talked over each other, making it hard to follow their chain of thoughts – but then again, I’m sure we did that too!
And, the final verdict: Will I Lesson Jam again?
I most certainly will! I thought the joint planning effort was great, and something really different to all my post-CELTA teaching experience so far.
Thank you to Tom for arranging it all, for the food, opening your flat and for the photos I have brazenly stolen in this post, and thanks also to Team Cairo for being the willing participants in the first ever international Lesson Jam!
PS. Apologies for the few absent photos: my phone isn’t playing ball at the moment! They will follow shortly 🙂 In the meantime, thanks to Tom for the 2 photos I have stolen!