Pacing your Lessons for Success

Sandra Dominelli

Pacing your Lessons for Success

By Wendy Maxwell

Over the years, there have been questions concerning the pacing that works best to maximize language acquisition and very recently I saw a question posted on the AIM Forum PAP Facebook Group so I thought that this would be a good subject for this week’s Tips for Success in the second language classroom! This particular tip gives examples from our methodology, but the tip applies broadly to any second language classroom as well. I know that often teachers who are beginning with AIM, for example, start off very slowly with the gestures, getting familiar with the routine where students speak while they gesture – this is understandable! What we don’t want is for teachers to become so concerned about gesturing every sentence exactly as it is in the script and repeating these same little scenarios more than is necessary, because what often happens, is that the student and teachers become bored and overwhelmed by the slow pace and learning slows or even stops. On the contrary!
We want the first exposure to the language to be engaging, exciting, and of course effective at accelerating language acquisition. So for this to happen, it is important for teachers to move as quickly as possible through activities I can assure you, that you will revisit these words and activities again many times. In a holarchical approach, like AIM you will reuse these same words MANY TIMES and in different contexts and this will make the whole learning process meaningful and engaging! This is the way the AIM is designed and why it works. Because you will also use these same words in spontaneous interactions there will be plenty of opportunity for that necessary pleasant repetition that I talk about. I have learned a lot over the years in terms of what teachers understand (and don’t understand) about pacing activities – so I am happy to say that in the new editions, we now have an 85 lesson plan stream. This Lesson Plan Overview gives you a concrete idea as to the intended flow of each class.

We start with the entry routine where
1. We commit to using the target language only – keep it short – maximum 3 to 5 minutes!
2. Get quickly to a couple of whole-class activities 5-10 minutes each
3. And then off to the important Partner/Group activities and
4. After this, end the class with the quick Leaving Routine where students reflect upon their use of the target language .

Brain-based research tells us that each activity should last a maximum of 10 minutes and in most cases, could be much less – definitely the case if you teach primary classes ….and at any time where a class seems unfocussed – change it up! Have the class stand up to do a gesture review! Dance and sing a rap or song, then sit down again and do an activity with a different focus. You will see that this is the way the new Lessons are designed. Brain-based research tells us how important this is to maximize learning.

Each Lesson is designed for anywhere between 30 to 40 minutes or so and if you have much longer classes (say one hour) you just back to back a couple of lessons. And if you teach Immersion, your will transition in and out of Whole-Class and Partner/Group Activities or Centre Activities in a similar fashion.

It’s so important to move through the activities at a pace that is represented in the new Lesson Overview …this is something that will be key to your success with the methodology. For example, moving through Activities 1 to 12 in the first four classes, will ensure that you get to that important introduction of the story in Activity 13, in your 5th Lesson

The story provides you with the key context for the whole kit – it is an anchor and touch point for so many proficiency-developing activities.
The AIM is designed so that, during the first part of the first Kit you quickly flood the students learning of a great deal of essential high frequency words so that you can ”survive” in the target language only in the classroom.

In fact, by activity 30 – or Lesson 11/ a total of 85 Lessons – you should have introduced 82% of the words in your Step 1 Kit.

This is absolutely key to your success and to student success as well. We do not want you or the students to become bogged down, feel that the methodology is too slow or drags on and worst of all, to be bored with the pace! I encourage you to have a look at an authentic AIM first class found on the Portal from a Step 1 Kit.

If you watch this half hour class, where I work with this group of students with NO French experience at all, you will see
1. how I ensure that the target language only is introduced and maintained and
2. how I introduce students to the AIM technique whereby the teacher gestures and students speak!
If you don’t have a Portal, you can get a free trial on the website.
Back to the concept of pleasant repetition – I feel that this might be misinterpreted at times. If there is too much repetition of a similar type within a certain time frame, the students will definitely get bored with what is happening in the classroom  – it won’t be pleasant any more!
So it is important to ensure that when introducing the words, you repeat them to a certain degree as modelled in the lessons however please
don’t spend 30 minutes on one activity! Move forward into the next activity and then next activity and the next activity – each one maximum 10 minutes …at most. What is built into the AIM itself is the systematic repetition of these words in different contexts over and over again through one kit and again in the kits that follow! The deep learning that is one of the reasons for AIM’s success will happen. And if you move at the intended pace, you will also get to the most important activity in each Kit that is the synthesis of all that has preceded it – story retelling and extension!
I hope that you will consider this tip as you work with your students! Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions by clicking below!