Stevick compares a conversation in an EFL lesson to building a fire in a stove. Not something we’re so familiar with anymore – but it’s clear that the fuel should be there, and a bit of kindling (the language and the structure of the activity), and of course enough air for the fire to burn (the initiative). Of the types of role plays he lists, some provide much less air but a lot more support, and the others are all about student initiative: which is the way it should be because we pick and choose depending on the situation. I’ve sorted them according to the level of support:
- You say and then she says: scripted dialogues where the learners only have to rephrase what the book says. Useful for scaffolding and just as good for conversation as freer prompts sometimes!
- Cross purposes: each participant has a set of instructions that contradict each other and one of them has to persuade the other to win. Who doesn’t like information gaps!
- What if! The learners borrow characters that they already know: from books or films, or among mutual acquaintances. An interesting take on conversation, where the contents are scaffolded enough to provide some entertainment and focus on the language.
- Me Tarzan, you Jane: the participants only know the names or functions of their characters (shop assistant and buyer) and have to come up with a dialogue of their own. Could be useful when the group is very creative, otherwise may deteriorate into a very formulaic interaction.
- Simulations: role-plays with background materials which require preparation and follow-up and can take several hours.
So, at which side of the spectrum are you at the moment? Or do you move from one side to the other?
Stevick insists that oral communication should have the language and the reason to talk, otherwise it’s just an aeroplane without fuel (or with one wing). Discussing poems is not the first of the techniques he recommends, it’s one of the ‘other ways to oral activity’ – and yet it’s an intrinsically interesting and authentic way to encourage learners to speak. Students can discuss what happened in the poem, think about their own reaction, try to understand the writer in terms of language and ideas… It’s a nice reminder of how valuable those simple things are – and the benefit is that the students are really invested in the discussion.
My favourite teaching poem is, alas, not very romantic or mysterious. I use it to practise ‘th’ and ‘s’: I can think of six thin things… Well, you know how it goes 🙂 Anyone cares to share theirs?
If you’re feeling a bit under the February weather, here’s a great collection of activities to start your lesson on a high. You can choose anything from a viral Instagram photo to a ‘write-around’ activity, depending on how serious you want to be and whether you want to create a ‘hook‘ for further learning. The only technique on Terry Heick’s list that I would be wary about using is meditation – I’m definitely not an expert, and I’m not sure it has a place in every classroom!
Here is a great selection of materials from Microsoft (in fact, it is a small online course in its own right) about an interesting feature they added to Skype to help education. You can find other teachers around the world and connect your classrooms so that the learners can play a guessing game (guess where in the world they are, or play ‘Mystery animal’ or something similar if the location is too obvious). There are a lot of useful materials and tips: for example, you can download a pdf with students’ roles. Even better, there is a template for the teacher’s professional development bingo – I’m definitely going to use this one!
I think this feature is just asking to be used in ELT: let me know if you decide to experiment!
Here is a nice fresh activity from Teresa Bestwick to celebrate the winter mood: write topics on sheets of paper, have a snowball fight with them, keep one snowball each and write questions to interview your partner based on the topics. What makes this speaking activity different? The physical silliness of course – a perfect stirrer for a tired or fidgety group. Check the original post for a full description, or have a look at another of my favourites by this author: Scissor quizzes.
I’ve stumbled upon these sets of conversation starters: why not use them for ELT, not just for building a community in the classroom or small talk? There are New Year prompts on paper slips (great for looking back on your year and making New Year resolutions), gratitude prompts (not only for Thanksgiving) and even integrity printables (these are nice as an idea but probably need a bit more fleshing out with examples). All in all, a great free resource, and the possibilities are almost endless.
Or would you say that tasks like this are a waste of time? 😉
If you ever feel like you don’t want to spend another minute in front of the classroom at the whiteboard, this post from Daniel Martin might be of help. It’s also good for developing speaking, writing (and spelling!) skills and learner autonomy, assists vocabulary revision and retention, creates an enjoyable challenge and brings variety. In fact, if you don’t have mini whiteboards, something could be fashioned out of paper, though the activity does involve wiping. Perhaps tablets? Anyway, the activity is interesting, and there are a few links to other whiteboard ideas at the end of the post – a nice candidate for morning bookmarking!
Update: And here’s another post in the series by Daniel: how to use mini whiteboards for collective answers in scattergory-like games.