This article was first published in English Teaching Professional Issue 16, July 2000
Simon Mumford, Turkey
Simon Mumford teaches EAP at Izmir University of Economics, Turkey. He has written on using stories, visuals, drilling, reading aloud, and is especially interested in the creative teaching of grammar. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Movement is an important element in a large proportion of our learners. Apparently, for about 37% it is their prefered learning style, and most students will benefit from getting up and moving around. In the most ‘static’ classroom, with fixed desks, it is still possible to get students moving, even if only standing up and moving around on the spot, but, in fact most teaching rooms can accommodate more ‘activity’ than many of us usually incorporate into our lessons. It is largely a case of will and creativity on the part of the teacher.
Although there is obviously some overlap, the basic types of activity I am suggesting fall into three categories: 1 Process, 2 Mingles, 3 Roleplay.
The following have proved successful in my own class with a range of students at different language levels. Most can be adapted to suit other classes.
What I call process activities are those in which students move as an intergral part of the language learning process, eg they move to a certain part of the room to represent a word, or they rush to touch something in response to a cue from the teacher.
Write about 15-20 words you want to teach/revise on the board. These should be concrete nouns, and it is worth checking that the words are suitable for this activity.
Draw a graph on the board and label the axes ‘size’ and ‘value’. Choose one of the words and plot it on the graph. The word diamond, for example, will be well up on the ‘value’ axis, but near the bottom of the ‘size’ axis.
Next, clear the classroom floor as much as possible. Tell the class that the graph has been transfered to the floor, and show where the axes are, eg along two walls of the classroom, at right angles. Stand somewhere on the graph and ask which word they think is represented by the position you are in. Students look at the list of words and try to work out which word it is.
Get two or three volunteers to choose words and represent them on the graph for others to guess.
Then two students choose words and stand on the graph at the same time. When the words have been guessed, elicit comparisons such as ‘a car is bigger than a diamond’, ‘ a diamond is worth more/ is more expensive than a flower.’ This should be clear from the relative positions on the graph.
Finally, give each student a different word on a piece of paper, and tell them to find their places on the graph. They make comparisons with their words and the words of the students near them.
A variation of this activity is to have different labels for the axes, eg useful/dangerous, beautiful/unusual.
Write a list of words that you want the students to learn or revise on the board, and ask everyone to read them through aloud.
Divide the class into teams of five students, who sit in a row. The first student chooses a word from the list, writes it on a piece of paper, and passes it to the second student, who turns the paper over and writes the number of syllables in the word. The third student marks the stressed syllable (eg Ooo for ‘wonderful’, or oOo for ‘computer’) on the back of the paper. The fourth student writes the part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc.)
The last student compares the profile of the word with the list on the board and has to guess which one he/she thinks it is. If it is the right answer, the first student moves to the end, and everyone moves up one and the student who was formerly second chooses a new word. If the answer is wrong, the same student must try a new word.
If the activity is organised as a race, the winning team is the first one to get back to their starting positions.
Give three cards containing target words to each pair of students. They invent a sentence including the three words, and write it out on a piece of paper, leaving blanks in the places of the three words. They also write their names on the paper.
The teacher collects all the sentences and cards, and redistributes the sentences to different pairs. While pairs are discussing what they think the missing words are, the teacher spreads the word cards around the room on desks and chairs. Then the pairs move around to find ‘their’ words.
Finally, students write in the missing words and take them back to the original writers for checking.
These activities aim to get all the students moving and interacting with one another, with the aim of giving them a lot of oral practice with different people in a short time.
New words for old
Students take a piece of paper and write a word that they know. On the back of the paper they write the meaning. They mingle and show each other their words, and explain the meaning if it is not known.
Students then swap papers and make new pairs, doing the same with their new words. The meanings are on the back of the paper, but these should be used as a last resort- as far as possible, explanations should be given from memory. Everyone should exchange papers at least for or five times.
At the end, everyone writes down all the words and meanings they can remember.
Write the words you want to practise, with their meanings on the board. Tell half the class their job is to remember all the words and their meanings.
Meanwhile give the other students one of the words each, and write a question that will elicit that word, eg towel-What do you use after a bath?
The students then stand in two circles. The inner circle of students with questions face outwards, and an equal number of students face inwards in the outer circle. The inner circle students ask their questions, and the outer circle students answer.
The students on the outside move round one place, answer another question, and so on, until all have had the chance to answer all questions. If you want to make it competitive, students can keep count of the words they got right.
Half the class stand in a line with their eyes closed. A student from the other half of the class stand behind each ‘blind’ student. The ‘seeing’ student starts a conversation, and the ‘blind’ student guesses who is talking by listening carefully to the voice. The ‘seeing’ student can make things more difficult by disguising his/her voice and giving false information.
The students can either have a general conversation (the ‘blind’ student can talk too), or they could be given the task of incorporating a particular structure. After a minute or so, the teacher gives the signal to stop, the ‘blind’ student guesses his/her partner’s identity and then the ‘seeing’ students move up one or two places and start again with a different partner. Continue for five or six exchanges, before the ‘blind’ and ‘seeing’ students change roles.
Instead of asking each other questions (orally), students mingle and show written questions and answers. If you want to practise the past simple tense, for example, each student gets two pieces of paper. On one they write two questions, one on each side of the paper, beginning ‘Did you...’ On the other they write ‘Yes, I did’ on one side and ‘No, I didn’t’ on the other. Students mingle, show each other their questions and respond by showing the appropriate answer. This is a completely silent activity and is good for calming down an excited or restless class.
Here the classroom becomes a different place and represents a setting for a roleplay to take place.
The classroom becomes a tourist attraction, eg a town of a museum.
Split the class into four groups. One student in each group is a tour guide who shows the others, the tourists, around. (I used this as a post reading activity. We had read an article about a village that was a local tourist attraction, and the tour was of the different places in that village.) Other possibilities could be someone who knows the school showing around those who are new, or a student showing the attractions of his home town to those who don’t know it. Explain that there are four things to see in this place, one in each corner of the room. A different group starts in each corner, and they move to the next location every few minutes when you give the signal. The guide’s job is to tell the tourists about the place they are visiting, and the tourists can ask questions.
In this activity, students move from group to group. Before the activity proper, you might like to discuss reasons why people go to other people’s homes and give them some phrases to use, eg ‘I was just passing’ ‘I came to borrow ../I’m returning your...’ I just came to wish you (happy birthday) and also some for leave-taking, such as ‘I really must be going now’ ‘Is that the time?’ ‘Sorry I can’t stay.’
Put the students in groups of four, and arrange the desks so that they are facing each other. Each represents a family in their home. The aim is for all the members of a family to visit each of the other families. Give the family members roles, (eg mother, father, son, daughter) and nominate one to stay at home and be the host/hostess.They have two minutes to decide a fact or a piece of news which they will tell each visitor or the people they visit.
The students go to the other families, giving reasons for their visit, and are invited to sit down by the host/hostess. After a few minutes of conversation, they make their excuses and leave and go and visit another family. In order to ‘relieve’ the person staying at home, one returns after two visits, one after four and one after six visits (or whatever numbers work for the number of students in your class.)
At the end, ask different groups the fact or piece of news they found out about the other families.
You will need a picture of a room-the bigger the picture the better. Stick it where everyone can see it clearly and then do some work on describing it. Draw a plan of the room on the board, adding furniture to any space not covered in the original picture. Tell the students that the classroom has become this room, and say where the things in the picture are, eg ‘The window is here, where the whiteboard is.’
Once established, the room can be used for several purposes, depending on the language level of the students. In pairs, beginners could walk around the room describing it. Intermediate students could roleplay guests and admiring visitors talking about the design of the room and the things in it, as they walk around smelling flowers, taking books out of the book case, looking at the pictures and so on. Advanced students could be interior designers discussing how they are going to change the room: This fireplace will have to go!’
Many of these ideas can easily be adapted to take account of different language levels and different situations, or maybe they’ll just be the spur for you to make up your own. But remember! ‘Activities’ should be just that.
Please check the Methodology and Language for Secondary Teachers course at Pilgrims website.