Salvaging A Lesson That Isn’t Working (Or, Interview With Sean Banville of Breaking News English, Part 3)

Sean Banville, the mind behind Breaking News English, took the time to do a TEFL Logue email interview (see the earlier portions in Part 1 and Part 2). Here, he describes what he has done in the past with those textbook lessons that just don’t seem to work…

“[When selecting topics for BNE] I try to make sure that I would be able to talk for a fair while were I given the activity / topic, to make sure the is an element of “discussability”. The reason I set up my site was my dissatisfaction with course books and their incredibly dry activities. I really would like to see the authors make a success of some of their “activities”. [I agree – and especially some of those suggested in the instruction portion of teachers’ books!]

If a discussion goes awry, I ask students to separate the good questions from bad, brainstorm a few of their own and then change partners – this often makes the students appreciate the teacher’s recognition that the materials are bad and that h/she is more interested in changing to something more interesting than flogging a dead horse. Another way might be to change the activity from a speaking to a writing activity – instead of talking about the questions, students write to each other (seated next to or opposite their partner). In classrooms with computers, this could be done on discussion boards or in chat rooms. Another way is to stand students in two rows, they have one minute to discuss one question, before moving on to another

Another solution would be to dispense with the book completely and rely mainly on Breaking News English for engaging and useful lessons!

I say this mostly in jest, and realize that it’s often not really an option, but the engaging content of BNE lessons is definitely noticeable to me.

Finally, I’ve found that TEFL is a field which is “home” to people from a wide variety of backgrounds. I myself studied Sociology and Philosophy…how about Sean Banville?

“I was an accountant but quit, hating the job. I went travelling for two-and-a-half years, during which I ran out of money in Thailand. A fellow backpacker resident was going home for Xmas. He showed me “the ropes” in the language school he worked for in Bangkok and I loved it. Looking back on it, I was a real cowboy teacher, but then again the school was the OK Corral of cowboy schools. I decided EFL was for me and when I went back to England, I saved up the money for my CTEFLA, which I did in Izmir, Turkey. I decided to go to Japan, as that was the country that had been next on my itinerary, when I ran out of money a second time during my travels. I loved the CTEFLA and my experiences in Japan. I was lucky enough to work in two schools that didn’t want me to use course books and let me prepare all my own materials.”

And this was how Breaking News English was born.

A big thank you to Sean Banville, not only for sharing his tips and insight in this interview but also for providing me (as well as some very satisfied teachers in both Korea and Texas, US as you can read in the comments section of this post) with several timely, engaging and useful lessons though Breaking News English.