This is an idea I tried out with an elementary group of young learners the other day. The focus in the coursebook was on teaching the present continuous for actions that are happening now and at the book had very helpfully provided a recorded phone conversation between two people meeting at a railway station that went something like this:
“Where are you?”
“I’m standing on platform nine and three quarters. Where are you?”
“I’m waiting under the big clock. What are you wearing?*”
“I’m wearing a red t-shirt. What are you wearing?”
“I’m wearing a yellow t-shirt. Ah! I can see you!”
* And are we really sure we want to be teaching our learners the phrase “What are you wearing?” in the context of telephone conversations?
Having achieved “presentation” we then moved onto “practice”, which involved a nice un-jumbling word order task, because apparently putting words into the correct order helps the learners to process the meaning and use of the present continuous. Or something. I don’t know. You may be able to tell that I don’t really like this particular book very much.
In any event, before the class died of boredom I thought it might be useful to get them to try and use the target language meaningfully. The trouble is, that unless you’re prepared to have the learners go round the class and say what they’re doing, there isn’t a lot you can do with the present continuous for actions happening now:
“I am sitting down.” “He is learning English.” “I am also sitting down.” “She is losing the will to live.”
So I thought that using visualisation techniques might work better.
I asked the learners to get a pen and paper ready and have it in front of them on their desk. I asked them to sit back in their chairs, close their eyes and relax.
I played them some “Visualisation music” I found on You Tube. The purpose of the music from my perspective was three fold; I wanted to give them something to focus on, I wanted there to be something different going on that was “taking them away” from the normal environment, and I wanted to use the music to cover some of the mundane and distracting sounds from outside and from other classes that were going on.
While they were sat there, I guided them through this visualisation process:
Look up at the sky. What colour is it? Can you see any clouds? Look down and you start to see trees and buildings. What kind of trees can you see? What kind of buildings? Are there a lot of buildings or a few? Are they old or new? In front of one of the buildings, you see a person. Do you recognise them? They are doing something. What are they doing? You look left and see a tree. In front of the tree you see an animal. What kind of animal? What is the animal doing? You look right and you see someone near you. It’s a friend of yours. Who is it? What’s their name? They are doing something. What are they doing?
And then I brought them back out of the visualisation and asked them to write down what they had seen in their notebooks. While they did that I wrote up on the board: “In my dream I am standing ……… In front of me I can see ……” I asked the class to reformulate their ideas into a more fluid description, using the present continuous where possible.
It was a nice activity and the learners seemed to like it, though being a class of young learners there was a little bit of resistance and messing around with the idea of sitting back and having your eyes closed. In general the output used the target language and there were some nice opportunities to provide relevant language. I think this made it more memorable and personal for the class, so hopefully it will stick a bit more strongly.