6. Home Office

This is exactly what my workspace looks like

Many of us are spending much of the day at home under lockdown, even as restrictions ease in some countries. This lesson involves a series of tasks that have students discuss their experiences of “home office” – this can be extended to mean studying from home, where appropriate, or just the experience of an altered daily routine. Pick from the tasks below as seems appropriate to your students. They are designed to be adaptable and therefore usable in a range of learning contexts, including lower levels. They can be shortened, lengthened or omitted as suits the interests of the group. For instance, you might use “Changes” as a pre-task phase for “New Routines”, leaving out “My Workspace” altogether.

  • Changes: students discuss and agree upon the most significant changes to their daily lives.
  • My Workspace: students compare their “two selves” – how they present themselves to others when working online, through their webcam, and the reality of their desk / workspace. They can optionally read and react to an article about this, linked below.
  • New Routines: students plan and present their typical daily routine under lockdown.  They then have one of various possible goals to encourage them to compare and evaluate these routines.

Task 1 – Changes:

  1. Tell the students you will dictate some phrases, which they should note down. This is a long list, and how many and which of the following you select for a shortlist in class will depend on level and time:
  • Waking up
  • Eating breakfast / lunch / dinner 
  • Doing exercise
  • Working / studying habits
  • Taking breaks from work / study
  • Going to the shops
  • Watching movies
  • Reading books
  • Playing games
  • Chatting to friends
  • Spending time alone
  • Spending time with family
  • Going to bed
  • Check the phrases and elicit the topic of the lesson – everyday activities / life at home / routines.
  • Ask students to look at the list of activities and decide on the biggest changes to their lives since lockdown. What in their everyday life has changed the most? What is still very similar to before? Students should choose the three or four activities / habits that have changed the most, and the three or four that are most similar. They should prepare to present these ideas in breakout rooms, in threes, in order to find out which of their two partners they are most similar to. Make it clear they will report back on this goal afterwards.
  • Put students into breakout rooms. As you monitor the discussion, make notes for language feedback (see the bottom of the page for some possible areas) – but also, where it seems appropriate and does not interrupt the flow, offer immediate feedback, supplying phrases and words through chat or directly offering input if a student asks for help. Take notes of interesting points for content feedback on the goal.
  • In feedback, ask each room to share their conclusions – who are you more similar to? Then share some instances of language you noted while monitoring the breakout rooms, using chat, Google docs or the whiteboard function. For example, you could list 5-10 sentences you heard, including effective language worth sharing and issues to be corrected. Ask the students to note corrections and then feed back, highlighting useful phrases and sentences.
my workspace – webcam view: diligence personified
my workspace – reality: actually a bit of a mess

Task 2 – My Workspace:

  1. Ask students to look at your webcam image and ask questions about the room / workspace. Give an example: which part of the room / house / flat do I work in? Do you think I have a “proper” desk? Do you think my room and space is tidy or messy, and why? Then share a picture of your real workspace (or better still, if you can do so easily, show it through the webcam: one option if your computer webcam is built-in is to open Zoom on your phone too and use this as a second screen). Ask students if it is what they expected. The answer may be yes or no depending on the distance between the “two yous” i.e. webcam you and reality. If you prefer, you can use the pictures from this page (just above this post), sharing them one at a time in chat, with the webcam one first, followed by the reality snapshot of the wider workspace. But students will be much more interested to find out about your home set-up! (And it is only fair for you to share, given you are about to ask them to do the same).
  2. Ask students to go into breakout rooms in pairs or threes. Their task is to predict what the workspace / home set-up of their partner is. Offer some guiding questions in the chat if it helps, based on the demonstration in step 1.  Look at your partner’s webcam picture. Based on this (and what you know about your partner) guess: 1) which part of the house / flat they work in; 2) how big their workspace is; 3) how tidy their workspace is 4) anything else you want to find out. Once they have made some guesses, the partner should either take a picture of the space and share it in chat, to compare; or, as noted above, move the webcam / use their phone to show the surrounding area. They then confirm how correct / incorrect the guesses were, before swapping roles. Encourage them each time to find out more from each other e.g. what they like more / less about where they work; whether they prefer working at home or in their office. In feedback, ask if the guesses were correct, and if they saw or heard anything that surprised them.
  3. A possible extension involves using this article from The Guardian: https://tinyurl.com/yaekflsk. Nine people share their ‘webcam’ vs. ‘reality’ workspace. Ask students to immediately drag the central yellow icon in each picture to the right so that they can only see the webcam view. In pairs, in breakout rooms, they make guesses as to who is the tidiest, least tidy, has the most elegant workspace and so on. Then they drag the pictures to the left – revealing the reality picture – to see if they were correct. They can then read the short descriptions under the pictures with an appropriate task e.g. which home set-up seems best for your work? Students can finally mine the texts for new and interesting language. If they are lower level, focus on one or two of the shorter and simpler texts and offer some scaffolding through specific guiding questions e.g. find positive adjectives to describe the workspace; find and write down their job titles.

Task 3 – New Routines:

  1. Tell the students they are going to share their everyday routines – a “typical” weekday in lockdown.
  2. Draw their attention to the new routines template (linked below). They should take 5-10 minutes on their own making some notes in this template based on what they tend to do at what time of day. If you have recently done the Changes task then this will have generated some ideas for this part.  
  3. If you feel it will support the learners – for instance, if they are lower level – give your own version of your new routine first. Talk the students through your day, using simple but natural language, and ask them to take some notes of key words / phrases in the template (under “Partner 1”, for instance). They can then move into breakout rooms to compare and “reconstruct” your day. This may help give further ideas regarding how to approach the task.
  4. In any case, students need a chance to prepare their own – they should write 10+ key phrases in the “My Day” column, next to the approximate time it happens. Show the example, pointing out they can use a “window” of time (e.g. 6.00 – 7.00, 9.00 – 12.00) and can include more than one activity in this period. Give them time to take notes. They can ask you questions in the chat while they do so if they have any questions about language they need.
  5. When ready, move them into breakout rooms to work with a partner. Before you do so, make the goal / outcome of the task explicit. This can vary depending on time, level, age and so on. Options include:
  • (I’d say in all cases) encourage students to take notes in the next free column. The key words / phrases at the correct time of day.
  • At higher levels, you could ask students to listen to their partner and decide on advice they could give e.g. how to make their partner’s routine more relaxing, healthier, more productive. At the end they can respond and decide what 2 or 3 changes they think their partner should make.
  • Ask students to listen to each other in full and then, after both have presented, decide on what time of day would be the best for them to meet for a social Zoom chat.
  • In stage 4 above, ask students to “plant” one or two untruths in their new routines. The partner should ask questions while listening to the routine and try to find the information that is not true.
  • In general, encourage learners to find out more – ask follow-up questions. You can build in an extra stage where they re-pair in a new breakout room and present their old partner’s routine to a new partner.

Language Focus Options:

  • Collocations for everyday activities and habits (see the list in Changes; adapt this for your learners in terms of level, age, job etc.).
  • Language for describing present and past habits and routines / tendencies e.g. present simple – I get up / wake up at 8.00; I tend to / tended to…; I used to…; adverbs of frequency e.g. nowadays, typically, rarely.
  • Comparing the present and the past e.g. I used to start work at 8.00 but now I start later; I do much less exercise than before. And comparing habits with other group members e.g. Béla gets up at 5.00 but / while / whereas I stay in bed until 10.00.
  • The present perfect simple and continuous for describing changes to routines / habits e.g. I’ve been reading a lot more, I’ve made some changes to my workspace.
  • (In My Workspace) language for speculating and making predictions e.g. it looks like you are in the living room; I think your workspace is tidy because….
  • (In My Workspace) lexis for describing the space e.g. it’s cluttered / a bit of a mess / well-organised / there’s stuff everywhere.
  • (If part of the goal for New Routines) Language for giving / responding to advice e.g. I think you need to….you should….okay, maybe.

Variations and Extension:

  • As noted earlier, the content can be adapted so it does not emphasise work e.g. the items dictated in Changes and discussed in New Routines can be tailored, made more general, more specific, level-friendly and so on; My Workspace can become My Study Space or even My Relaxation Space.
  • The tasks work well in one-to-one teaching, with you working as partners and e.g. taking turns to share and compare your day in New Routines.
  • For lower levels, increase pre-task support and preparation. As noted in New Routines, consider modelling more fully yourself. The point here is to give a clearer idea of what is expected of the task rather than specifying linguistic forms to use. For My Workspace put the prompting questions suggested in stage 2 onto a worksheet, giving students time to think of their own answers before they interview each other.

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