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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Store Returns (Part I)

My class of 15 seniors (over the age of 55) are currently doing a unit on returning something to the store. We like to take things very slowly, doing a LOT of skill-building, visiting and revisiting the same lexis again and again in an engaging variety of activities.

Our first week's worth of lessons were built around LINC 3 Classroom Activities - "Returning Faulty Merchandise." This material provided a great introduction to the needed vocabulary. We took it nice and slow, so we are going into next week just now feeling ready to write our own customer-clerk role plays.

Friday is always a bit different. The students have unanimously voted for an "easy, interesting story" that ties into the topic. The text should be so easy that they can focus entirely on the prosody and pronunciation while reading aloud without being distracted by unknown words (narrowed cognitive burden). So I usually pull something from our school's LINC 1 teacher's cabinet, such as Very Easy True Stories. The lower level students in this multilevel class appreciate having a text closer to their level, and those who read at a level 5 and up are not bored since we are focusing on pronunciation.

This week I wasn't able to find a related true story, so I cut up a picture story for pairs to order, coming up with their own language for the story of a woman who buys a shirt that is too big for her husband and has to exchange it. Picture activities are IDEAL for multilevel classes.

After the break, we adjourn to the computer lab. Here are the listening links I provided this week relating to store returns. I especially love the video on the English in Vancouver blog.

Once we have written some very simple dialogues and acted them out, the next step will be to study some real stores' returns policies. I have already photocopied the returns policy that was included last week in a delivery I received from The Hudson's Bay Company. I distributed that before the weekend--retyping it in a much larger font for compliance with the OADA. The fourteen Chinese students in the class appreciate having a text at least a day ahead of time so that they can go to town with their electronic dictionaries. I like that they do their dictionary work at home, as this frees up class time for speaking and listening practice.

At this point I envision that the culmination of this unit will be a role-play activity in which the class is divided into roles of clerk and customer, as follows:


  • Each clerk will be provided with a store returns policy.
  • Each customer will be able to choose among three scenario cards.
  • The scenario card will state what was purchased, the date it was purchased, the tender used (store credit card, other credit card, cash, debit, etc.), and the problem with the item.
  • The problems will range from spoiled milk to shoes that proved to be poorly constructed after a week of wear. Some items will be eligible for refund, others for exchange, and still others will not qualify for any action on behalf of the supplier.
  • Desks will be re-arranged in a big U shape.
  • Clerks sit on the outside of the U and remain stationary.
  • Customers sit on the inside of the U and move clockwise.
  • Teacher will facilitate the movement, allowing about seven minutes for the first pairing, but speeding things up as the students move around the U, becoming ever more fluent at expressing their ideas.
  • The whole exercise will be repeated the following day with former customers becoming clerks and vice versa.
Mind you, this is going to take A LOT of prep and skill-building as I do the task analysis and break it into its component competencies. We will need to learn many chunks of language, focus on pragmatics and much more to achieve this goal. Right now I'm not even sure if this will take one or more weeks. In my usual habit of letting formative assessment shape the unit as it rolls out, the students and I will work together to determine how far and how to break down the objectives.

I'm looking forward to it!

How about you? Do you have any suggestions for me as I enter week two of our store returns unit?


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