The Hourglass Model for Lesson Sequencing

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					             The Hourglass Model for Lesson Sequencing
The hourglass model for lesson sequencing is particularly relevant to lessons which focus
on a language feature (i.e., grammar, functions/speech acts, vocabulary, aspects of
pronunciation, and genre study). This model doesn’t fit standard reading lessons so well
(although the steps of pre-reading/activating background knowledge, skimming and
scanning do have many of qualities associated with the top half of the hourglass), and
while process writing may move from more inductive activities (braining storming and
trying out organizational patterns) to more deductive activities (the revision process), we
cannot claim that writing lessons are well-represented by this pattern.

In the hourglass model we begin by exploiting the Language Presentation (the dialogue,
text, or whatever you use as the base to get the lesson going) as a piece of authentic
discourse. We listen to it, speak it, discuss it, maybe to a dictation of part of it—but we
really let the students play with this piece of language as an entity in itself. This helps
students to acquire language because it becomes comprehensible input whose meaning is
negotiated through the relatively unstructured process of “knowing it well” (see the
Language Presentations and Highlighting link below).

We then go on to the Highlighting Phase, which consists of the (a) the Discovery Phase
and the (b) Explanation/Model Phase. In the Discovery Phase the students make
deductions about what the specific target language feature is, and how that target feature
is used to solve communicative problems. In the Explanation/Model Phase, students are
given clear explanations or models of the feature and how it is used, so there will be no
doubt what it is they will practice and why they are practicing it. To appeal to a variety
of learning styles and especially to respond to the needs of younger learners, we may
want to use models of how the feature is used rather than explanations which can be very
metalinguistic (see the Language Presentations and Highlighting link below).
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After the Explanation, we move on to the Practice Activities. Practice activities move
from very controlled activities (so that the students can master the form of the feature) to
semi-controlled activities (so that students can still work with producing the correct form
while at the same time having the opportunity to make limited communicative choices), to
relatively uncontrolled communicative activities, so that learners can practice the
language feature as they would in the real world (see the Practice Activities link below).


The Inductive-Deductive Pattern: With this lesson sequence, the beginning activities
(the top half of the hour glass) tend to be inductive in nature (the students discover for
themselves the language and what is interesting about it). Then, beginning with the
explicit explanation/model the lesson becomes deductive: the students have been given
the rule/model and know they try to apply it in specific situations.

Thus, the inductive component helps make the lesson more meaningful and memorable,
and the deductive component helps eliminate uncertainly and provides a clear basis for
constructive practice.
The Acquisition Activity—Learning Activity—Acquisition Activity Pattern:
thoroughly exploiting the Language Presentation as a piece of authentic discourse, valued
for it’s own sake and then encouraging students to explore its organization allows
acquisition to occur. Then, with the Explanation/Model Phase we move to activities that
are much more explicit and more structured. Then as the lesson progresses and practice
activities become less controlled, the lesson moves to more authentic communication
activities which facilitate language acquisition once again.


It is important to have a mix of acquisition and learning activities. First, we cannot
explicitly teach our learners all of the language. Acquisition activities allow them to
make connections that are meaningful to each of them on their own. However
acquisition activities alone may not be sufficient. Some learners, because of their
learning styles, need a certain amount of structure. Then other learners may simply not
relate to acquisition activities. If this occurs, building in a learning activity component
means they have a possibility to participate and learn, even if they were not able to
acquire.

The balance of this mix of acquisition and learning activities will depend on your
students. For example, adults may prefer (from habit) more explicit, structured learning
activities, and may have the cognitive development to process this kind of instruction
effectively. Children on the other hand, will often gain more from a greater focus on
acquisition activities. However no lesson should focus exclusively on either acquisition
or learning activities. As was noted earlier, we cannot teach our student all of the
language. Therefore we need rich language experience to expose learners to real
language they can acquire (each student in her unique way) and explicit structure
learning so that they are not confused and have a sense of achievement.