Punctuation matters

Effective punctuation is sometimes a problem even at the secondary education level, but instead of working on the typical text with no marks, why not do it the other way round and expose students to the very meaning of punctuation itself?

1. Elicit the most common types of punctuation marks, their uses and a few examples. Write them down.

 
2. Display the text with punctuation marks and no words (click below for a pdf copy): “How many paragraphs does the text have?”, “What type of text do you think it is?”, “Why?”, “How many sentences does the first paragraph have?”, “What type of sentences?”, “What type of information should we expect?”, “What type of questions are included in the first paragraph?”, etc. Continue with the rest of the paragraphs, “reading” the type of information actually conveyed by the punctuation marks themselves (enumeration, clarification, surprise, excitement, addition, interest, and so on.)


3. Brainstorm what the text might be about. (I was indeed surprised by the amount of plausible ideas the students came up with!)


4. Have students write their own texts in pairs, interview with you, and edit them.


5. Because students will be so familiar with the structure and possible meanings at this point, sharing the stories will be the most meaningful and an excellent listening activity in itself.

Punctuation matters.pdf

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Communication strategies

I always start the school year introducing or revising communication strategies that students can use to overcome the problems they may face in communicating a message:

Communication strategies are potentially conscious plans for solving what to an individual presents itself as a problem in reaching a particular communicative goal.
— Færch & Kasper (1983)

Asking for help, explaining the word or idea and using similar words are just a few of the strategies the students can identify, and putting them into practice is what the following activitiy is all about:

1. Tell the students they have five minutes to finish the picture (see below). They should not be able to see each other’s pictures or write their names.

2. Collect the pictures, shuffle them, and show one of them to the rest of the class.

3. Explain that they are going to take turns describing each picture which may allow for multiple interpretations and for which we may lack vocabulary. Compare it with everyday communication and the problems we usually face both as native and non-native speakers. Emphasise that if students give up or use their first language, they are missing an important opportunity to acquire new language.

4. Elicit paraphrasing structures: “It’s a kind/type of…”, “It’s like…”, “It’s used for…”, “It looks….”, “It seems…”, “It’s the shape of…”, “It’s made of…”, “It’s the size of…”, “It’s similar to…”, and so on.

5. Students take turns describing the pictures orally. Notice that some pictures will be abstract or contain elements for which we lack vocabulary in any language.

6. Reshuffle the pictures, give a few to each team, and have them create a story based on them.

 

Communication by DailyPic, on Flickr

Communication” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by  DailyPic 

Habits and routines: a flip book.

By having students draw a hint next to each day of the week, this weekly routine flip book can effectively become the basis for a speaking activity in which students make guesses about their classmates’ routines and then check them by reading the sentences inside. A good way to practise the present simple in the affirmative, negative and interrogative, adverbs of frequency and everyday life actions.

1. The students make their own flip book first:

2. For each day of the week, the students write two or three sentences using adverbs of frequency or time expressions. A few of them could be false. On each flap they also draw a picture that represents each of the actions.
3. In pairs or teams, the students take turns guessing other classmates’ routines by looking at the pictures and then checking their answers inside. They may also be encouraged to ask a few questions to get more specific information (“How often…?”, “Where do you usually…?”, “What time do you…?”, and so on), which will help them find the routines that are not true.

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Daily routines: writing a report

F

The Burning House

Today, developed countries are consuming more than ever before. This culture of consumption is often fueled by people’s desire to define themselves by the possessions they amass. The Burning House: What Would You Take? takes a different approach to personal definition. By removing easily replaceable objects and instead focusing on things unique to them, people are able to capture their personalities in a photograph.

— Foster Huntington

I read about this collaborative online project just a few months ago and knew it would make an engaging class activity. Students practise speaking and listening skills while focusing on language used to talk about hypotheses (If my house were on fire, I would…; I could/might…; I wish…; Suppose…; in case…) and develop a wide array of vocabulary related to personal belongings and personality traits. What’s more, this conflict between rationality (what is pratical) and intuition (unveiling our most sentimental side) will reflect the students’ interests and priorities and help to build a positive classroom atmosphere that is conducive to learning.

BEFORE THE LESSON

1. Have the students take a picture of ten objects they would take if their house were on fire. You may want to have them e-mail it to you so that you can have the photos ready for the lesson.

2. At home, the students prepare a short oral presentation explaining their choices:


What would you take if your house were on fire? Choose 10 things, put them together, and take a photo. Get ready to explain your picture to the rest of the class:

  • Can you name all the objects you have chosen in English?
  • Why would you take these objects? Make sure you can provide a brief explanation for each of them.


IN CLASS

3. Display each picture and have the group guess who it belongs to. The students then take turns explaining their choices. A lot of new vocabulary will be generated at this point, with each presenter introducing the new words in a natural and meaningful way. Allow for questions at the end of each presentation.

4. Visit the original online project: http://theburninghouse.com/ The students choose one of the pictures and write a paragraph about what they think this person may be like. You may want to brainstorm and/or introduce common adjectives used to describe personality first. Have the students share their work and predictions, and compare each other’s opinions.

5. Discuss: “How much can we tell about a person by looking at these objects?”

About

Welcome to On the Same Page!

I’ve been a state secondary school teacher of English in Madrid (Spain) for the past 13 years after spending 5 in the U.S. working as a bilingual teacher. The relatively new implementation of Madrid’s official bilingual programme where literature is an important part of the instructional process, the subsequent higher levels of English among students, and especially a new attitude towards language learning, are just a few of the main areas that are  keeping me busy.

The purpose of this blog is to share ideas with other teachers of English out there who are, incidentally, a constant source of inspiration. A small modest contribution, yet honest and full of enthusiasm.

Miguel Míguez


onthesamepage.elt@gmail.com