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Say what you see – vocabulary and images

23 May

This is an activity that I used as a warmer with my classes last week with great results!  It works really well for vocabulary review, with lower levels, but also with extending and developing the range of vocabulary that exam classes use when they are confronted by images.

  1. Select an image to use.  It could be topic related to reflect a particular lexical set (e.g. one of Carl Warner’s foodscapes to review food vocabulary with a lower level group) or more general.
  2. Students work in groups of three.  Each student has three lives.  Students have to say something they can see in the picture.  If they can’t, they lose a life.  The winner is the last person to still have a life left.  There should be no repetition of items and students can challenge if they think someone is making it up!
  3. Show students the image and off they go!
From @eltpics on Flickr

From @eltpics on Flickr

Variations:

With my exam classes I introduced a couple of variations – I selected pictures that were linked by theme, such as might appear in a First or Advanced speaking exam, and they weren’t allowed to use single words.  They had to use collocations or at least add a layer of additional description or comment to the item.  So they couldn’t say “a car” but they had to say something like “an ugly green car” or “a vintage BMW”.  They found this quite challenging, but reacted well to it and I found that when they then went on to do a comparison and evaluation task (like the speaking part two), they were able to not only do it more effectively, but also to demonstrate a stronger range of lexis.

With my young learners I found that weaker students, perhaps not surprisingly, were out of the game quite quickly, so as an alternative I gave the groups two minutes to write down as many items as they could and then did a board race to get the language up onto the board – with the proviso that there be no repetition across groups (so if group A writes “balloons” up, none of the other groups can).  This made it more collaborative initially, still keeping the competition element, and added another layer of peer teaching.

 

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Getting to know you: teaching on and offline

15 Feb

I have mixed feelings about Getting to Know you tasks in real world teaching.  I do use them, but it really depends on the class, their age and ability.  For example, if you walk into a corporate client, where all your students have worked together for years, the only person who’s a stranger is you – the teacher.  Many of my real world classes have come up through the levels together and they all know each other for the most part and this is why what I tend to do in my first lessons is more about rapport building than “Getting to know you” per se.

So with that caveat in mind…  when I do feel the need to introduce myself I often use the True False Sentences about teacher routine: e.g. I give the class the following information (or dictate it, depending on age & ability):

  1. I’m Canadian.
  2. I’m 28 years old.
  3. I’m married and I have a young daughter (called Gillian).
  4. I have been a teacher for five years.
  5. I lived in Poland for two years.
  6. I speak Chinese.
  7. My favourite football team is AC Milan.
  8. My favourite rock group is Pink Floyd.
  9. My ambition is to write a successful novel.
  10. My parents own five dogs.

The learners, in pairs, decide which are true and which are false and then ask me questions to ascertain the answers.

They then write their own list of true / false statements which are posted round the room and the other learners decide which are right and which are wrong.

Adapting this for an online environment is somewhat tricky as the interaction would largely be uni-directional (i.e. T-SSa / T-SSb / T-SSc etc) and probably not even that, because after all if you do this on an asynchronous board, you only need one person to ask the initial questions and then the answers are there for everyone else to read…

So to adapt….

Hmm.

You could turn the tables and rather than provide ten sentences, get participants to create their own list of ten true false sentences for you – though this makes the focus very teacher centered and defeats the purpose somewhat.

I think the best way to do it would be to ask participants to post one truth and one lie about each of the other participants on the course.  This would involve information discovery via private messaging and some degree of creativity and humour which would help to engender the right kind of atmosphere.  The people can respond to each other’s posts and say which they think is the truth or not.

I can see this getting very fragmented and unwieldy though.

So a possible variation might be to ask people to post two or three images, one of which should reflect something of importance in their lives and the other of which should not.  The rest of the group can then speculate on which things are more important to the poster or not.

However, this last one is the one I think I like most – it is relatively simple, introduces participants to a great online tool and should be (a) revealing (b) fun (c) easy.

  • Send participants to http://www.wordle.net/create
  • Ask them to cut and paste the contents of their CV into the wordle and click Go.
  • Suggest they play around with the formatting until they find something they like.
  • Get them to post the wordle image in the forums
  • Ask them to visit each others wordles and then make predictions about their lives based on the information they see there.
  • They can then also confirm or deny the predictions made about themselves

This has nothing to do with the original activity that I  thought of, but now that I’ve come up with it, I’m going to adapt it for use in the real world and try it with my next set of new classes!  This would be great for business groups!

Image credit: pixabay

Image credit: pixabay

Note:  I originally wrote this post as part of my training to tutor online, when I did the IHCOLT in 2o13.  I’m currently rationalising some of my other blog projects and migrating some of the content here rather than lose it entirely!

IELTS Writing Part 1 – The Happiness Graph!

19 Nov

How happy have you been over the last week?  Has it been a good or a bad week?  This is (broadly speaking) what my week looked like:
Happiness Graph

 

The Happiness Graph is a warmer that you can use with any class and which can, with the tiniest bit of adaptation, be used as a student generated IELTS task.

 *****

As a warmer, you draw the X and Y axes on the board as shown in the image above.  As you draw the line graph, talk the learners through your week and your reasons why.  For example:  “Monday is the start of the working week and is never a good day for me, but work went well on Tuesday and Wednesday and I was feeling pretty good.  When I woke up on Thursday morning I wasn’t feeling very well and this, as well as a lot of work to do on Friday, left me feeling a bit tired and stressed.  But I recovered well on Saturday, and on Sunday my family and I all went to the beach and had a really nice time, before going back to work on Monday!”

The learners then draw their own version of the happiness graph.  When they’re done, they share and compare their graphs with each other, explaining the peaks and troughs and hopefully asking follow up questions of each other.

 *****

In the IELTS writing part one, learners are asked to write about a chart, diagram or graph, so I adapted the happiness graph for this purpose.  This lesson requires no real preparation as the materials come from the learners, though you might want to supplement the language input slightly with additional verbs that describe trends.

Begin in the same way as the warmer, by drawing your version of the graph on the board and describing what happened to you during the previous seven days.

Ask learners to draw their own versions of the graph, but not to show it to anyone.

Refer learners back to the board and your happiness graph.  Ask learners for expressions they can use to describe the level of happiness over the week.  Write up their suggestions on the board and input additional verbs that describe trends (e.g. rise, fall, drop, increase etc) and adverbials of degree (e.g. slightly, massively, a lot, a little etc) as necessary.  In pairs, ask the students to write a brief description of your happiness graph.  Monitor and provide feedback as necessary.  At this stage, depending on your class, you could do some additional input work.  There is a nice task at the back of Scott Thornbury’s “Uncovering Grammar” (page 106), but many IELTS and Business English course books have sections on this area that you could use.

Ask learners to work with a new partner, preferably someone who is seated on the opposite side of the room.  Learners then do a dictadraw activity, where learner A describes their happiness graph and learner B listens and draws a version of it.  Learners then come together to share their drawing, compare what they drew, and explain why the level of happiness moved up and down as it did.  Learners then draw their partner’s happiness level onto the same graph as they drew their original happiness graph, so that there are now TWO different (and accurate) happiness lines on their graph.

Finally, learners write a short (!) 150 word description that compares and contrasts the two lines on their graph.  As a final analysis learners can compare what they wrote and look at why any differences occurred – and can correct any errors spotted!

I would set an authentic IELTS part one writing task as homework from this.

*****

 

Acknowledgement:  The happiness graph as a warmer was shown to me at International House Katowice by David Magalhaes in 2005 (or so).  I think.  Apologies if I’ve got that wrong, do let me know!

Warmer / Filler: What are my words?

20 Jan

This vocabulary revision activity requires minimal or no preparation on the part of the teacher.  I’ve been using it with classes that found “Don’t make me say it!” too difficult or time consuming.  It’s certainly easier for lower levels!

The minimal preparation version is where you choose the words before the class.  The no preparation version is where they choose the words themselves.  This latter option is not without pitfalls as the students may choose words they don’t know the meaning of, but in this activity all that really does is make it a lot easier for their partner to win the game!

So, assuming you have chosen your twelve words, divide them up into a set of six for student A and another set of six for student B.  Give each student their words written down on a table like this one:
What are my words – where the left column has the target words and the right column is blank.

Elicit some conversational topics to the board.

The students now have to try and use their words in conversation – but without being noticed!  As the conversation progresses they also try to write down any words their partner uses which they think is on their partner’s list.

Set  five minute time limit for the conversation.

At the end of the time, students get one point for each of their words they said unnoticed and one point for each of their partner’s words they correctly identified.  The person with the most points is the winner!

Acknowledgement – again, I have a vague memory of seeing something like this in an input session at IH Katowice – I think this was either Richard Venner or James Lambie – or possibly someone else completely (in which case apologies!)

 

Warmer: Don’t make me say it!

12 Jan

This is a vocabulary revision activity that I used as a warmer with my classes last week – from intermediate to proficiency.

I went back through the previous couple of units of the coursebook and chose 12 items (words, phrasal verbs, fixed expressions, short phrases) that I thought the class would probably know and I divided those items into two sets of six, trying to make sure there was an even balance of “difficulty” between the two lists.

I put these on a handout as follows:

IMG_20150109_153542056 (2)

The instructions are as follows:

  • Have a conversation with your partner. You can talk about any topics.
  • During the conversation, try to get them to use the words or expressions in the list below.
  • You get one point for every word they use.
  • You lose one point for every word on their list that you say.

What happened:

Predictably, very few of the words on the lists actually got said.  That doesn’t really matter because, as a vocabulary revision activity, what’s happening is the students are creating contexts for the use of the vocabulary, so even if student B doesn’t say student A’s word, they have a pretty good idea of what it is.  However, in hindsight, (and the next time I play this) I’m going to take out the rule about losing a point – it just makes everyone unnecessarily uncooperative.  That said, everyone had a lot of fun.

I also tried this with a group and let them choose their own words from previous units of the book.  This backfired spectacularly as (a) it took far too long, (b) they chose words they didn’t know the meaning of.

It needs a bit of tweaking, but I like this activity because of the way the students are creating these contexts for the items and because it’s prompting them to think about how the items are used – yes, it’s completely artificial, but it also seems to be a lot of fun, which is what you want in a warmer.

Do try it out and let me know how it goes for you – and any changes you made!

Have fun!

(Acknowledgement – I have a vague memory or being shown this or something similar in an input session at IH Katowice about ten years ago, so apologies if this is someone else’s idea!  If so it was probably Richard Venner as it seems like the sort of thing he would do!)