Years ago I worked for a school that offered computer-dominated blended courses to its students. These spent hours, days, if not weeks in front of the screen, until they memorized the answers to the repeated questions and so they could book conversation lessons. Since there was no guidance by a class teacher (there were no classes), teachers could and should monitor and evaluate the students in these conversation lessons. These were also the only ones that were prepared by the teacher. So these were my favorite ones. However, we didn’t really know at what level the students would be, since everybody above a given level could book for a conversation lesson (for example, everybody who completed the first 4 units, could book Conversation I, but also students in higher units could come back and do a brush-up conversation lesson at this lower level. This meant, that flexibility was essential. The same, what a substitution requires. So this lesson idea (one of my most popular ones) might help you out in a last-minute substitution.
Topic: Problems and suggestions
Function: Giving advice (You should/could …, Why don’t you …, You might want to consider V-ing…, etc., depending on the level of the students)
Grammar: Modals – should, might, could, I’d suggest that you …
Materials: whiteboard, marker
Ask students if they think that problems are positive or negative things. Investigate if they use the word problems and what their attitude towards these are. With higher level students you can even discuss the word ‘troubleshooting’ (finding solutions to problems). – 2 minutes
Lead in: Mind-map
Ask students what type of problems they have in their lives (without being too personal). While they give you their answers, write these into a mind-map onto the whiteboard. Possible answers are: difficulties with English, unemployment, money problems, no girlfriend, health problems, etc. – 5 minutes
Ask your students to pick one problem field and give them 2 minutes to take notes about one possible (or real) problematic situation.
For example: I work for an international company, which has its headquarter in Milan. Lately I have been forced to fly to Milan and stay there 4 days a week. I have a wife and two little kids, who go to school in Palermo. I hate that I see them only at the weekends, and even then I often have to work at home. I was considering leaving my job, but I am in a high position and in Palermo I would never find a job that could guarantee us the same living standards or I might even have difficulties to find a job here.
As a trial round, gather some ideas from the students what this friend should do in this problem to solve the problem. Elicit and/or teach the target language, considering the students’ level, for example:
A2: You should/could move to Milan with your family.
B1: Have you considered moving to Milan with your family?
B2: You might want to consider moving to Milan with your family. I’d suggest that you move to Milan with your family.
C1: What I would advise is to move to Milan with your family.
C2: Your dearest and nearest are supposed to be close to you, so move to Milan with your family.
Then ask the students to build two circles with their chairs, one inner circle facing an outer one, each student sitting opposite a classmate. The students in the inner circle are going to tell their partners about their problems. The students in the outer circle are supposed to listen and then try to find possible solutions to the problems.
After about 3 minutes, ask the students in the inner circle to move one chair to the right and make them repeat the exercise. This way, the complaining students can repeat their stories and get more possible solutions.
You can make them repeat the exercise another time, if you want. While they speak, you monitor them to make sure they do the right task, use the target language accurately and have a smooth flow of their conversation.
Then ask the students to swap roles, and now the students who previously gave advice are asked to seek for some. Also this time, make them swap partners two or three times by moving to the left (outer circle), so that they can talk to more than one ‘troubleshooter’.
Wind down: Feedback
Finally, ask the students in open class, which problem they found the most original or even funny. In one of my lessons, I had a student who had 3 children and 5 cats on 50m2 (really) and didn’t know how to handle the tension in his family.
Ask then for the most original suggestions they got for their problems.
The message of the lesson is that every problem has at least one solution, we just need to look at it from different points of view.