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At the end of the article are guiding questions for the educator.
I will write this article a little different from my other articles. In this article, I will talk from personal experience and belief as this marries SLA theory, lesson planning, and course design. I know this idea is around when studying about lesson planning, but it is normally glossed over and not talked about in detail. For this reason, I have created a name to bring attention to this aspect of lesson planning and course design- I call it threading.
Concept of Threading
Threading is loosely based off the SLA theory connectionism. Within connectionism is an approach called parallel distributed process (PDP) which proposes learning takes place within the brain via the activation of nodes and pathways. With increased activation, the nodes and pathways become stronger and easier to recall. If activation is not continuous, atrophy occurs and the recall becomes difficult or non-existent. In addition to connectionism, this follows Ausubel’s learning theory of connecting new information to known information. These two learning theories together are the way I conceptualize the strategy of threading.
What is Threading
Threading can be used on a micro-scale for lesson planning, or on a macro-scale for course design. Threading is consciously connecting the information within the segmented design of the lesson plan or to order the subject matter of a course for a more flowing connection.
Just like roads connect Washington DC and New York City, threading strives to connect information in a way the student can piece together and keep as solidified knowledge. There are many roads going from DC to New York City, so people can choose a route that is straight, complicated, scenic, plain, fast, slow, etc… Threading is the same within the segmented design of the lesson plan or course. The educator can design the lesson or course anyway he prefers, but the key is relating segments and themes together that increase pathway activation and connect with known knowledge.
How to Build on the Micro-Scale
The first step is to think of the sequence of your lesson plan. As stated before, there is no right or wrong sequence structure; it’s totally up to the educator. For reference, I will display two lesson plans for a university freshman class I taught. It should be noted that my class is two fifty minute blocks, so I do these four segments in those two blocks. If my class was one fifty minute block, I would do one lesson plan over two weeks with a few changes.
My sequence looks like this:
Note: In the pre-activity, I always try to use an activity that causes the students to use the focus of the lesson without being explicitly told. This way I can assess how much they know and if they are able to use it correctly. By doing a pre-activity assessment, I can gauge the potential success of the post-activity. If I think I’ve overshot their boundaries, I can change the post-activity as needed.
In this example lesson plan below, I was teaching should/must/shouldn’t/mustn’t to students who range from beginners to intermediate in the same class. The first class focuses on using should and must to talk about situations; the second class focuses on giving advice and a detailed reason why.
Here I’m assessing if they know how to use should/ must to strengthen or weaken the house rule. If I just told them we are studying should/must at the beginning, they may think they already know and start tuning out. By doing this they realize they know it, but aren’t using it, and I can see if they know how to use it correctly. Also, if they don’t, the correction allows them to monitor their output and internally make corrections.
|(The students are in groups of three or four) Topic: Imagine you are living in a house together. Each person has his own bedroom, but you share the common areas (kitchen, living room, bathroom). Make a list of five rules for the house.Elicit and write on the board.Normally, most rules the students make will be “don’t” statements, while some will be must statements. With the rules on the board, I ask how strong or necessary are the rules. I usually start with the must statements first as a primer to what I’m looking for, and then I go through the other rules and ask if they’re 100% or lower. An example of a rule: Don’t have friends over. Is this 100% or is it possible to have friends over at certain times. We talk about if it’s 100% then we change it to a must statement. If it’s lower, then we change it accordingly.*The reasoning for the layout is based on the SLA hypothesis monitor hypothesis from the monitor model.|
The activity from the book is something visual they can see and comprehend. I tell them how many hazards are in each room and it makes it a competition to which group can find it first. The last part of writing ‘you should’ or ‘you must’ allows them to formulate the usage of should/must- the discussion solidifies or alters their interpretation.
|(In groups) I use a page from another book that I have used in the past that talks about household hazards. That page has a picture of a five story house with many hazards shown in the rooms. Also, there are simple sentences on the side of the house related to the hazards.I have them go through the house and circle the hazards and talk about why they are hazards and how dangerous they are.Then I have the students use the simple sentences on the side of the house to write ‘you should’ or ‘you must’ in front of them. Then we discuss why we use must or should.|
|(In groups) I put some subjects on the board that each student has to make one should and one must statement and then share it with the group. Then we share answers as a class and have a simple discussion if possible.|
Free-talking is an activity that has to be structured. If there is no structure for the students to operate in they won’t participate well. For me, it’s part of their grade.
|In free talking the students can start from anywhere they want and end up anywhere the conversation takes them. It is mimicking a coffee shop setting where they are free to talk. If they don’t know where to start, I put a topic that is related to today’s lesson and have them start from there. For example:What is something you should do this weekend, and what is one thing you must do this weekend?|
How this lesson was threaded: 1. Assessing should/must 2.understanding and solidifying the use of should/must 3. have the students use should/must
This was the first week lesson plan. If I were to do this for only one week, I would change the segments to include giving detailed reasons, but since I’m doing this for two weeks, I can focus on details in the second week.
Threading for class two I ran into a problem for what pre-activity to do. At first I created a scenario:
You and your friend are on cruise to celebrate his graduation from university. It has been a great trip until a really bad storm produced a 30 meter wave that picks the ship up slamming it back into the water breaking the hull. With a broken hull, the ship starts filling with water and is sinking fast. The ship only has enough life vests for the children on board. It is at this time you realize you know how to swim, but your friend does not. Suddenly, the ship breaks in half with you on one side and your friend on the other. The distance between the two halves gets greater and greater every second. You realize the distance will be too far to save him when the ship completely sinks. You look across and see your friend staring at you for instructions because his body is paralyzed with fear. What are the options?
However, I started thinking of threading and realized this wasn’t a good segue as it didn’t make the students think of using should/must. The variation in the language they could use was too high. So I scratched this pre-activity and created another one that fit more with giving advice and could easily be related back to the previous lesson.
Dear Ann Landers,
I’m getting married in a few months, and as all girls do, I want my wedding day to be magical. However, my father is an alcoholic and can’t go a day without getting drunk. When he’s drunk, he becomes very argumentative as he only believes his opinion is right, and at times, will actually try to fight others who oppose him.
This is my special day and I don’t want him to ruin it because of his inability to control his drinking and temper. I told him I don’t want him at the wedding and he said he wouldn’t come. Later that night, after he had been drinking, he called me up and said he would come to my wedding and I could not stop him. I’m very afraid he’s going to ruin my wedding. I need your help.
The key is getting them to produce the language they have been studying. Any variation can ruin the activity.
I was able to assess my students were not good at giving detailed reasoning, so it made me change my post-activity.
|(In groups) Give the students an altered simplistic version of an Ann Landers advice article. Have the students create answers in their groups as to what advice they would give and why.Elicit and write on the board.Have discussions on the why it’s good advice. Vague details are discouraged and detailed reasons encouraged. “Because it’s good” is not good enough. What makes it good?|
|(In groups)Open the book to a certain page with many questions that deal with giving advice and telling them to use should or must in the answer with a detailed reason why. Compare answers in groups and then together with class.|
|(I planned on having a class debate on a hot topic in Korea, but after assessing the student’s ability to think through detailed reasons for advice, I knew it was too difficult for them. My students are good at thinking on the surface, but they lack the ability to think deeply on subjects.)Students have to write down two problems they are facing- real or made up- and do a mingling exercise to get advice. Then talk about it in class.|
I have to make the students stand in lines and talk to each other. If I let them freely mingle, they get in groups and just copy each other’s answers.
|Again, free talking is always the same except for the starter topic.|
How this lesson was threaded: 1. Students had to recognize they had to use the information from a previous class and introduce giving detailed reasons why 2. More practice on giving details 3. Seeking/giving advice for problems
Why is important
The reason why this is important is because I want to take my students through a process of learning. First, get them to use it freely, second to think of how they use it and explore it, and third to make it personal to them. So each activity must accomplish those goals, if it doesn’t, then I need to find an activity that does. It keeps me on track and let’s one step to go into another.
How to Build on the Macro-Scale
For some reason, many student textbooks never seem to have proper arrangement of the lesson themes. If I look at my book for junior university students, the units are laid out like this:
- Future Plans
- Airplanes and Airports
- Feeling and Emotions
- Experiences and Events
Now, how do all of these relate to one another? Not very well, but it’s almost impossible to have everything relate. However, look at units 1 and 2. Should they be reversed? I think they should as I could have the students talk about their family in week 1 and then in week 2 talk about their family members’ jobs and their future job. Would unit 3 on locations be your third choice for a lesson? Not mine, I would use unit 5 on Future Plans to talk about past graduation with getting jobs and starting families. So my first three units would look like this:
- Future Plans
A case could be made to put unit 10 first or after the unit on family. The point isn’t really what goes first or second, but how you can arrange the units to connect and make a big chunk of information that ties together before moving onto another chunk.
The best practice to threading successfully is asking yourself some simple questions. How does this relate to the next or previous information? Does doing this help the students succeed in the next step? Does this meet the objective of the class or course?
In my first lesson plan, the objective of the class was for the students to be able to understand that should/must add a certain amount of strength to what they are saying and be able to strengthen or weaken their thoughts with these words. The objective of the second class, the students would be able to give advice using should and must and provide detailed reasons why.
Your objectives will/may be different depending on the level your students and your teaching philosophy. That’s okay, define your objectives and piece them so they fit seamlessly to accomplish the objectives.
In my years of training pre-service and in-service teachers, I have seen a multitude of lesson plans that go in different directions, so it wasn’t easy to understand how the educator was meeting the objective. There have been countless number of times I have inquired about the reasoning of the lesson plan sequence and been met with a blank stare. Threading is about having a reason for doing what you have planned to do, and it allows your sequence to connect so the student can logically arrange the information they are learning.
Remember to ask yourself these questions when threading on the micro-scale and macro-scale:
- How does this relate to the next or previous information?
- Does doing this help the students succeed in the next step?
- Does this meet the objective of the class or course?
Questions to Think About to Help Teaching
- Do you normally lesson plan according to the same sequence each class? Why?
- Can maintaining the same sequence each class benefit your class? How or why not?
- Do all your activities connect with one another or do some activities not really match with the rest? If so, why? If not, how can this be a problem for the students?
- If you teach a book that covers several different areas of the same language structure, do you try to teach it all? If you do, how does this affect learning? If you don’t, how do you decide what is the most important?