Way back in December I ran a 45-minute conference session based on a task from ELT Playbook 1, ‘One activity, multiple tasks’, which appears in the ‘Being creative’ section of the book.
The book features 30 tasks designed particularly to help new teachers to reflect as they start out in ELT, but they are also suitable for managers and trainers who need ideas for professional development sessions. I was also partly inspired by the ideas in The Lazy Teacher Trainer’s Handbook by Magnus Coney [affiliate link], which advocates minimal planning and exploiting the knowledge in the room wherever possible. The final reason I chose this was that I was running out of time to plan my session as I was organising the whole day, and I needed to run two workshops! The other one was about how to learn a language, in case you’re interested.
Before the session, I choose an activity at random from a teacher’s book. The one I ended up with was to revise future forms, taken from page 146 of English File 3rd edition Teacher’s Book Intermediate Plus. It features a page of questions like this:
- A Mum! I’ve dropped my ice cream!
B It’s OK, don’t worry – I’ll get / I’m getting you a new one!
- A I’m freezing!
B Shall I turn on / Will I turn on the heating?
…and so on. There are 12 mini dialogues like this, each with two options to choose from – students can also tick if both are possible. At the bottom of the page is an ‘activation’ activity, where students write two mini-dialogues, one with will and one with going to. This planning stage took me about 15 minutes – 10 to decide what I was going to do in the session (i.e. which ELT Playbook 1 task I was going to exploit!), and 5 to pick and photocopy the activity.
In the abstract for the session it said that teachers would come away with lots of ideas for how to exploit activities. As the session started, I told them that those ideas would be coming from all of us in the room, not just me!
We started by them completing the original exercise. I demonstrated how to do quick feedback by getting different pairs to write their answers on the board, then just dealing with any questions where there was confusion. We were about 10 minutes into the session at this point.
In the same pairs, teachers worked together to list as many ways as they could think of to set-up, vary or exploit that same activity. They did this on the back of the sheet (minimal materials prep!) I put a few prompts on the board to help, something like: speaking, writing, listening, reading, alone, pairs, groups, class, etc. and elicited one or two examples to start them off. They had 10 minutes to make their lists.
At the same time, and once I’d checked they were all on track, I made my own list* on the back of my paper (minimal prep! Also, I ran out of time to do it before the session and thought it might be useful if at least some of the ideas came from me!)
We put our lists face up on our chairs for the ‘stealing’ stage. We read everybody else’s lists, putting a * next to any activities we didn’t understand. More *** meant that lots of people didn’t understand. This took about 5 minutes, so we were 25 minutes through the session.
Next people added any of the extra activities they liked the sound of to their own lists. 5 more minutes, 15 minutes left.
For the next 10 minutes, different people demonstrated the activities that had stars next to them in front of the whole group. As I expected, most of the ‘different people’ were me – I’d deliberately picked some slightly obscure things to stretch their range of ideas a bit!
In the final 5 minutes, I told them about ELT Playbook 1 and suggested they try this kind of brainstorming with other activities they want to use in class to help them vary their lesson planning. Right at the end, they had to tell their partner one activity they’d thought of or heard about in the session which they planned to try next week. The whole session went pretty well, I think, and I got good feedback afterwards. 🙂
These are the ideas I came up with in 10 minutes:
- Remove the options.
- Mini whiteboards.
- I say A to the group, they predict B. Then in pairs.
- Gallery walk (one copy of each question stuck up around the room)
- Evil memorisation (one of my favourite activities, learnt from Olga Stolbova – the third activity in this blogpost)
- Say all the sentences as quickly as possible (AQAP on my lesson plans!)
- Banana sentences (replace the key words with ‘banana’ for partner to guess)
- Extend the conversations (what was said before/after)
- Decide who/where/when/why it was said (by)
- Take the ‘wrong’ answer and create a context where it would be right
- Translation mingle (students translate one conversation into L1 on a slip of paper, copying the English onto the other side. They then walk around showing other students the L1 to be translated.)
- One group does 1-6/odd sentences. The other does 7-12/even sentences. Give them the answers for the other half. They check with each other.
- Say them with different intonation/voices to create different meanings/situations.
- Remember as many conversations as you can with your partner. Lots of variations for this: freestyle (no prompts), with A/B as a prompt, with (own/sketched/teacher-generated) pictures as prompts…
- Hot seat/Backs to the board with a picture prompt for student looking at the board to say sentence A, person with back to the board says sentence B in response
- Board race. Again, lots of variations: list as many sentences/conversations as possible on the whiteboard; teacher/a student says A, teams run and write B; combine with ideas above like banana sentences…
- Teacher says first half of the sentence, pausing at a convenient point. Students say second half. Then in pairs. e.g. “Shall I…” “…turn on the heating?”
- Students have A sentences. They write their own Bs on separate pieces of scrap paper, then mix them up. Another pair tries to match the As and Bs together.
- Change A to the opposite/a slightly different phrase. What’s an appropriate B? e.g. “I’m boiling!”
Thanks to all of the people I’ve stolen those ideas from over the years 🙂
Let me know if you try out the brainstorming activity, the session, or any of the other tasks from ELT Playbook 1. I’d love to know how they work for you!