Teaching complete beginner teens (well, 10-12 year olds) online is…a challenge. We had three lessons in the classroom before lockdown started again. We started with f2f, online, f2f, online, f2f, online, and now it’s all online.
I end up speaking lots of Polish to help the students work out how to use the technology and help them to chat to each other. That’s fine because life is stressful enough at the moment without stressing me and the students out over only communicating in a language they have almost no knowledge of so far. But of course, I want to maximise their English use. It can be a real challenge to set up a truly communicative activity when the sum total of student’s knowledge of the language is pretty much the 106 terms in this Quizlet set!
Here’s an activity I experimented with last week to practise irregular plurals and There’s a/an… / There are….
Step 1: students copy the following onto a full page in their notebooks.
Step 2: Dictate a list of sentences in a random order. It’s important that each sentence can be drawn, that there is one sentence/picture per box, and that the pictures can be in any box – they shouldn’t be drawn in sequence in 1, then 2, then 3. Here’s what my table looked like after these two sentences:
There are three women.
There’s a child.
I checked students were drawing in separate boxes after the first one or two pictures by getting students to show me their notebooks, then told them it was a secret after that.
This full list of sentences (dictated at random) resulted in the table below:
There’s a man.
There are two men.
There’s a woman.
There are three women.
There’s a child.
There are three children.
There’s a person.
There are eight people.
Step 3: I said a student’s name and a sentence about my table e.g. Franek, there’s a man in 8. Franek (not my real student!) looked at his table and gave one of two possible answers:
Yes, there’s a man in 8.
No, there’s a man in 6. OR No, there are three women in 8.
If we had the same thing in our boxes I ticked it.
Next students were meant to go into breakout rooms and work together to play the same game, but they were a bit unclear about how to do this.
Having the demo first was meant to clarify the task, but I made it too complicated by using a question form the first couple of times (Is there…?). There were two main problems with this: they don’t know any question forms and I wasn’t clear about what I wanted them to do as a result. We got there in the end with some Polish translation. This is a reminder to plan my language use very carefully with beginners, and include each structure I plan to use in my lesson plan. It would also have been useful to display a sample version of the conversation I wanted them to have before I started step 3. I did write the example conversation in the chat box eventually, but only after they’d stumbled over it for a bit!
I originally planned the activity for 10 minutes, but that was very over-optimistic – it actually took about 30 minutes, about 10 for drawing and 20 for speaking. I’m not sure it 100% worked because of the wonky set-up. But anyway, they got some practice, and it could be adapted for other language. This was also probably the most communicative activity we’ve managed so far – definitely still need to work on increasing speaking beyond drills with this group!
Let me know if you use this activity and whether it works any better with your students, especially if you try it with beginners!
Tuesday evening. 7:15pm. I walk out of the cover lesson I’ve just completed, working with a lovely group of pre-intermediate teens. Running through my head: right, I need to take the key downstairs, pick up my stuff, and pop into the supermarket on the way home. Followed almost immediately by: [Four-letter word], I forgot to find cover for the last lesson! That’s my evening out the window! Cue 10 minutes of running around trying to work out where to get some food from to get me through the rest of the evening (thanks Shannon and Emma!), telling people how stupid I am, and canvassing for ideas for an unplanned cover lesson with low elementary adults I haven’t met before.
As (nearly) always with these things, the lesson itself was absolutely fine. Two students came, one of whom had forgotten to do his homework. The first 45 minutes were spent working on pronunciation of comparatives from the homework, and with them testing each other, plus practice of very large numbers. For the other half of the lesson, I gave them the choice of unplanned functional language (the next spread in the book), unplanned superlatives (the spread after), or revision (which they’d also had, along with a test, in the previous lesson). They went for revision, and this is the activity which I came up with, based loosely on collaborative profiles, an idea suggested by my colleague Sam just before the lesson (thanks!) I joined in to, so see if you can work out which drawings were mine!
Fold A4 paper into 6 squares (or 8 if you have more language points).
In the first box, each person draws a person.
(Optional) In the second box, the next person asks three questions about the person. (This didn’t work very well, as I hadn’t thought it through, and I decided I wanted different people’s drawings on each paper, not the same person every time in our group of three.)
In the second box, the next person answers the questions about the person/writes a basic profile describing them.
Pass the paper on (do this after each stage to get a truly collaborative piece of work). Under the person, draw where they live.
Write about where they live.
Draw two or three hobbies, plus one thing they can’t do.
Write about them.
Draw three things they do every morning.
Guess what…write about them!
Draw their last holiday.
Write about it.
As the paper was passed on, I encouraged the students to read what others had written and link their texts if they wanted to. I also corrected texts as part of my turn, because it was obviously a bit easier for me to write! The students asked me questions about what they were writing, and about my corrections. There was also negotiation in English as we tried to work out what other people had drawn. Obviously with only two students, it wasn’t that hard, so you might have to think about how/if you want to correct/join in if you’re using the activity with a bigger group. To round it off, we all read all three stories quickly and decided which person we would like to be friends with and why.
In about 30 minutes, these elementary students produced about 100 words of English, and practised:
interpreting and replying to basic questions
rooms and furniture
like + -ing
prepositional phrases of various kinds (time, place, manner)
vocabulary they wanted to use, based on their drawings
We had an empty box as we ran out of time, but I think I probably would have done something with future plans, like plans for the next weekend, though I don’t think they’d got to that in their book. Alternatively, drawing their family, their job, their favourite clothes…lots of options!
I’m pretty sure it could be adapted for a wide range of other language. I’d be interested to hear what you decide to do with it.
I put together this selection of memorisation activities for a CELTA course at LangLTC in Warsaw and thought it would be a good idea to share the activities here too. The activities can be used:
after error correction
to help students fix bits of new language in their heads before they need to produce it at a later stage in the lesson
to exploit decontextualised sentences, for example from a gapfill
to improve students’ confidence with bits of language
as learner training – once they’ve learnt them, a lot of the activities are things they can try themselves or with fellow students, without needing a teacher to set them up
They are taken from various wonderful people I’ve worked with in the past, plus a couple of my own ideas. If you think there are any that should be credited differently, please let me know. It would also be great if you could add your own ideas for activities in the comments. Enjoy!
Draw your sentence
Aims: To exploit students’ creativity. To personalise language.
Use this after students do a controlled practice exercise or study a new set of vocabulary.
Students fold a piece of A4 paper into 8 boxes and put small numbers in the corner, like so:
On the left half of the paper only (which should have 4 boxes), they illustrate four of the sentences/words in any way they choose, one per box. They shouldn’t write the sentence/word.
Everyone puts the original sentences/words away.
Give them the paper from another group. On the right-hand side of the paper, they should write the corresponding sentence/word.
The original group corrects their answers and gives them feedback.
A more high-tech version of ‘draw your sentence’, via Luke Raymond. Use this video to help you make your book:
Page 1 (the front cover) shows the target word/sentence. Each student should have a different item.
The book is passed to student B who draws a picture on page 2 to represent the target language.
Student C looks at the picture and writes the word/sentence they think it is on page 3, without looking back to page 1. They fold the book so page 3 now becomes the front cover.
The process is repeated until the book is finished.
Much hilarity ensues as the students see the way the language has been illustrated and how it has changed throughout the book.
Students love the ‘Chinese whispers/telephone’ nature of this game 🙂
What do you mean you didn’t read the sentences?
Via Olga Stolbova
(I now call this ‘evil memorisation’!)
Aims: To encourage students to notice context. To make them aware of gaps in their language.
Use this after students do a gapfill exercise.
Check the answers by writing them on the board (just the answers, not the complete sentence).
Students put away the original exercise.
They look at the answers on the board and have to recreate the original sentences. Expect protests! 🙂 Encourage them to write whatever they can remember, even if it’s just isolated words or phrases.
If they’re really struggling/When you start feeling sympathetic, give them one minute to look at the exercise without writing anything, then close their books again and continue to work on reproducing the sentences.
Students compare their recreated sentences to the originals. What were the differences?
Optional extra evilness: put away the sentences you’ve just rewritten. Now say them all to your partner./Write them all again. You can also do this at the end of the lesson when they’ve done other things in between.
If students are depressed that they can’t remember everything, tell them you don’t expect this. I normally say that I want them to remember about 80% of the sentences immediately (with some effort), and about 50% by the end of the lesson, once we’ve done a few other things and they’ve had time to forget. It can be useful to show them the forgetting curve too.
Vocabulary revision game
Via Anette Igel
Aim: To revise vocabulary covered in previous lessons.
Give each group a stack of small pieces of scrap paper (about 1/8 of A4 in size).
They should write the English word/phrase on one side, and put either the translation, definition or example sentence on the other side. The game can also be played with word/vocabulary cards if this is something you use with your students.
To create counters, rip one piece of small scrap into coin sized pieces. They write a letter or draw a symbol on each to indicate which is theirs. Alternatively, they can use any small item they can find (e.g. a paperclip, pen lid, etc).
The final thing they need to prepare the game is either a coin, or a scrap paper ‘coin’, which can be made by folding another small piece up into a tight square, then writing ‘heads’ on one side and ‘tails’ on the other.
The words should be arranged in a circle to create a game track. All of the counters should be placed on the same word to start.
One player flips the coin. Heads = 2, tails = 1. To help them remember which is which, H has two legs, T has one leg. They move 1 or 2 spaces around the circle. When they land, they can do one of two things:
If the word/phrase is face up, say the translation, definition or example sentence.
If the translation/definition/example sentence is face up, say the word/phrase.
In either case, if they are correct, they turn the card over and stay there. If they are wrong, they turn the card over and go back to where they started the turn.
The winner is the person who has moved furthest around the circle at the end of a specified time.
Back translation/Reverse translation
Aims: To help students notice differences between L1 and L2. To help them notice gaps in their language.
Select one sentence per pair or ask students to choose one. Sentences could be from controlled practice exercises, tapescripts, reading, sentences produced by students…
Each pair translates their sentences from English into L1. For multilingual groups, they work alone.
Either: give the sentence to another pair immediately (if they share a language) OR take sentences away and return them to the same person/pair in the following lesson.
Students translate the L1 sentence back into English.
They then compare their English version to the original, and notice any differences. The teacher’s job is to point out whether the students’ English version is still acceptable, and to help them understand any mistakes or differences in meaning. Though it obviously helps, you don’t need to speak L1 to do this activity.
This could also be set up as a mingle activity. Student A says their L1 sentence, student B says it in English, then student B says their L1 sentence and A says it in English. If they get it wrong, the ‘L1’ student should say ‘No, try again.’ until they get it right. My students seem to get a lot out of this, especially with language that differs structurally from Polish, like verb + gerund/infinitive.
Drill, drill, drill
Aims: To improve student confidence before speaking. To help students internalise the language.
There are hundreds of ways to drill new language.
Point at words/flashcards, moving rapidly between them and returning to problem words often.
Whisper, shout, go slow, speed up, say it like an old lady/Arnold Schwarzenegger, be happy/excited/sad.
Boys and girls, call and response (e.g. half say question, half answer).
What’s missing? Students close eyes/turn around. You remove one or more flashcards/words.
Disappearing text (good for dialogues): start with the whole dialogue on the board. Gradually remove parts of it, either a line at a time or leaving behind key words, with students repeating it multiple times.
Key word drills (good for functional language): draw a table with numbered cells. Put one word from each sentence in each cell e.g. for the phrases How about going to the cinema?What about seeing a film? Let’s watch a film. you could have:
1. How 2. What 3. Let
They say the phrase from memory. They can test each other by saying the number and their partner saying the sentence. Removing the words (but not the numbers!) increases the level of challenge. Follow up: can you remember all the phrases without looking?
Mingle: students have one picture/word each. They mingle, show their paper to their partner who has to say the correct word/phrase. To add challenge, they swap after each turn.
Circle drill: pass a flashcard around the circle. Each person says it in turn. You can also turn it into a dialogue e.g. Receiving student: What’s the weather like today? Passing student: It’s sunny. To add challenge, time the class to see how long it takes to pass around the whole circle, then repeat faster.
Some important things to remember are:
Make sure students know the meaning of the language before the drill.
Choral > group > individual. Don’t put students on the spot too early.
Model language naturally: you need to sound like a stuck record. It’s easy to overstress when correcting.
Keep the pace up. Add variety wherever possible. For example, can they drill it in pairs and listen to each other?
Many of these can be done as pairwork after a teacher demonstration. Some are useful for fast finishers too.
Say all of the new vocabulary/sentences from the exercise as fast as you can to your partner. You can do this before drilling as a test, so that you only drill language students struggle with.
Can you remember the word/sentence before X on the list? If students really struggle, give them 1 minute to look and remember before doing the exercise.
How many of the words from the page can you write alone in two minutes? Compare with a partner. This can be at the end of a lesson after lots of work with the language, or at the start of the next class.
Mistake sentences: read the sentence with a mistake and students correct it. Mistakes could be false friends, articles, tenses (especially ones where connected speech confuses)…
Pause sentences: read a sentence but pause in the middle of the collocation. Do students know what comes next? Good for improving the ability to predict upcoming language when listening.
Quizlet is an easy-to-use website which allows you to create lots of activities for the price of one – add some vocabulary and you immediately have about 6 games, plus the ability to print flashcards for lots more. For a full guide to how to use Quizlet and create your own content on there, plus links to level-specific groups, see http://independentenglish.wordpress.com/quizlet – it’s a bit out-of-date as the site has changed it’s layout, but most of what’s on there still holds. If you have at least 6 devices (phones, tablets etc) in your classroom, you can also play Quizlet Live – my students absolutely love it!
I have no idea who I stole this idea from, but it worked really well so I’m going to share it here!
I used it with elementary students. They had done this exercise for homework:
We checked the answers in class, and they were fine, but I wanted them to really notice the language. One student drew a picture for each idea in the text, numbering them from 1 to 10 to help her. (She was early and this was a way to help her before the other students arrived!) These are the final five pictures:
She’s a much better artist than me! By the time she had finished, the rest of the class had arrived. They used the pictures to reconstruct the text on the board. It’s a small group, so using the board enables them to easily change their mind about the text. Students could also use mini whiteboards, tablets/phones, or good old-fashioned pen and paper!
Once they were happy with their version of the text, they compared it to the original and asked me questions about differences they didn’t understand, particularly why ‘three-month-old’ had no ‘s’. They spoke a mix of English and Russian, and were engaged and motivated, arguing about whose memory of the text was better.
I have to admit that her beautiful, and beautifully-organised, notebook made me a bit jealous, since my artistic skills are somewhat lacking. Carol Goodey and James Taylor seconded this, and I thought it would be fun to make us all feel a bit better by setting a drawing challenge, and proving we can all make our artwork understandable! Maybe it will be the first step towards out own sketchnoting at future webinars and conferences 😉
1. Choose four things you often have to draw in the classroom, or that you’ve had bad experiences drawing in the past (!). I suggest a person doing a particular action or job, an animal, a vehicle, and a miscellanous object, but you can draw whatever you like.
2. Draw them in any way you see fit (on a board, on paper, on a tablet…) but don’t spend any more time on it than you would in a lesson.
3. Share the results for us to guess what they are. 🙂
After that, I think you’ll agree, it’s a good job I’m a teacher, not an artist, as I often tell my students!
I look forward to seeing your artwork. 🙂
David Harbinson was the first to take up the challenge, and has also shared his version of sketchnotes from a recent webinar.
Martin Sketchley shared his version of a skeleton from his YL classroom, and added four drawings for you to guess.
Maria Theologidou added a twist to her contribution by sharing a great activity for practising past simple and past continuous through drawing.