An ELT Glossary : Framework Materials

Framework materials (Ellis and Johnson, 1994),  are activities in which learners are given a structured context as a stimulus for discussion, but provide the content themselves.

One such activity, particularly applicable to business English courses is :
  • Ask the learners to bring in their diary (or calendar) for next week and take you through their plans  (Frendo, 2005:51)
This, like all framework materials, has a clear objective (practising discussing future plans and probabilities),  and has the advantage of  needing no preparation in terms of materials etc. 

Framework materials are nearly always discussed in the context of teaching Business English or other forms of ESP, but the idea can easily be applied to general purpose courses . Here's one which would be applicable to a low level (A2 +) group :
  • Draw a plan of your house or flat and the furniture in each room. Talk to your partner about it.
This would practise and/or extend the learners' knowledge of  the following areas:

a) There is/are..

b) lexical items in the fields of rooms,  furniture and colours

c) prepositions of place

and could be set up in the following way:

a) The T draws a plan of her own house flat, indicating the positions of the furniture with small squares, rectangles etc and describes it to the learners. : This is my flat. This is the front door and this is the hall, which is very small. In the hall, there's a cupboard for coats and shoes and there's a big mirror on the wall. The living room is on the left. In the middle of the living room there's a table with four chairs and near the window, there's a white sofa with two blue cushions.... etc

b) The T. checks understanding and knowledge of the lexis required by asking learners questions about what she said : Which room is this? What furniture is there in the living room? Where's the sofa? What is there on the sofa? What colour are they?  etc. New lexis etc can be explained, listed on the board and drilled as necessary.

c) The T. asks the learners to draw a plan of their own flat/house. As they do so, lexis that they need but don't know will come to mind, so the T. then gives them the chance to ask for it either using the L1 (How do you say "lavabo" in English?)  or, if their level is high enough, using circumlocution strategies (What do you call the thing in the  bathroom where you wash your hands?)  If  they aren't at this level, and the T. doesn't understand the L1, they can be given a good bilingual dictionary and allowed to check.

d) The learners then describe their homes to a partner. The T. monitors, taking notes and follows up on any errors, and emergent language - useful expressions overheard or appropriate to the context. The expressions can be written up on the board, corrected and explained as necessary and then drilled as appropriate. At this stage, the T. can demand-high (Underhill and Scrivener, 2012) "pushing" (Thornbury, 2010) the learners to improve on their performance.

e) The learners change partners and then repeat the description, this time attempting to correct their errors and incorporate the emergent language which was focused on. Again the T. monitors and follows up as in stage d.

f) The learners swap plans with their partner and again change partners. This time they have to describe their old partner's home to their new partner.  The T. monitors  and follows up as before.

This  sequence could easily take up a 60 minute lesson (each of the six stages would last about ten minutes) - and needs no preparation. It would be ideal for a class where you had to substitute a teacher at the last minute, but is also a way of "getting away from the coursebook" occasionally with your regular classes. It's also flexible - it could, for example, also be used to practise the past of be (and at higher levels also used to) by asking the learners to think back to a house where they lived, or maybe where their grandparents lived, when they were children.

The teaching sequence I have outlined  is based on the idea of the value of task repetition, which also underlies the anecdote telling sequence I described in the article  Developing Fluency at Intermediate Level.  It allows the learners to plan, rehearse and improve what they want to say, with stage (f) preventing boredom by upping the level of challenge slightly while still practising, basically, the same language.

Some other examples of general purpose framework materials, all of which could be used with the teaching sequence above, include : 

a) To consolidate learners' ability to use the simple present and lexis describing everyday activities: List a series of times on the board - 7am, 8am, 9am etc, tell the learners about your daily routine and then get them to tell their partners about their own.

b) To consolidate learners' ability to describe people : Draw a picture of yourself on the board and surround it with pictures of five people (not relatives) who you know and like. Explain who they are, how you know them, what they look like, their personalities, why you like them etc etc.  Tell the learners to do the same.

c) To consolidate learners' ability to express hypothetical situations and results: Draw a picture of yourself on the board and surround it with pictures (or words) showing three or four hobbies/interests which you would like to take up, or spend more time on, but for some reason can't. Mine would be   eg keeping rabbits, horse riding,  gardening, astronomy. Tell the learners why these things interest you and why you can't develop that interest - for example I love gardening, but I live in a flat in the middle of Milan. I've got a balcony and I can grow a few things, but I really wish I had a garden. My husband is glad that I don't because he says he knows that if I had a garden he'd never see me - and he's right. I'd spend all my free time working there.  Tell the learners to do the same.

Advantages of framework materials include :

1. As above - they need no preparation time.

2. They are versatile in terms of use :
a) as illustrated above, they can be built into the lesson either as a freer practice stage to focus on previously taught language...
b) ...or they can be used as "fillers" for fluency practice - eg on days when there's a transport strike and half the class are late...
c) ...or they can be used as the basis of a Dogme style lesson-

3. They allow the T. to give a clear but spontaneous model of the task, which 
a) ensures the learners know what they have to do and exposes them the necessary language
b) ... and also acts as a listening comprehension stage for the lesson, adding to variety.

4. They are personalised activities - the learners provide the information. This...
a) makes the task more engaging for the learners and its relevance clearer to them.
b) means that they are not hindered when communication by either trying to "invent" something to talk about, orr to remember what was on the rolecard/information sheet they were given. They are speaking from personal knowledge and the task therefore demonstrates their ability to communicate with the necessary language, rather than on the quality of their imagination or memory.

References and Follow up Reading
Ellis, M and Johnson, C.  (1994) Teaching Business English, OUP  (see Ch. 11)
Frendo, E.  (2005), How to Teach Business English, Longman  (see Ch. 4)
Thornbury, S. (2010)  P is for Push
Underhill, A and Scrivener, J. (2012) What is Demand High?

Photograph from ELTpics : by @year in the life of, used under a CC Attribution non.commercial license.