January is for Games, Cooperation and Vocabulary Building

As some of you know, this blog has an associated Facebook page where links to ideas and free resources are shared on a daily basis. Reading blogs and articles from websites I’ve subscribed to over the years has been a regular exercise for me for quite a long time. Sharing those resources perhaps helps me to pay more attention to the things I read or, rather, actually makes me try and find the time to do that! Curating content is a good learning experience, anyway.

Starting this month, I’m planning on writing a monthly post with a selection of links that have been featured on this Facebook page during that month and which have proved to be popular, innovative or inspirational in some way. We may come across the right activity that meets the specific needs of a particular group of students every now and then, but the best for me here is the inspiration they provide, learning how the same skill or target language can be worked on in different ways, thinking of ways in which a great idea can be adapted to my teaching context or how to best incorporate certain strategies into my own teaching.

The following are this month’s picks. Please click on the pictures to visit each website!

1. This emoji prompt site can help you design an engaging speaking or writing lesson, in which students take turns coming up with a story based on a sequence of emoji.

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2. Vocabulary revision activities: a selection of great ideas and activities to revise new words.

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3. Irregular verbs foldable:

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4. Flippity.net lets you create lots of different games, quizzes or flashcards:

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5. This speaking board game will encourage students to talk about a variety of topics.

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6. Ready to roll? Text analysis.

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7. Lots of vocabulary work in this lesson based on a well-known advertising campaign.

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8. Watch Timed Pair-Share being used in the classroom in this excellent video:

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9. Plot structure foldable suitable for any type of narrative text.

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10. An excellent game that can be adapted for any level and set of phrasal verbs.

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Do you find this interesting or useful? If you’d like to follow this daily digest of materials and resources, why don’t you join us here?

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Dominoes

Call it unimaginative or uncreative, but dominoes is one of those activities that always seem to work in the language classroom no matter the level or specific group of students. From simple vocabulary matching to more advanced grammatical collocations and sentence structure, dominoes is, in essence, a collaborative game in which students work together to solve a puzzle providing each other with valuable feedback along the way, and in which students are allowed to demonstrate uncertainty and check their knowledge of the particular language area being practised. Take, for instance, this set of dominoes to practise negative prefixes attached to adjectives that I’ve been using for years:

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Negative prefixes.pdf

 

Apart from the activity itself and all the skills involved, what I really like about the game is that, once it’s over, it is often possible for students to identify patterns and write rules that may have gone previously unnoticed.

This other set of dominoes is more discovery-driven and based on rhyming words. Students pay attention to the last sound(s) and match them accordingly during the game: the final vocalic sound or, if the word ends in a consonant, the final vocalic sound + consonant. During the game, the students can ask each other in case of doubt or have the teacher model the pronunciation of individual words. And when they’ve finished, they will have hopefully noticed different spellings for the same sound and will now also be able to write down several pairs of common homophones, as in the following:

afford – reward – bored – board – ignored
sail – sale – inhale – female
delete – compete- wheat – receipt – meet – meat – indiscreet – seat
disguise – rise – prize – cries
appeal – steal – steel – wheel
flour – flower – hour – tower
mist – missed – insist
amaze – nowadays – raise
write – right – tonight – knight
lay – café – sleigh
pear – nowhere – square – hair – hare – nightmare
so – sow – sew – cargo
great – grateweight – wait
later – favour – sailor – laser
niece – police – peace – piece
why – goodbye – lie – simplify

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RhymingWords.pdf

 

Do you use dominoes in your teaching?

 

Image: Ishan Manjrekar,  Creative Commons

 

Anagrams and meaning: “The Longest Time”

Anagrams are words formed by rearranging the letters of a different word, as in “elbow”-“below”, “act”-“cat”, “save”-“vase”, or “stressed-dessert”. In this activity (B1/B1+) based on Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” (1983), the students read the lyrics and try to find the forty-five anagrams that have been included. The students write their answers on the right-hand column, which also indicates the number of anagrams they are expected to find in each line.TheLongestTime

The Longest Time.pdf


SOLUTION:

1 said  2 me  3 tonight  4 still   5 left  6 write  7 what  8 could   9 time  10 once  11 was  12 now   13 goes  14 where  15 arms  16 there  17 miracle  18 how   19 need  20 how 21 me   22 maybe  23 last  24 feel   25 right  26 could   27 wrong  28 maybe  29 this  30 for   31 much  32 when   33 take   34 start  35 said   36 on   37 heart  38 now   39 are 40 wonderful   41 and   42 care  43 things  44 bad  45 intend


The students will be using their knowledge about grammar and vocabulary to rearrange the letters of the words whenever communication is interrupted as they read. Word categories and collocations will prove useful in some cases, spelling will be decisive in a few others, yet a good number of anagrams will be solved by focusing on meaning and thinking of words with similar letters (and which belong to the right category and with the right spelling) that might be the most appropriate for that context.

The activity is checked by having the students listen to the song at the end. Did they solve most of the anagrams? How did they solve them? Which anagram did they find the easiest? And the most difficult? Why? After checking the meaning of some of the anagrams in the song, can they now write a sentence using some of them?

 

Holding students accountable

When working in teams, holding students accountable for their contributions and their own learning is especially crucial. In fact, lack of student accountability is most of the times the reason why some group activities just don’t work, sometimes with some students ending up doing most of the work or talking, others having very few opportunities to say anything or simply have the time to think, and occasionally a few students that may decide to coast on the efforts of others.

Making sure every team member participates equally, no matter their proficiency level or, say, prior knowledge on a given topic, is the first step to make students responsible for their own learning. Cooperative structures such as Think-Pair-Share or Numbered Heads Together are step-by-step interactional strategies that effectively introduce think time with an element of randomness: no one knows who is going to be called on, so everyone working in pairs or in a team needs to make sure they all know what is going on (which may involve giving a specific answer to a question or a series of exercises, explaining what their views are regarding a topic, or sharing ideas based on the background knowledge each student in a team has about a topic.) By providing think time, all the students are given an opportunity to contribute at their own pace and in an equal manner, but it is this positive peer pressure that is established, where students learn to respect, wait, negotiate, listen and share, that will help us hold each and every one of our students accountable and encourage on-task collaborative behaviours.

The first activity in Unit 2 from “Gateway C1” (MacMillan) asks the students to guess the meaning of a series of highlighted words related to trends and fashion, and then decide what their opinion about each statement is. If I’d asked the class, I know there would have been a small group of students doing most of the talking in an orderly fashion, others still following the discussion but not really willing to participate for various reasons, and perhaps a few others completely off-task — a scenario we don’t like to think about. This is how the students worked on that activity instead:

  • Each team was given a sentence to be discussed.
  • Each team member wrote their personal opinion independently on a post-it note.
  • An appointed secretary in each team collected the post-its, read them, and then led a short team discussion.
  • The team wrote a short summary of the opinions to be shared later with the rest of the class.
  • Teams handed in their papers at the end of the activity.

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When the time was up, everyone in the room had thought about their sentence, had shared and listened to their classmates’ opinions, and were ready to explain them to the rest of the students in the room after working on a summary.

Structuring tasks in this way can be time-consuming at the beginning, but as the year goes by, and as the students understand what is expected from them, the steps can be simplified. And it really pays off. With larger projects, each team member can be assigned a role (time keeper, materials manager, leader, and so on) or students can be asked to complete a log or a reflection form at the end of the project that shows how the group and each team member worked by analysing the quality of their contributions. All of these can also help to keep our students accountable for what they do. Even more interestingly, this positive peer pressure built within team work will very soon affect not only the rest of the group but the overall classroom management and an atmosphere that is conducive to learning.

 


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Content-based strategies

 

 

Online Generators to Practise Speaking and Writing

Randomness is an element that we’ve been using in learning tasks for a long time, especially those that involve productive skills. Rolling dice or shuffling cards are classic examples of activities in which students make choices based on unpredictable results. There is, of course, a sense of limit and control once the students know the goals and specific objectives of the task, but introducing surprise and letting fate decide for us often results in students trying their best at moving on with whatever they have at hand (which, incidentally, simulates real-life situations or even test-taking skills) and improves their motivation by making them get out of the comfort zone that teacher-led and teacher-controlled practice provides.

There’s a good number of online generators that offer interesting options for students to practise speaking and writing, and which revolve around the idea of randomness. They are web-based and very easy to set up to work with the whole group or in smaller teams. They are also flexible enough to be used together with specific strategies or a particular classroom structure — or better yet, to allow for student creativity.

 

Random Plot Generators

These two sites can help students get a random story line they can start working on, including the setting, the main characters, and a few details about the conflict. Other features such as “Random First Line”, “Random Dialogue”, “Story Title”, or “What if? Scenario” also provide intriguing starting points for writing or speaking tasks.

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plot-generator.org.uk goes one step further and allows you to discuss specific nouns, locations, adjectives related to feelings, or action verbs we want to see in our stories, poems, or even song lyrics. The generators take all these options into account to provide a final version or a first draft that the students need to work on.

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Conversation starters 

Both websites offer a wide variety of topics to start any discussion or debate:

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Discussion generator

 

The Story Shack and Writer Igniter

A suggested word count, the genre, the main character and a sentence uttered by him/her, or specific information to be included in the story, are some of the ideas provided by these generators every time to hit the “Generate” or “Shuffle” buttons!

TheStoryShack

 

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The Game Gal
This word generator gives you words to play games like pictionary, catchphrase, or charades. Just choose which game you’re playing and a category, and then tap for a new word.

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Writing Sparks

Click on “Create Spark” and then choose the age of your students, the type of writing and the amount of time. The site will provide a prompt for students and a planning stage, including timed whole-class discussion with key words, before the students start writing.

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Question charts

Question charts are excellent tools to help both teachers and students to generate a wide range of questions. You first choose one of the question words on the left column, then a word from the top row, and finally finish the question with a phrase related to the passage you’re reading or the discussion being held.

Question chart 1

Most interestingly, the types of questions will be more and more complex the farther down and to the right you move. The blue colour in the chart below, for instance, would belong to questions that ask students to remember factual information from a text; questions in the yellow boxes demand that students analyse the information, draw their own conclusions, or use their prior knowledge; the green boxes invite students to apply the information from the text to new situations and make predictions; and the brown ones, the most demanding, get them to compare and contrast, classify, express an opinion or create something new based on the information provided.

Question chart 2

For teachers, a question chart like this can help us to make sure we are asking all types of questions, but starting at B1/B1+ levels students can also use it to generate their own questions when working on reading and listening comprehension, or to plan an oral discussion in class by writing a variety of questions related to the topic beforehand or as the speaking task progresses. We would, of course, be selecting just a few combinations out of the ones available. Once it has been modelled by the teacher and the differences between the questions have been pointed out and practised, students can simply be asked to write at least one question for each area in the grid.

One way to make students aware of the differences between the questions in terms of difficulty is to use a point system and gamify the activity at the same time. The students writing the questions , and even the students answering them, would get those points if they get them right (although we really want them to write all sorts of questions and so certain rules need to be established if we don’t want them to be writing the same types of questions just to get the most points!):

Question chart 3

What I really like about charts like this, however, is that it is the students themselves that get to generate the questions, demonstrating comprehension of the written or oral text as they write them, interacting with the text at different levels, or planning a speaking task with all sorts of questions to make it the most engaging. Not only does this improve their comprehension skills and proficiency in English but it develops learner autonomy and it helps to boost their critical thinking skills.

Question Chart.pdf

Where I’m From

Based on “Where I’m From” (1993) by George Ella Lyon, this activity takes students through a journey of self-reflection by identifying memories and traditions that have marked their lives as they work on comprehension skills and vocabulary. The students first read the poem and match the underlined words with the pictures. Apart from clarifying or providing the meaning of new words, this first approach will allow them to get a general idea of what the poem is about. An mp3 audio file with the author reading the poem is available here.

Where I'm From 1WhereI’mFrom.pdf

The students then delve into the text by completing the table with one example from the poem for each of the categories: a family name, the place of birth, something learnt as a child, and so on. Under the second column, the students write examples about themselves for each category with a two-fold purpose: demonstrate comprehension of the text by making connections with their own world, and brainstorm ideas for the writing task to follow.

Where I'm From 2

Following the prompts provided, most of which they should be familiar with by now, the students fill in the blanks to write their own versions of the poem.

Where I'm From 3

WhereI’mFrom-Worksheet.pdf

This task can be a fantastic ice-breaker or team-building activity at the beginning of the year once the students edit their poems and are ready to share them. Creating short videos or recording the poems (and use them later for work on pronunciation) are two other ways in which students can share their poems: