Staging a lesson around a story

Over the past two months, along with doing lots of online sessions myself, I’ve been running several series of online training sessions with dedicated teachers in many different places around the world, who have given up their time to volunteer with the Hands Up Project. A few weeks ago, a teacher on one of the courses asked me if she could see some videos of whole sessions, so as to get more ideas as to how to stage an online lesson around a story.

It’s true that all of the videos on our youtube channel for teachers have so far just focused on individual activities led by the teacher, or performances of plays and chants by children. I’m about to rectify that however, with this video of a complete 45 minute session led by Alexandra Guzik in Krasnodar, Russia, with Sahar Salha coordinating things from the other side, with her class of girls at the Elementary co-ed “A” UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun, Gaza.

Alex first got in touch with me back in May to see if we could arrange a link up between her class of kids in a private language school in Russia and a class in Gaza. You can read about what happened here.

Now Alex is a volunteering once a week, working with a group in the Sahar’s school. There are lots of really great things happening in this session in my opinion (you can watch it in full below) Here are a few of the key things for me.

  1. It’s a very nice example of teacher as audience. Alex is an audience for the homework which she’d asked them to do at the end the of the previous session (find out some interesting facts about animals). She’s also an audience for their performances of their stories and chants. Like all good audiences, she’s actively listening to what the children are saying and, by this empowering them immensely – not least for Rania, the student who was so visibly pleased to be able to communicate with Alex in Russian.
  2. It’s a very well staged lesson. Alex builds on what they did for homework, thereby emphasising the fact that learning English isn’t just something that happens in class time. She also provides a nice balance between teacher input and student output in the whole session, and she includes some really motivating and learning rich pre-story and post-story activities.
  3. There’s a strong focus on communication. I’m coming to the conclusion that video conferencing isn’t that great for accuracy work, like drilling or any form of pronunciation practice, especially when the internet connection isn’t very strong. It is very good however for negotiation of meaning. In fact the difficulties with the connection seem to push everyone to rephrase things and to try to speak more clearly and loudly so that the message gets through.  This can only be a good thing, and there are lots of examples of it in this extract.
  4. It’s very effective team teaching. Alex has planned the session but she allows space in what she’s doing for Sahar, the teacher at the other end, to control much of the session too. And whilst Alex is driving the narrative of the class, Sahar is managing everything on the ground in Gaza, knowing which students to bring in for certain activities, and scaffolding and supporting what they are saying.  The interaction between them when they are deciding what to do is also excellent exposure to comprehensible input for the children. How often do children in contexts like this get the chance to hear two super advanced speakers of English, modelling dialogue in English about things which are directly related to the children?




4 thoughts on “Staging a lesson around a story

  1. Dear Nick,

    I was very interested to read this. I have a problem with the video of the lesson thought – I get a message saying the video is private so I can’t watch it.

    I haven’t yet heard back from my colleague about the potential participation of our school – I will chase this up next week.

    Thanks and best wishes,

    Lucy Briand


  2. Hi Lucy, Thanks for your message. It should be OK now. Please do get back to us about this potential link up. We are expanding in all sorts of directions at the moment, and it would be great to get a class in London involved.


  3. Dear Nick,

    Thank you for writing about our lesson! And thank you for your kind words! This is a great honour to be the part of your amazing project!

    The girls are all so enthusiastic; they rush to the computer with eagerness to speak and they try to do their best. Their attitide helps me a lot and makes me feel less nervous, which I do before every session. Indeed I look forward to our every session.
    It was the second time I ‘met’ Rania. She is just as friendly as all the girls in this school.

    But all these positive emotions would be impossible to experience without Sahar. With her amazing classroom management it feels as if I am in the classroom with the girls not miles away.

    So, once again, thank you Nick for the post, for the project and for the wonderful people you connect!



    1. Thanks for your comment Alex. Yes, you two do seem to work together very well and I think it’s really useful for the kids in terms of their English development to hear the conversations that happen between you. To me it seems like a really effective way of exposing the children to some natural English. Kids who learn English in immersion settings do it because they have many opportunities to hear the language being used in dialogue (often by their parents), not just because people talk directly to them. I think this video shows the value of team teaching really well. I can feel a blog post coming on..


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