Saturday 1 March 2014

WAYK applied to intermediate English tutoring

Yesterday evening my wife used a lesson plan we developed together using WAYK principles to help an intermediate high-school English student internalise some fine points of grammar. Although the student already “knew” the grammar points under discussion, the conversation techniques really helped them to “click” in her mind.

The specific topic the student needed to work on were conditionals, and so the lesson plan centred around Conditional Type 0 (“If you heat ice it melts”), Conditional Type 1 (“If I have enough money I will go to the cinema”), and Conditional Type 2 (“If I had lots of money I would…”).

We devised short conversations or stories that effectively establish an Obvious Set-up, enhanced by expressive gesturing and sign-language where needed. Then in comes the “Bite-sized Piece” in the form of the actual target sentence or question-and-answer.

So for example, to get up to “If you heat ice it melts”, Gözde’s Set-up sentences were, “What’s this? -This is ice. -What happens when you heat ice/when you hold ice for a long time? -It melts. -So, if you heat ice it melts.” The Set-up sentences, of course, must be Obvious and ideally should be formulated with words and structures the student already knows. Then they’re ready for the punch-line, the final one or two sentences containing the Bite-sized Piece of new vocabulary or, in this case, grammar.

After three different pre-prepared Set-ups for each conditional type, Gözde then had a strategy for coming up with three more Set-ups that this time would be personalised (cf. These Are a Few of My Favorite Things). For Type 0, she used “What do you do on weekends? Do you see your friends/do your homework/go swimming/etc.? -… -Do you see your friends/do your homework/go swimming/etc. if you have exams? -I don’t see my friends if I have exams.” Of course, any typical situation can be substituted for exams.

The trick for the personalised Set-ups is to try and predict the kinds of answers the student will give and frame your questions accordingly. For example, in Type 1 a target phrase is, “If X happens I will Y”. We need our student to tell us about a definite plan, and then something that plan is conditional on. So we start with “What will you do tomorrow?”, because everybody does something every day. An alternative could be “Where will you go tomorrow?” Then, “What will you need?” If the answer is “Nothing” then you come back with “What else will you do tomorrow?” until you get an answer for which something will be needed. Then you present the punch-line, “If I have money I will go to the cinema tomorrow”, for example. If prepared with this in mind, the set-piece Set-ups you start with before the personalised Set-ups stage can provide useful cues.

Gözde made only minimal use of sign language for new words and for Obviousness when needed. She also used a number of photographs as props. One of these was a picture of a small planet Earth surrounded by famous landmarks. So one conversation went like this: “What is this? -Big Ben. -Where is it? -It is in London. -Are you in London? -No I am not in London. -What could you do if you were in London? -If I were in London I could see Big Ben.” This went on for each landmark in the picture.

This just goes to show how versatile the Where Are Your Keys? suite of techniques is, and that its scope really is unlimited.


  1. Joel, really enjoying your blog and very keen to see where the idea of trying to codify and formalise a wayk-based syllabus goes. Somewhere down the track I want to do the same and so I'm following your work closely!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. Great to read your strategies for ESL as I'm trying the same! I really like how you managed to set up for the different conditionals while keeping it obvious. I've discovered as a "practitioner" that some things you need to build up to and this is a great example. Pictures are a great "cheat" to get a set up (not really that much of a cheat - sometimes having the real object is just impossible). For this, the Oxford picture dictionary is a goldmine! I also discovered as a English assistant teacher in French primary schools that my meager art skills came in really handy (it was nice when the kids said how nice my stick figures were...).