Here’s a lesson plan to teach students of Intermediate level onwards some informal spoken expressions.
The lesson is based on the pilot episode of Futurama.
Materials & preparation:
- Futurama season 1 episode 1 and the equipment to play it in class
- (optionally) some prizes for the students who cope with the main task
- A print-out of the subtitles with information where you’ll need to pause the video
- A print out of Task 1, Answers to Task 1 for each student (careful – unless your students know Russian you’ll need to adapt it! The task is to match English expressions with their Russian equivalents. You’ll either need to translate the expressions into your language or provide explanations in English. If you do, please share the file in the comments!)
- (optionally) File Dictogloss for stage 9
- If you want to do a revision session, print out and cut up a set of expressions and one dialogue opening for each pair of students
Time: approximately 80 minutes + optionally 20-40 minutes at a later date to revise the expressions
Stage 1 Lead-in – to introduce the idea of formal and informal registers
Ask the students in what contexts they use English/ will use it in future. Hopefully they’ll come up with both formal and informal contexts. Ask them how their English will change in those contexts (e.g. elicit ‘I’ll contact you’ and ‘I’ll get in touch with you/I’ll drop you a line.’) Say that the lesson is going to focus on more informal language.
Stage 2 Tell students a few characters’ names (e.g. Leela, Dr. Solberg, a robot, Fry) and elicit that you’re going to watch an episode of Futurama.
Stage 3 Say that the main character, Fry, isn’t enjoying his life.
Set the following questions:
What year is it?
What does Fry do?
What bad things happen to Fry in this short extract?
Play the first 2 minutes, elicit the answers. At least for the first … stages, don’t switch on the subtitles.
Stage 4 Hand out Task1
Students match the expressions with translations/explanations, then check in pairs. Before you hand out the answers, ask them
- which expressions are very informal
- which ones are offensive
- which one is quite formal
Hand out the answers.
Stage 5 Tell s/s that one of the expressions was not in the episode and that at the end of the lesson they will need to hazard a guess which one it was. I teach at a secondary school, so at the end of the lesson s/s handed in slips with an expression and the ones who got it right got an A. Alternatively, you can come up with some prizes.
Stage 6 Students rewatch the first 2 minutes to see which of the expressions have already come up. After that, they continue to watch up to the line
00:03:49,840 –> 00:03:52,360
Cool, just like in Star Trek. Ow!
Stage 7 Explain that you’re going to stop the recording and the students will need to supply the next line out of the list of expressions that you handed out during stage 4. As you react to s/s’ suggestions, highlight which ones are possible in the context and which ones probably aren’t, but don’t say if the answer’s right. It’s a good idea push s/s to look for alternatives even after the correct answer has been supplied.
For this stage, it’s crucial that the subtitles are switched off.
Stage 8 For a while, students just watch ticking off the expressions – or you could set some comprehention question, e.g.:
Why does Fry get into the booth?
Stage 9 Dictogloss The aim of this activity is to highlight some features of informal speech, e.g. the abundance of adverbs like ‘really’, ‘just’, etc. It will also help s/s to incorporate some of the new expressions.
Set a comprehenstion question:
You’re going to watch a conversation between Leela and her employer. What does he want her to do?
Play the video from
This is unacceptable,
Now tell the students that they’re going to watch this dialogue again, after which they’ll work in pair to reconstruct the dialogue from memory. While they watch, they’re allowed to write down up to 6 words. Allow up to 5 minutes for reconstruction (make sure each pair actually writes the dialogue down). After that, either project the file Dictogloss and elicit what’s wrong/missing or have a pair to write their dialogue up on the board for the class to edit. You’ll probably need to replay the video again for s/s to pick up all the missing bits.
Basically, from this moment on, s/s just watch the episode and tick off the remaining expressions. With my groups, we watched about 5 minutes without subtitles and then switched them on.
Stage 11 SpeakingAt the end, each student hands in the slips with the expression they think wasn’t in the episode. The ones who got it right are rewarded. There’ll probably be a lot of incorrect answers – read them out from s/s’ slips and ask the group to describe the moment from the episode when the expression was used (either as a class or in pairs + front-class feedback).
(Optional) Stage 12 Discussion
- Do you agree that being forced to do the job you’re best at is ‘tough’?
- What profession would you probably be assigned?
- Is there anything that you do extremely well but hate doing?
For homework, I assigned watching several minutes of the episode and correcting all the mistakes in the srt file.
Alternatively, students can write a summary of the plot using as many of the new expressions as they can.
Hand out dialogue openings and sets of expressions. S/s spread out the slips face up.
Ask s/s to continue the dialogue, using at least one expression on a slip in each line. As they say an expression, they place it under the opening, building up a dialogue skeleton. The objective is to use at least 10.
After they’ve finished, they dry run the dialogue again and finally each pair acts their dialogue out and the group votes which one was the best and which pair managed to use the expressions most naturally.
Note. I’ve tried this activity twice. The first time it was a complete flop and the second time it really worked (with a weaker group!), so I can say with certainty that you really have to make sure that students don’t just read out the slips but actually speak using the expressions on them.
Demonstrate the idea using a contrived partial dialogue (sth like ‘broke’ ‘Are you having me on?’). Pairs can compete in coming up with the most natural short dialogue incorporating these two expressions, before proceding with the main task.
I’d love to hear how this lesson went! Please drop me a line – what worked? What didn’t? What bits did you change? Hope to hear from you!