Thursday, January 31, 2013

Kneading your Way into the Passive Voice

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Don’t you just love it when inspiration strikes in the middle of an activity and turns a so-so lesson into a great one? It doesn’t happen that often to me, actually. My “great” lessons are almost always the result of careful planning and hours spent cutting out little bits of paper, but once in a great while, it all comes together in a moment of glorious on-the-spot quick thinking.

My job at the British School of Brussels is to prepare and support my students for survival and success in their mainstream classes. I have had my eyes opened to the joys of content-based language learning, and, as a result, my lesson plans often veer away from pure grammar activities. For most of my students, the vocabulary they need for their chapter on Atoms and Elements in their Science classes supersedes their need to properly use the past perfect. However, I am always on the lookout for that perfect lesson that seamlessly blends grammar with content.

How to Make Bread

So, anyway, my “grammar and content unite” moment happened after several of my students had just begun their cooking classes. We’d done all the kitchen utensils and verbs associated with cooking to death, and I was trolling the internet for an idea that would allow me to revisit cooking in a new way. I came across a great video called How It’s Made: Bread. Now, the title alone might have got many of you thinking, “Aha! The passive!” Sadly, this did not happen to me. Not right away. After watching the video, I typed up several sentences that described the process step by step.

  • The ingredients are ground in a mill.
  • The ingredients are mixed together.
  • The dough rises for 3 hours.
  • The dough is kneaded for 8 minutes.
  • The dough is divided.
  • The dough is rolled into balls.
  • The dough is folded and rolled.
  • The dough rises for 1 hour.
  • The dough bakes for 20 minutes
  • The loaves cool.
  • The loves are cut and packed.

I printed one list for each student and cut the sentences into strips that I mixed up. I was pleased to review some of the vocabulary related to baking that they had already learned (grind, mix, rise, knead, fold, roll, bake and cut), and then the students watched the video and put the strips of paper into the order in which they happened in the video.

Better than Hangman!

As they raced to put the sentences into the correct order, I nervously watched the clock and realized that I had not planned enough to keep them occupied for the next 20 minutes of the class. Gulp! At that point, I noticed that many of the sentences were in the passive. I had not “officially” covered the passive voice with them, and I was hesitant to begin a heavy grammar lecture, but this seemed to be an opportunity too good to miss. So, I had the students copy the sentences into their books leaving spaces between each one. We watch the first part of the video again and I asked them who was grinding the flour. After they told me it was a mill that ground the flour, I asked them how to change the sentence they had in their books to show that. It took a couple of tries and some cooperation, but they eventually went from “The ingredients are ground in a mill.” to “The mill grinds the ingredients.”

We worked together to convert all of the passive sentences to the active voice without me once bringing out the dreaded colored diagram with arrows pointing from the subject to the object. The students got a clear understanding of how to use the be verb and the past participle (luckily most of the verbs in this example are regular, so we avoided discussing the long lists of irregular past participles) to make the “doer” the head of the sentence. Later, we went on to practice more with the passive and we will continue to do so, as this is an essential grammar skill for communicating about subjects like Science, and they still have a long way to go before they can use it fluently. However, by using this video in the class as a way of reviewing cooking terms, I was able to, accidentally, painlessly introduce them to this tricky (and heavy) grammar point.

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