Class Activities: Spot the Difference

“OK guys, we’re going to describe this picture…” you say to your eager students. Silence is their response. We’ve all experienced the silent response and will continue to experience it for as long as we teach a foreign language. But what are some ways to alleviate it? One activity that I’ve been trying of late with both younger learners and adult learners utilises spot the difference pictures. Most people love a good puzzle, so to give them something they may enjoy in their L1 and transfer it to something that makes use of the language patterns they are currently learning can give some light-hearted relief and much-needed spontaneous speaking practice. How to use the spot the difference pictures? Well, your imagination is your limit as with any teaching scenario. I’ve used them to cover: prepositions of place descriptions with progressive continuous descriptions of people (appearance) descriptions of the scene differences in thoughts and emotions (via body language and facial expressions) As for how to use them? Well, again… imagination is the key. I’ve used them in pair work, group work and whole class work, and have also made a team game out of them. The game being that the students work in teams to communicate with one another and write down the differences as quickly as possible. This is most effective with the younger learners since they like the competitive side of things, but I’m sure it can be adapted to suit all ages. I’m sure there are other ideas of what they can cover as well… and I’d love to hear about...

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Class Activities: Audio Diary

What’s a common homework assignment or part of the so-called on-going assessment? Getting your students to write a diary is a pretty safe bet. We’ve all requested it and most students will deliver. The diary is used as a reflection of general speech and trying to get the student to find their own voice in their L2. But at the end of the day, no matter how much of their voice we can help them find, they don’t always progress when it comes to speaking. Be it confidence or perhaps even the physicality of actually speaking the L2, there are often obstacles. One possible way to alleviate these obstacles are to change tact a little bit. Where many of us teach (Korea, Japan, China…), the students are rather tech savvy little creatures… perhaps more so than the old-fashioned teacher gripping his chalk. It probably goes without saying that the majority of them will have an iPod, mobile phone or access to a computer. Any of these have recording capabilities – yes, even the iPod if you get a measly $2 microphone attachment available from all good electronic outlets based in places like Hong Kong. And for recording on a computer there’s always Audacity… Anyway, it’s these recording capabilities that we need to tap into. Out students want to speak, they have trouble speaking. We assign them writing, they still have trouble speaking. So here’s a pretty radical idea… let’s assign them speaking! Give our students a speaking assignment. It’s pretty simple. They keep an audio diary and can just email it to us before class (I record 45 minute presentations at 32kbs; they are perfectly audible and only weigh in at around 8mb… so a 3-5 minute diary is going to be sub 1mb). Or if it’s a weekly assignment, have them bring them on CD or even have them upload to a free web space. As for corrections, you can either provide written feedback or take the alternate route and give the students audio feedback to assist their listening skills. The ideas today are to focus on verbal communication, so I like the audio feedback route with perhaps a few key notes in the written form if they’re needed. In the beginning, students are likely to forget these assignments but with time and enouragement should become more comfortable. One possible way of clearing the first hurdle is to take the iniative and send a recording to each student via email to get the ball rolling. Once the students get over their initial reservations about this form of assignment, they should open up a little and take some risks… and hopefully they will be able to see the benefits...

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Class Activities: Dictation with Speaking

Here’s an activity that incorporates three skills in one: listening, writing and speaking… with some reading thrown in if you twist it a little bit. The steps are pretty simple, it’s simple to incorporate and easy to control. use a recording of a conversation with the question parts removed… so basically you are playing one side of a conversation. students do a typical dictation exercise for the parts that are played. as a class you can correct the dictation so everyone has the right answers (or give the students the script to read so they can cross-check). work as a class to verify meanings. now the students create questions through speaking to suit the answers (or answers to suit questions if you’re doing the activity that way)… basically, they just complete the conversation. verify the completed conversation on the board so students can get the more suitable questions for the answers (or if having students answer questions, you can have them write on the board some of the possible solutions). As a final activity, play the complete conversation and have students practice speaking with or after the dialogue. Then working with the complete script so they can read and speak simultaneously. The final part of this activity exposes the students to shadowing, which is likely to be something they haven’t encountered all that much. But if given this activity they may come to see the benefits on their own rather than just listening to their teacher mindlessly preaching about the...

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