One-pagers: “The House on Mango Street”

My first take on one-pagers as a way of getting students to demonstrate comprehension didn’t turn out that bad! We read and analysed a few excerpts from “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, belonging to the beginning, middle and end in class, and then I asked my students to create a one-page visual report as a snapshot with key information they found relevant. This time I asked them to include:

  • A brief summary.
  • 5 quotes they liked.
  • 10 key words.
  • A personal reaction or opinion.

The students were encouraged to use visuals that somehow illustrated symbols or themes, in a way reflecting their own response to what they had read. With such an explicit symbol (and a whole unit revolving around housing!), it seemed clear that most of them would use the house to organise the information, but I recommend reading this article for those that might find the more “artistic” side rather off-putting or to deal with other types of text.

After reading the one-pagers, however, I do think we could have done away with the summary and focused on other areas instead, such as looking for some interesting figurative language or writing a couple of questions they still had after reading the excerpts. This could have helped to sort of guide the virtual gallery walk we’ll be holding soon. The one-pagers are all first drafts so, apart from content and meaning, we will be definitely working on the language produced by students, too, including some peer correction!

One thing is clear: I no longer feel like the only teacher of English on Earth who’s never worked with this book! If only this activity had been a good hook for a few students to read the rest of it one day.

“Think about Things”: referencing and comprehension

The vast majority of my students speak Spanish as their first language. Verbs in Spanish carry enough information for subject pronouns to be most of the times unnecessary, but this is sometimes a problem with learners of English who fail to include them when references are clear enough. Although this activity will certainly help my students work on this particular feature, it was mainly designed as a reading and listening comprehension task that will get them analysing this song-based text using cohesive devices such as referencing:

  1. Have students read the text in the box and ask them what they think the text is about, who is speaking and who they think this person is speaking to.

2. Listen to the beginning of the song until “you are yet to learn how to speak”. You may want to write it down, too: Though I know I love you / I find it hard to see how you feel about me / ‘Cause I don’t understand you / Oh you are yet to learn how to speak. Discuss the students’ choices again (the song is about a father talking to his newly-born child.)

3. Now that the context is clear, tell the students they will have to put the sentences in the spirals in the right order by writing the number in the centre. To do this, they will also need to fill in the gaps with one of four pronouns: I, you, me or we. References across the text will need to be clear to do this task successfully, and certain words will need clarifying before deciding on the right subject or object pronoun.

Notice that while most gaps have one clear answer, a few might be open to interpretation. This could lead to fruitful discussions about the text itself and its context, which is always a great opportunity to put specific comprehension strategies and skills to the test, isn’t it?

No agreement? Have the students listen to the song and check!

For the joy of home: a vocabulary-building activity

Using John Lewis’ ad “For the Joy of Home”, students work on vocabulary related to the house and simple grammatical constructions such as “there is/are” or the present continuous.

Play the first 41 seconds of the ad several times for students to complete the following tasks:
1. Identify the rooms in which they can find a variety of objects.
2. Look for the number of specific items.
3. Correct 8 false sentences about the scene.

Students will therefore start working with more general vocabulary at the beginning of the activity and gradually move towards more specific words, some of which might be new to them. The visual context provided by the ad itself or the pictures on the worksheet can help them work out the meaning of words when they don’t know it or are simply unsure. Notice, too, that vocabulary is presented so that students need to know the meaning of the words before attempting the next task.

At the end of this vocabulary-building activity, have students discuss what might be going on, and ask them what they think could happen next, before watching the rest of the ad. And please do allow some time for reactions at the end! I must confess this video brought a broad smile to my face the first time I saw it – and it still does.

Enjoy!

Describing windows around the world

Window Swap is a website where people from all around the world submit views from their windows in short 10-minute long videos, most of them including background sounds. What’s not to like about a site that helps you travel without moving? And how about all the language learning opportunities it has to offer?

windowswap

As of today, the window swap is completely random, and you cannot choose the place or window, pause, rewind or fast-forward. Ten minutes, however, should be enough for students to come up with a rather accurate oral description, a short written account, or jot down the main ideas they want to include in a more elaborate type of written description. As a comprehension activity, the students could read or listen to their partners’ descriptions and look for those windows on the website.

windowswap1

You will find the name of the submitter in the upper left corner and their location in the upper right (could this be a good time to revise countries and nationalities, too?) Once these are identified, students can follow the four steps in this worksheet to come up with their own descriptions:

  1. What type of house do you think the window belongs to?
  2. What’s the weather like? How about the overall atmosphere?
  3. What can you see through the window?
  4. How does this window view make you feel? What type of person can you imagine living here?

windowswap

WindowSwapWorksheet.pdf

Descriptions will, therefore, move from the more general to the more specific, and end up with the student’s personal reaction and evaluation. For each question, students are provided with a series of adjectives they can use in their descriptions. Depending on the level, you may need to revise some of these first, and with higher levels, students may use the adjectives on the worksheet to come up with their own associations or use adjectives they’ve been working on recently.

“We welcome all kinds of windows, whatever the shape, whatever the view. Because what we usually take for granted is gold for someone else.”

Sonali Ranjit
Vaishnav Balasubramaniam
Window Swap creators

Enjoy the trip!

IMG_20200614_143752-1

 

Mad Libs and Songs

Here’s a song-based Mad Libs activity using Flippity, a site that lets you create lots of different games, quizzes and flashcards using Google spreadsheets:

1.Students first select one of the stories (click on the picture below to get access to the main menu):

selectastory

2. Then they fill in the boxes with one word belonging to each category:

categories

3. They click on “Show me the story”:

aperfectstory

4. Students read the result and discuss it in pairs, small groups and finally with the whole class. Although they should be able to identify the main topic, they will immediately see some sharp dissonances! This information gap will be solved by listening for detail so they can reconstruct the actual meaning. (If they click on “Go back”, they will be able to edit the song, type in the actual words and share the final results!)

fatherandson

The other two “stories” are based on these two songs:

I’ve worked on this set of songs so far, but I’d appreciate any other suggestions! Apart from appropriate language and a topic you can play with, the songs should have enough content words that could be replaced to create a specific (most of the times hilarious!) effect.

If you like the activity and have any ideas, could you please write them in the comments section below, or on my Facebook and Twitter pages?

Thanks for your help with this!

Transforming everyday objects: two lesson examples

I’ve always found artistic pictures using everyday objects amusing, but I had never thought of using them in my lessons. A few weeks ago, however, after coming across several pictures of this kind on social media, I decided to give them a go and incorporate them in the speaking and writing lessons I was planning for the groups I was teaching online. It seemed like a simple, quick activity that all the students could do, with limitless possibilities and results. The students’ creations would also bring an element of imagination and unexpectedness that should add extra motivation to meet the specific objectives we were working on.

Using items they could find in their houses, students were asked to create a simple picture that showed that item in a different context and serving a different purpose. With my younger students, I wanted to do some collaborative writing and focus on linking words, so I simply showed them a few pictures, explained the idea to them, and told them what we would be using the pictures for. These were some of the pictures they sent:

I pasted all the pictures on our platform’s cloud editor (similar to Google Docs) with the instructions, revised narrative connectors they were familiar with, and then introduced a few new ones. The students took turns writing a part of the story by dragging or copying/pasting one of the pictures and using it for their short piece of writing. Each student wrote their name at the end of their paragraph, and they were asked to use at least one linking expression.

The activity was done asynchronously for a couple of days as I felt giving them plenty of time would allow them to think about the narrative more carefully and take the time to explore all the options they had. We finally proofread it together in a live session and made linguistic, stylistic and a few plot changes until we were all happy with the final result!

The pictures effectively invited students to think more carefully about what was already written and what they were going to write, they raised interest in checking what their partners would do with the rest of the pictures – and they also provided a good excuse for some awkward narrative moments!

E1

My older students were working on advanced speaking phrases, so I asked them to create one of these pictures but this time illustrating some topic of discussion. The students submitted their pictures with a brief explanation about the topic they were trying to illustrate. Some of them were simply amazing:

B1

“This drawing is not only about The Beatles on Abbey Road. It’s more than that. I’m talking about music. You could be sad, you could feel lonely, but music always helps. It’s… like a battery!”

B2

“This is a quote by Isabel Allende. When we write, we hold the weight of our past to transform it into words, so that we can make stories about everything. That is why we have a pen and then one of those pens that are like feathers, behind it.”

B3

“This picture shows two people talking to each other while sitting at a table. For me, dinner and lunch time are very important. They’re the only times when all my family sits down and talks, sharing our thoughts. I added some staples as the table because they are used to attach pieces of paper; well, in this case, it’s used as a metaphor since it’s uniting people instead.”

B4

“The current situation has taught us that we must work together in order to reach a common goal.”

B5

“This sweeper represents many of the workers who are risking their lives for us these days due to the coronavirus crisis. I think they deserve recognition since, thanks to them and to many others such as supermarket workers and doctors, we have our streets clean, food to feed ourselves and health.”

B6

“In this moment of our lives we have to start making up our minds about our future career. Howarts’s sorting hat would be soooo convenient!”


We discussed a few of them in small groups using the vocabulary we were working on, and then I shared the pictures with the whole class for students to get familiar with them and think about which topic they might be reflecting. On the following week, we used all of them in a graded exercise in which groups of three needed to keep a conversation going based on one of the pictures, using appropriate turn-taking expressions and specific vocabulary for agreeing/disagreeing, likes/dislikes, opinion, comparing/contrasting, and so on.

The activity revolved around topics the students had put forward based on their interests and concerns at that moment, and although some of them were repeated, we could always find a different focus. In addition, some pictures were easier to interpret than others but, as is usually the case, I found that the more difficult and mysterious the picture, the more interesting and dynamic the conversations were.

B8

Have you used this type of pictures before? How else would you use them?

15 post-reading activities

The following board contains a series of activities that the students can choose to do after reading a novel or a short story. Students take on a number of roles, such as detective, journalist, designer or disc jockey, to work on a particular area. When used as a whole group, with the teacher assigning all the roles to different students in the group, the result will be a creative, in-depth study that analyses the narrative text from multiple perspectives.

post-reading activities

Post-ReadingActivities.pdf

The task board presents the main idea for each role, and details will be needed depending on the teaching context and the level of the students, including the amount of scaffolding that may be needed. The board does allow for differentiation, taking different interests and levels of difficulty into account. While some tasks can be carried out independently, others may require structured cooperative work in pairs or larger teams. In more homogeneous settings, roles could also be assigned numbers or colours according to their level of difficulty so that students can choose to focus on one task or engage in two or three to get the same points.

Combine these activities with this book report to check comprehension right after reading!


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A book report

editablebk

Developing learner autonomy: a homework choice board

HomeworkChoiceBoard

Narrative beginnings

NarrativeB1

Conditional sentences: “Count On Me”

Students in this activity identify words and then sentences in the sequence of letters using grammatical, lexical and contextual clues. Notice that a few distractors have been included, such as homophones, different prepositions, articles or verb forms. The lyrics from “Count On Me” (Bruno Mars, 2010) should result from this, and listening to the song at the end of the activity is in fact the best way for students to check their answers.

Apart from introducing an engaging conversation starter or writing prompt around the theme of friendship, the text also provides a great context to present or revise first conditional structures!

CountOnMeCountOnMe.Worksheet.pdf

CountOnMeKeyCountOnMeKey.pdf