Monday, 21 May 2012

Tales of the Unexpected

I’m sure we can all think of a recent conversational script which didn’t go according to plan. So often, the dialogues we begin with such confidence (Hi, I’ve got an appointment for 10.30 with Linda) hit conversational icebergs when our opening gambits are met with unexpected replies (Um…no, I don’t have you down for today…Hold on…I think your appointment was for this time last Thursday!) 

Yet so many ELT resources present learners with straightforward scripts culled from a parallel universe where everything runs like clockwork and goes according to plan.  We all know that life is rarely like this, so why don’t we work harder at providing our learners with the language they need at times when things go wrong?

The ESOL Nexus project has come up with a fantastic resource which does exactly this. In a lesson called “Wrong Time, Wrong Place” learners begin by putting together a dialogue between a dentist’s receptionist and a patient arriving for his/her appointment. Learners practice this dialogue together, with the teacher providing input on pronunciation and intonation. The teacher then chooses a confident learner to rehearse the dialogue, but then throws a spanner in the works of the conversation by informing the patient that s/he is a week late for their appointment. A stunned silence descends as the learners try to figure out what they need to say at such a moment.

The teacher helps the learners to formulate what they might say, dividing their response into two parts: reaction and action. For example, the learners’ reaction to the above situation might be “Oh dear, I must’ve made a mistake!” or “I feel such a fool!” Their action might be something like “Could I possibly have the next available appointment?” The ESOL Nexus resource provides further situations to practice, covering a range of transactional and interactional situations. 

You can find this lesson with accompanying teacher’s notes at: My learners thoroughly enjoyed it, and certainly did not need to be convinced of the value of learning to deal with the unexpected!


  1. Thanks for the recommendation!
    Dot Powell (ESOL Nexus project director)

    1. You're welcome, Dot! I'm looking forward to trying out some more of the lesson ideas from the ESOL Nexus site. We've got parents' evening coming up in many of the schools here, so I'm keen to give this lesson a go too.