Ten activities to promote skills in the classroom
by Elaine Gallagher Dear readers of UNO’s English corner, Sometimes you may […]
by Elaine Gallagher
Dear readers of UNO’s English corner,
Sometimes you may be looking for more ideas to keep your class alert and pro-active. This a good moment to begin accumulating material for a bigger, better, and even more successful 2014-15 school year. ENJOY!
Ten activities to promote skills in oral fluency, listening, and note-taking
1. COCKTAIL PARTY
This is a free form of speaking practice in which students get out of their seats and converse with different partners in a style similar to that of a cocktail party.
1. Explain the basic «rules» of a cocktail party to students:
- Rule #1: You should talk to more than one person rather than talking to the same person the whole time.
- Rule #2: After talking with someone for awhile, you must close your conversation and move on to someone else.
Also teach students a few lines for striking up conversations (Ex: «It sure is hot today»), and for closing them (Ex: «Well, it’s been nice talking to you, but it’s getting late and I need to get going.»).
2. Let students know whether or not you want them to practice specific material (from a model dialogue, for example), how long they have to talk, and how many people you expect them to talk to.
3. Turn students loose, and join in.
4. When time is up or enthusiasm runs thin, call everyone back to their seats. Close by asking a few students about their conversations. This is generally more fun — and other students will pay more attention — if you ask a specific question appropriate to the activity (Ex: «Tell me a little about the most interesting conversation you had.» «What new things did you learn?») rather than having students summarize all their conversations.
1. This format is relatively noisy, so consider the impact this chaos will have on nearby classes.
2. ROLE PLAYS
These are a form of pair practice which allows students freedom to play, improvise and create. These are useful as a way to practice not only language, but also culturally appropriate behavior.
1. Create situations and roles for students. You may want to base these on a dialogue or something else you have studied in class.
2. Pair students, give them the situation and their roles, and have them carry out the role play. While students should practice material they have studied, also encourage them to be creative and improvise.
3. One way to close is by having one or two pairs do their role play for the whole class. This serves primarily to give a sense of closure and need not go on long. (If each pair performs, too much time is taken and other students spend too long sitting and waiting. Listening to classmates stumble through dialogues is not very good listening practice.)
4. Another way to close is by asking a few students what the outcome of their role play was (was the invitation accepted? etc.). This is much quicker than having students perform, but still provides a sense of closure.
1. Encourage creativity. If students make an effort to entertain, role plays are more fun to do and much more fun to watch. Be realistic, however, about the fact that not all students are hams, and not all will be great public performers.
3. SHOW AND TELL
This informal, but engaging, activity involves bringing pictures or other objects to class, showing them, and talking about them. Show And Tell is good for providing listening practice and arousing interest in a topic; also serves as a good informal warm-up or as a break from «real» class.
Songs are great for making class a warmer, nicer place. For maximum value in language classes, you might first sing or play the song to get everyone interested, and then teach all or part of the words to the song by saying the words and having students repeat (and perhaps memorize) after you. You may not be able to teach all of the words this way, especially if the song is long, but try to have students learn as much as possible of the song by listening and speaking rather than just reading.
NOTE: Write to me if you want lyrics, worksheets, and one Power Point with songs. You may have to find the melodies on Internet, unless I can send them successfully to you via e-mail.
My e-mail is: email@example.com
Surveys involve asking the same few questions several times to different people, so they are a good way for students to repeatedly practice questions and answers in a format which encourages genuine communication. For lower level students, this is one of the easiest formats for relatively free communicative interaction.
1. Decide on a topic or list of questions. This activity works better when you are genuinely curious about the results of the survey, and when students are too.
2. Tell students what the purpose/topic of the survey is. Either list the questions you want them to ask or give them a general topic and have them write down their own questions. If you want them to generate their own questions (either individually or in groups) give them time to do this. Variation: Have students work in groups to prepare questions, and then each member of the group asks the same questions. Later they can then get back together to compare notes and report results.
3. Tell students how many classmates they are expected to survey, and approximately how long they have to do it in. Alternatively, assign a time limit for each short interview.
4. Have them conduct the survey. You may need to occasionally encourage them to move on to a new partner. You can either join in or wander and eavesdrop.
5. Close the activity by having a few students (or groups) report their findings.
1. Having students move around the class as they conduct their interviews makes things more lively and keeps everyone awake.
6. TALKS AND LECTURES
Talks and lectures are useful for helping students improve their listening and note-taking skills, especially for improving their ability to guess when listening to longer stretches of discourse in which it is not possible to catch every word.
This is also useful for teaching culture. (Students are often especially interested in stories you tell about yourself, especially when supported with pictures or other visuals.)
1. Locate information and prepare the talk.
2. Tell students what you are going to talk about, and ask them to take notes. (Taking notes forces them to listen more carefully.) Participants may need some instruction on how to take notes.
3. Give the talk. If students’ listening skills are not strong, it is very easy to lose your audience, so keep an eye out for the glazed-over look that says your audience has been left behind.
4. After the talk there are a number of ways to check comprehension:
- Ask questions.
- Have students write a summary of your talk.
- Give a short quiz.
- Have students write (and ask) follow-up questions based on what you talked about.
- Have students talk or write about corresponding aspects of their own culture.
- Based on your talk, have students work in groups to list similarities and differences between Chinese culture and yours.
1. Your country and culture are especially good topics, but other topics such as your experiences in China, language learning, etc. can also be useful.
2. You can make your talk easier to follow by first giving students a list of questions to listen for the answers to, or by writing a simple outline of the talk on the blackboard. Also write down key new vocabulary words that you use.
3. Visual aids of any kind are very helpful.
4. For maximum benefit, try to pitch the talk so that students can follow much of what you are saying, but still have to guess some of the time.
5. You can make talks easier for students with lower listening levels to follow by first giving them clues in the form of questions to answer or outlines, forms, or graphs to fill in. The questions (outlines, whatever) help focus students’ listening, make it easier for students to anticipate and guess, and also enhance motivation and encourage active listening. These can either be written on the board or put in handouts, and gone over with students before the talk.
7. TEACHER INTERVIEW
A good speaking activity is having your students interview you «press conference» style about a topic, often after they have prepared questions in groups. This is good for speaking and listening practice, and for encouraging student initiative; it also helps students to get to know you and your culture better.
1. Be sure you are prepared for any questions students might ask on the topic.
2. Tell students that they are reporters interviewing you so that they can write a story for the local paper. Then give them the topic and some time to prepare questions related to the topic. This can be done individually, but it is often better for speaking practice to have them work in groups.
3. Have students conduct the interview like a press conference.
4. If you plan to require a written report, have students take notes. You may also want to put new vocabulary on the board.
5. To close, ask comprehension questions, or ask a few volunteers to tell you what they found most interesting or surprising about what they learned from the interview. Alternatively, you can ask each student to write a short report based on the interview. (For more suggestions on checking comprehension, see Talks and Lectures.)
1. To ensure that the process isn’t dominated by a few zealous students, one approach is allowing each group in turn to ask one question. This allows shyer students to get their questions asked by the group representative. If there is less need to protect shy students, another alternative is to simply require that everyone ask at least one question.
8. Total Physical Response (TPR)
This is a «Simon Says» type of activity in which the teacher gives students instructions, and they respond by doing what the teacher asks (rather than by speaking). Because students respond with action rather than speech, they can focus their attention more fully on listening to what the teacher says (rather than having at the same time to worry about constructing an oral response). This method is good for building listening skills, especially for students at lower levels, and can also be used to introduce or review vocabulary and even grammar structures.
1. Before the activity, make a list of the instructions you wish to use. (Ex: «Open your books.» «Turn to page six.» Touch your nose with your friend’s pen.» Etc.)
2. Conduct the activity in a game-like manner, repeating instructions and building for faster student responses.
3. If you want to make it more like a game, add the «Simon Says» element; i.e. tell students they should only carry out the instruction if you preface it by saying «Simon Says.»
1. This activity can be especially useful for teaching basic classroom instructions to students with very low listening skills.
9. TRUE/FALSE LISTENING
For this activity, prepare a number of short statements, some true and some false, and then present them to students as an informal «true/false» quiz. Good for reviewing vocabulary and culture content from previous lessons while also providing listening practice.
1. Write up a set of statements for a short true/false quiz, drawing material (vocabulary, cultural information) from previous lessons. This is most fun if the statements are a little tricky without being mean. The more this seems like a game instead of a test, the better.
2. Ask students to listen to each statement, decide if it is true or false, and write down T or F on a numbered sheet. After the exercise these can be checked as a group. Alternatively, just ask everyone to shout out the answer.
These are especially good for intermediate or advanced oral skills classes because they allow in-depth exploration of a topic and provide students with practice in explaining opinions.
1. Decide what topic(s) you want students to interview each other on.
2. Give directions for the interviews. Students need to know the suggested topic and approximately how much time they will have. If you want students to write up their own list of questions they will also need a few minutes to do this.
3. Pair students. Often it is good to find a way to pair students with someone other than the person sitting next to them (who they probably already know fairly well).
4. Have students carry out interviews. Once student A finishes interviewing student B, you can ask them to switch roles, or even switch partners. You may want to set a time limit, and call out when partners should switch roles.
5. To close, ask a few students to report some of the more interesting things they learned from their partner during the interview.
1. Topics which involve opinions or information not shared by everyone in the class are best because they make interviews more genuinely communicative.
2. Role-playing and interviews mix nicely; for example, one person might be a reporter and the other a famous person.