Posts Tagged ‘materials light’

Abstract This workshop takes a fun look at accents and a serious look at speaking skills. How do actors find the ‘key’ to a new accent? How far does speaking another language involve playing a role? And can’t pronunciation be just a bit more fun? We’ll explore these questions, experiment with classroom activities – and learn how to impersonate the Queen.

Learning a language is learning to speak a language and speaking a language is a physical thing. If there’s anxiety, you get frozen – and learners start speak with frozen expressions. Let’s get learners to ‘let it go’ – get them to play with pronunciation – for this workshop, with the title!

Say the title of the the workshop

  • as if it were the most serious and intelligent thing you’ve ever heard // in pairs –
    Comment: You might want to struck your chin there. Your own chin! 
  • you’re at a party. Imagine that you’re telling to someone at this party what the title of the talk is.
    Comment: This time I want to hear some noise!
  • in the strongest L1 accent you can think of
    Comment: Helps students to think about identity and what they bring into the classroom. 
  • a nice exercise for a multinational classroom: You’re at a bus stop. Buses are late. It’s starting to rain. Speak in your L1 – how would people in your L1 behave? What would be the body language?
    There were some people looking at their watches; some people were tapping on their watches; some groups cursing, animated Maltese with a fight breaking out and an English person doing very little indeed. Luke Meddings thinks that English is a ‘hands in a pocket’ language and a rain face. Play with this stuff in class and exaggerate. Get students to be even a bit more hunched when they take on the English identity. 

How do actors get into the skin of famous people? 

Try to impersonate the queen! Physical tricks: teeth (impersonating the queen, keep your teeth together). What can she actually say? What would be the register?
Try to impersonate the Beatless! (You’ll need chewing gum for John Lennon.

Tip: check youtube for recordings of actors impersonating people.

One-sentence summary: Get to play with language, try things out, relish language – this is not about the result, this is about the process.


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Jason gave a lively interactive session full of practical ideas for using lying activities in classroom. 

Handout and more resources are available from Jason’s site. Many of the activities come from the book Speaking Games (Delta Publishing).

Abstract: Deception is a universally recognised form of creativity, a higher order thinking skill and also a very good way to get learners talking in class. It lends itself very nicely to game-type formats involving authentic language use. In this workshop we will try out activities from my new publication Speaking Games, and examine the features of effective deception-based speaking activities.

Outline of the session: 

  • lots of lying activities!
  • some thoughts why using lying activities is good for language learning

Ice-breaker: question taboo

Instructions: A mingling activity. Everyone has a card with a question and a taboo word. S/s mingle trying to answer questions without saying the taboo words.

  • Can be adapted to topic-specific language.
  • Get learners to think of their own taboo words.
  • Introduce scores for taboo-free replies

Lying activities 

  • Alibi (two learners get together and concoct an alibi; then they get interviewed separately).
  • Two truths and a lie: s/s come up with 2 true and one false fact about themselves. Their partner listens and asks 1-2 questions about each fact, and then guesses which one is a lie.
  • Teacher anecdotes. Tell the students two stories: one true and one a lie. This encourages the students to pay attention to your body language, intonation and other non-verbal cues. 
  • Kangaroo court (adapted):
    play in groups of 3-4
    one was caught red-handed commiting an unsusual crime, and must attemt to justify their actions
    interrocation follows
    the group decides a sentence: a fine of $100 / four weeks community / two months’ imprisonment / committed to a mental asylum.

From TV & radio

Recordings are available on the internet – and all these activities are adaptable to the learning classroom.

  • Would I lie to you? Participants read out statements about themselves from a card. The statement might be true or false about them. Their partner interviews them and tries to guess if they’re true.
  • Call my bluff Participants are given high level vocabulary / idioms and write three definitions for each one (one true and two ‘distractors’). This is followed by a guessing game.
  • The unbelievable truth – a radio panel show. A participant tells a story which is completely a lie but for 3 facts. Other participants have to work out the three truths.
  • Truth or lie (adapted). Provide cards/board games with topics, e.g ‘your favourite subject at school’ / ‘your first childhood memory’/…. One person flips a coin (heads = tell the truth, tails = tell a lie) and speaks. The other asks questions and guesses. The coin adds an element of fun!

Secrets’ games 

  • Taboo game (s/s explain vocabulary to each other w/o saying specified words. E.g. explain ‘city’ without saying ‘town’, ‘live’, ‘village’).
  • Secret sentences. For any discussion activity, give each student a secret sentence that they have to smuggle into the discussion. At the end participants guess.
  • Party secrets. A role play where each person has a funny idiosyncrasy.


  • Get students into groups according to their opinion. Then make each group defend an opinion that’s different from theirs.

Focusing on on-verbal clues.

People often face situations in which they have to lie in order to allow others to save face (e.g. when you’re asked a ‘difficult’ question that can’t be answered directly without causing offence). The success often hinges on the way you deliver the message: your intonation and body language are no less important than the words you choose. How to focus on that?

Here are the most common white lies in English.  Say these to your partner.  Analyze each other’s body language, intonation, etc.

1. ‘No, it looks really nice,’
2. ‘You haven’t changed a bit!’
3. Yes, it’s exactly what I wanted.
4. I can’t, I’m afraid, I’m busy that evening.
5. Can I be honest with you…

Why lie? 

  • Imagination. One of Jason Anderson’s famous quotes is this quote from Guy Cook:
    In might be that, both ontogenetically and phylogenetically, the first function of language is the creation of imaginative worlds: whether lies, games, fictions or fantasies.
  • Creativity. Bloom taxonomy:
    Lying is a higher order thinking skill, so these activities develop higher order thinking skills
  • An opportunity to practise the interactional functions (Brown & Yule, 1983)
  • Encourage the s/s to totally focus on their partner – watching out for body language clues, intonation, etc.

An very useful, practical session! Lots of ideas to try out! Also, it was great to hear some suggestions how to encourage students to focus on non-verbal clues. In my experience, this is a great challenge: my students often tend to assume that the ‘wording’ of the message carries 100% of the meaning – or that L1 strategies are perfectly applicable for communication in L2. As a result, they are very sceptical of activities focusing on body language and e.g. pitch (Russian is a lot less varied in terms of pitch, so students assume that varying the pitch in English is unnecessary – they also feel uncomfortable playing with pitch). So it’s great to have some ideas for language activities that give body language and intonation greater prominence. Also great to know that there are so many recording of ‘lying’ shows on youtube – I hope they can also be analyzed for non-verbals. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

Update. Thanks for visiting my blog! I was very happy to learn that this post was shortlisted for Teaching English – British Council blog award. If you decide to vote for it, let them know by ‘liking’ the post on their Facebook page:


Last Friday we met together with a group of colleagues at EPAM Systems to share some of the ice-breakers, warmers and games that we use. Here are some of the warmers that we came up with. We teach in company, so many of the activities have a Business English flavour, but the great thing about these warmers is that they can be easily adapted to any topic, no matter whether you teach Business or General English.

Start with a picture

  • Display a picture and get the students to guess the topic
  • Do the same but reveal the picture gradually using
  • Find a clipart shape connected to the topic (Google topic + clipart). Here’s a sample for ‘Presenting’:
    Once the students have looked at the picture and guessed the topic, elicit a few associations they have with the topic (this could be words, events from their personal lives). Ideally, share your own non-obvious association and get the students to ask you a bit about it (mine is ‘Germans’, because my first ever important presentation was at a Russian-German student conference). After that, distribute A4 copies of the clipart shape for each student and allow 2-3 minutes for the students to free-write their associations inside the shape. After that, allow another 3-4 minutes for the students to share their associations in small groups to compare, ask about surprising ones, and chat about them. 
  • A great warmer suggested by my colleague Olga Lifshits was to google comic strips on the topic of the lesson, distribute them and get the students to guess the topic.
  • If you teach a monolingual group, yet another idea for comic strips is to look for their translation into your students’ L1 and get the students to translate the comic strip back into English, comparing with the original.
  • Yet another alternative is to display a few memes to get the students to discuss the topic – see this post for a summary of a talk by Anastasiya Fetisova on using memes in ELT.
    YYRQKTip: have some discussion prompts based on the images ready!
  • In this activity by Katherine Bilsborough, the teacher displays a picture and provides ten answers about it. The students write their questions in pairs. Again, this activity can be easily adapted to any topic.  Here’s a business-related example, e.g. for work-life balance:The_Hoya_office1. A report.
    2. By Monday at the latest.
    3. With her colleague Kate.
    4. Because she’s tired.
    5. Not really.
    6. Yes.
    7. Saturday
    8. Since 8 a.m.

Start with a sound

  • Have you ever led into the topic of a lesson with a sound? Here’s an idea: google ‘free sound effects’ and choose a sound related to the topic (e.g. the sounds of nature for ‘travel’). Play the sound for a minute and get the students to imagine where they are / jot down their associations / or guide them by ask them questions, e.g. ‘where is this? who do you imagine there? would you like to be in that place?’, etc – then get them to share in pairs.
    This is a sound file I found for travel: Maybe I haven’t been on holiday a bit too long, but I really enjoyed listening to that audio and it really jogged my imagination.

Start with a prop

  • For ‘plans’ take out a few things you’ve got in your bag / share a ‘todo list’ written in shorthand and get the students to guess what you’re planning to do.

Play a guessing game

This warmer is my personal favourite.

  • On slips of paper write some words connected to the topic. Get the s/s to explain their words (either working in pairs or in a mingling activity). Elicit the topic.
    For instance, for ‘Decision making’, you could use disagree / discussion / problem / options / argument.

Start with a word cloud

Google an article connected with your topic. Copy the text and insert it into a word cloud maker. Display the text, for the learners to guess the topic and then to race to find as many words as possible connected to the topic in 60 seconds.



  • This is an activity from Five minute activities by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright. Tell the group the topic and get them to brainstorm five or six phrases connected to the topic. After them get them to choose the odd one out and justify why it doesn’t fit. Erase it from the board and repeat until there is only one word.
  • Write cards with concepts/events connected with the topic (e.g., for ‘Business travel’, you could have  things to pack / things that might go wrong / benefits of business travel over teleconferencing /  places / etc). S/s work in pairs: each turn one student draws a slip with the topic and rolls a dice to find out how many expressions connected with the topic they have to come up with. If you don’t have dice, get the students to roll online dice using their mobile phones.
  • Get the group to brainstorm input/contexts to be used later in the lesson for language work.
    Example 1: A pre-intermediate group studying ‘will’ for spontaneous reactions in the context of travel. At the beginning of the lesson I got them to brainstorm places where they can find themselves while on a business trip.
    Business travel
    Halfway through the lesson the students used the spidergram to play a game: one student in each pair (‘the boss’) picked a location from the list, imagined they were having a problem there and complained about it to the second student (‘an assistant’); the second student replied with ‘Don’t worry, I’ll + solution’.
    Example 2: An upper-intermediate group studying conjunctions (provided, unless, etc).  For a warmer, they brainstormed hopes and worries that a recent graduate starting out in their company might have (e.g. ‘I hope I’ll receive support from more experienced colleagues’ or ‘I hope to earn a lot of money fast.’) At some point in the lesson the students returned to the list, responding to the worries using conditional sentences (e.g. ‘Yeah, your colleagues will help you a lot, provided you bring them cookies!‘ or ‘That’s unlikely to happen unless you climb the career ladder very quickly.’)

Start with a quote 

This one is a classic: google an interesting quote related to the topic of the lesson and get the students to discuss it. Some tweaks could be to:

  • Get the students to complete the quote individually or in pairs (e.g. for Teamwork,  When you form a team, why do you try to form a team? Because _______ ; Teamwork is so important that it is virtually impossible for you to ________________). Board the students’ suggestions and get them to discuss them in pairs/groups.
  • Find more than one quote, get the students to match beginnings with endings, then discuss which quotes they agree with / choose one quote they disagree with and try and persuade someone else that it’s wrong / randomly assign a quote to agree/disagree with to each pair and get them to brainstorm arguments and life examples in favour/against.
    “ I love teamwork. It is about bringing out the ambitions of your team.”
    “If two men on the same job agree all the time, then one is useless. I love the idea of everyone rallying together to help me win.”
    “Leadership is not about your ambition. If they disagree all the time, both are useless.”

    As for the source of quotes, I personally quite like


  • Another colleague suggested getting the students to write down 2-3 positive things going on in their life (or 2-3 positive things in their life connected to the topic) and 2-3 negative things. Get them to share in pairs / exchange tips. Works especially well as a lead-in to Problem solving.
  • If the topic is connected so some kind of event, e.g. ‘presenting’ or ‘job interviews’, ask the students to fill the gap in the sentence ‘[Presenting] could be  ____________’ (e.g. time-consuming / important for your career / stressful / a waste of time / a really nice experience / rewarding / …). After that, get the students to share in small groups which of the kinds of experiences with [presenting] listed on the board they’ve had,- encourage them to ask follow-up questions, go into detail and chat! Alternatively, play a guessing game: a student might describe an experience without saying which type of experience he/she is talking about.

Get the students to talk

  • Print out discussion questions on A4 sheets and put them on the floor. Tell the learners that the sheets are ‘islands’. Put on some music: while the music is playing, the learners simply walk around, ‘swimming’, and as soon as it stops, they stop next to the nearest discussion question, and discuss it with other learners who landed on the same ‘island’.
  • Another activity suggested during the workshop was to display 2-3 questions related to the topic, pair the students up and get one person in each pair to talk about the questions and the other one listen without commenting or taking notes. After that the person who was listening says ‘So you said…‘ and summarizes / retells what the first person said.
  • One more option is to group the students in groups of 3-4 and get them to ask ‘Have you ever…‘ questions related to the topic of the lesson. The twist is that they are only allowed to answer ‘yes’ (alternatively, they might only be allowed to answer with a lie). They have to provide a justification for their answer. E.g. on the topic of meetings, the students might ask ‘Have you ever fallen asleep in a meeting?’ and the person answering the question would have to say ‘yes’ and explain why this happened.
  • Another great warmer is ‘Fortunately/Unfortunately‘. Start the class with a sentence, e.g. ‘I was on my way to a meeting with a new customer but unfortunately..’ The students in the group take turns to add one more sentence to the story, each time starting with ‘fortunately’ or ‘unfortunately’.
  • True/False. This is probably something that every teacher has used at some point: get the students to write 3 facts about themselves connected with the topic. Some of these facts should be true and some should be false. Other students in the group need to guess which ones are false by asking follow-up questions.

Start with an improvisation

Since writing this post, I’ve discovered this great workshop on integrating improvisational theatre activities in the business classroom by Christina Rebuffet-Broadus. Some great short, creative, highly adaptable warmers there – please don’t get put off by the ‘improvisational theatre’ bit – I think they’re great for students who ‘would never do theatre’.


Make it S.M.A.R.T

  • If you teach using a coursebook / printed materials, why not let the students look through the material at the beginning of a unit/module and get them to set goals for themselves for the next two or three weeks and share those goals with their group mates? You could support them by providing them with some questions e.g.:
    What do you already know about vocabulary / grammar /skills topics in this module? Do you find these topics easy or difficult? What would you like  to learn?
    What personal experiences related to these topics have you got?
    In what situations might you use the material from this unit in the future?
    What would you consider to be a good outcome by the end of this module?
    How and how much are you planning to work outside class?

Acknowledgement. A big thank you goes to my colleagues at EPAM Systems: to Anna Zernova, who suggested the ‘positive/negative’ warmer, Olga Lifshits, who shared ‘So you said’ and the idea to use comic strips, Evgenia Antonova and Anastasiya Chernetskaya who remembered variations of the ‘Truth or Lie’ game, Iryna
Piatrouskaya who demonstrated the ‘Discussion island’ warmer in her workshop, and Adam Howell for sharing ‘Fortunately/Unfortunately.’

We want more! 🙂
Have you used any other flexible warmers that could be easily adapted to a range of topics? Please share!

Another one in a series of fluency-related posts – more links here: contents.

One of the most widely known classroom activities that target fluency is Paul Nation’s 4-3-2 technique: students tell the same story (or do the same task) under progressively stricter time constraints. The idea is that students are pushed to perform faster and are forced to restructure the ‘routines’ they use, and so the ‘formulation’ phase of speech production speeds up.

With my B1-C2 level students I use a slightly more complex procedure. Students find interesting articles online in order to share them in class, but instead of just reading and retelling them them to their classmates using more or less what linguistic resources they currently have, they actively mine text for collocations. This tweak to the activity seems to tie in nicely with a lot of insight into fluency described in the previous post. A variation of this technique which I think really does help to teach functional language at lower levels/to students preparing for exams such as IELTS is described here.

The full version involves some homework on the part of the students and takes around 80/90 minutes of classroom time, although there are some shorter alternatives that do not require homework.

Homework stage:

  • Students choose an article on the internet
  • They mine the text for sets of related expressions (big thanks for this technique to Mark Rooney and Ewan Dinwiddie, in whose Delta Module 2 lessons I first saw it) and organize these expressions into a mindmap. For example, in this online article on education, one predictably finds lots of expressions connected to studying (e.g. ‘grant you a college degree’, ‘take a year-long course’ and ‘broaden your knowledge’) and the internet (e.g. ‘without ever leaving your computer’, ‘bring free education to the masses via the internet’ and ‘available under open licences’), but on closer look lots of other related sets emerge, e.g. ‘quality’ (‘top-notch education’, ‘featured courses’, ‘which few you might want to steer clear of’), ‘quantity (‘it can get quite overwhelming’, ‘over 22 universities in the US alone’, ‘courses on tons of subjects’) and so on.

Classroom stage:

  • Students attempt to recreate their mindmap from memory (~10 minutes) and then look through their original mindmap and, ideally, through the text to see what’s missing (~5 minutes) – they won’t remember more than 30-40% at this stage, but this ‘test’ stage primes them to benefit more fully from revising the map
  • Students practice pronouncing expressions from their mindmaps as fast and fluently as they possibly can (this can be tied in with work on connected speech, e.g. they could be asked to look for instances of linking/weak forms and practice pronouncing those)/resolve any queries regarding pronunciation with the teacher’s help (3-5 mins); I also share this resource that automatically transcribes lists of expressions, so that students can check pronunciation at home
  • In pairs, they retell their article to a partner trying to use the expressions from their mindmaps – there’s always some discussion going on, but this is primarily a monologue (6.5 minutes/each monologue for average-length articles)
  • They look at their mindmaps to see what they forgot to mention/what expressions they didn’t use and why (5 minutes)
  • In new pairs, they retell their article (5.5 minutes/monologue)
  • Having briefly looked at their mindmaps again, in new pairs they retell their articles in 4.5 minutes

For this activity students are normally seated in two circles facing each other (so at each stage those sitting in the inner circle move to the next partner). By the end of the activity those students who sit in the same circle haven’t heard each other’s stories, so they can pair up with someone from the other circle and share what they’ve heard/what they liked the most or found the most surprising (this normally takes another 10 minutes or so).

Here are a few mindmaps produced by my students. What I’ve been noticing is that over time students start producing much better quality maps in terms of expressions they notice.





In my experience, for the activity to be a success, the following factors/steps are quite essential:

  • [a shorter version] start with shorter texts or integrate this with jigsaw reading (lists of places to go to/things to do/films to see etc lend themselves to this, e.g. in a recent class, my B1 students read one tip each from 10 Things to Do in New York City, shared these tips mindmapping between changing the partners and in the end decided which of those they’d like to do the most).
  • [introducing the activity: a lesson plan] try the whole procedure out in class, training the students in sub-steps: first introduce the idea that texts contain sets of related expressions and give them practice in identifying these; then give them practice creating mindmaps; then run the whole activity (mining the text for expressions + minmapping + recreating the mindmap + retelling the text) on the same text together – I’ve used coursebooks texts and also the first two paragraphs in this text, which was more than enough material for a ninety-minute class of B2 students.
    I usually try to first draw the group’s attention to the fact that they don’t remember the expressions from the text; to do that, I ask them to close the text and shout out words and expressions that were there; I board their suggestions and then I ask them what sets of related expressions they see – this helps to introduce the idea of lexical sets and a mind mapping; I draw the draft mindmap and ask students to copy it and to complete it with more expressions from the text. Here’s the draft mindmap we created for the text on education linked to in the previous paragraph:
    After that, the students finished their mindmaps – an average one looked something like that:
    online courses final
    Having done that, they recreated them and retold the text to each other, I then split them into groups: these groups read different paragraphs from the text, repeated the cycle of mining for vocabulary/mindmapping/recreating the mindmap etc helping each other, and then they retold these paragraphs to people from another group
  • [collocations – NOT unknown vocabulary] This activity works great with collocations, but only as long as they don’t contain completely unknown words. If they do, I’d suggest using the keyword technique to learn them first.
  • [safety net] I haven’t needed this yet because my students normally do find and read the articles, but probably it’s a good idea to keep a few interesting print-outs to hand. In that case students who come unprepared can read an article to share while those who did prepare are reproducing their maps; I also ask my students to share the links to the articles they’ve found, as well as photos oftheir maps, in a dedicated thread on a class blog – so I know whether they’ve prepared or not
  • [making the activity methodologically meaningful for students] It’s important to let the student know the rationale behind the activity and explain that they need to speak faster and faster – otherwise they will just skip some parts
  • model the activity: tell the students a story based on an article, encourage them to ask questions/interact with me/clarify unknown vocabulary; share sources (e.g.,, for longer articles and lifehacker.com and for shorter/more fun articles and lists)
  • [personal experience] it was very important for me to try out the entire activity on my own first, so that I knew of the likely difficulties and was able to reassure those students who thought it was impossible to recreate the maps; it is impossible to remember more than 30-40% on the first try, but after a couple of retellings it becomes pretty easy. What I did was pretty extreme, as I tried the activity with a 3-page article from New Yorker on a ramble through the city, and although there was no real plot in the article and although there were over 60 collocations on my map, third time I tried I could retell it using a significant proportion of collocations
  • [catering for tastes] some students don’t like mind-mapping – it’s ok to be flexible, as expressions can be organized into short lists, for instance
  • [revision] encourage the students to revise their mindmaps for a few days and store them safely/upload them to a group blog

Some of the articles my students have brought to class (might be useful to get the process started):
3D printers get cheaper, faster – and more mainstream

Apple iPod creator launches intelligent smoke alarm

Dark energy A problem of cosmic proportions

‘My iPad has Netflix, Spotify, Twitter – everything’: why tablets are killing PCs

Why Do Our Best Ideas Come to Us in the Shower?

Brain-to-brain communication is not a conversation killer

Shodan: The scariest search engine on the Internet

Male brain versus female brain: How do they differ?

A few words on why I think this activity makes sense in view of fluency research

In my previous post I wrote a lengthy overview of what factors are known to influence fluency and how these are mapped to the stages an utterance undergoes before being said. To sum it up  very briefly, one needs to

  • conceptualize/macro-plan: come up with what to say and how to structure it
  • formulate: micro-plan the utterance, retrieve vocabulary in chunks (as opposed to individual words), automatize grammatical processing
  • pronounce chunks fluently
  • monitor after saying the utterance

A regular 4-3-2 activity supplemented with mind-mapping

  • promotes out-of-class reading and gives the students practice in discussing some general interest stories, which might conceivably help with coming up what to say
  • encourages students to notice vocabulary in texts, write it down, and test themselves,  and provides students with a cognitively engaging exercise of identifying lexical sets present in the text (I personally don’t feel bored after a whole hour of doing that), all of which improves retention; promotes learning vocabulary in chunks, which leads to fluency gains
  • helps students to automatize grammatical processing through pushing them to perform faster and faster
  • encourages them to pronounce chunks naturally through the pronunciation practice stage, which improves perceived fluency

In the next post I describe how I use this activity with lower levels to help them with functional language used in social encounters.

A few interesting references
To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test – on the effect recalling and subsequently re-reading a text has on retention
Nation, P. Learning Vocabulary in Lexical Sets: Dangers and Guidelines  – Learning vocabulary in lexical sets (e.g. ‘apple, pear, plum’) is counter-productive, learning thematically related words (e.g. ‘frog, pond, green, slimy, hop, croak’) produces the best results.

This was written back in September – I’ve been meaning to finish it, but never got down to writing up anything, so here goes.
The first week of post-Delta Module 2 teaching has gone by! I don’t think I’ve taught a single lesson that I would’ve done the same before the course.

  • I make sure I formulate a very specific aim for the lesson – a learning outcome – and keep it in my head while planning and teaching the lesson; I use it as the main basis for post-lesson reflection – you can’t reflect how well the lesson went if there’s nothing specific you wanted to achieve!
  • I don’t expect anything to magically happen anymore. For example, if I want the s/s to speak faster during a task repeated with less time given, I specifically ask them to try and speak faster and not leave out any information. If I want an A2 class of teens to ask me questions in English, I make a massive effort to teach them these questions, display them on walls in all classrooms we are sent to (3 so far) and stop the class to help reformulate & board whenever someone shouts out a question in Russian that they could’ve easily adapted from one of the questions on the wall.
  • As a result of trying to ensure things do happen, I’ve become extra slow. Trying to not let things go – stop and deal with them. No idea how bad it has become, how I could speed up and what the s/s think (yet).
  • I’ve become more frank with s/s (and also in general, for better or worse).
    Both in class – talking about stuff and making personal comments – and after the lesson, daring to bring up what happened in class and why things went the way they did.

I wanted to write a summary of new things I did/tried that week – but ended up writing up only the following procedure (I’ll write a separate blog post about two more interesting things that happened that week).

What Why
For a listening task, I asked the students to

  • (1) write questions for the listening passage (this I had done before); boarded some of their questions and asked the group to concentrate on the ones on the board.
  • (2) After the first listen + pair check, I asked the group which questions were answered (exactly a half of the questions on the board), ticked them, removed the rest from the board and then asked them to nominate a few more questions that were answered in the passage. S/s nominated another 4 or 5 qs.
  • (3) While s/s listened again, I noted down the times when sections relevant to each question started in the recording.
  • (4) While s/s were checking in pairs, I listened in to hear where there are multiple versions. During feedback I accepted all answers, pushing s/s for alternatives and boarding them, and then replayed the relevant sections for everyone to check.
Overall impression of the technique: it made the listening task more meaningful for s/s than just answering questions from the coursebook. Also it was more life-like: s/s approached the passage with questions in mind, and these were not ordered in the order they’d come up in the passage.The questions nominated after the 1st listen covered the passage in sufficient detail to thoroughly check understanding.Accepting all answers and replaying the relevant sections ensured that the weaker s/s heard the answers in the end. The weaker students are also helped by the boarded answers (stage (4) turns into a discrimination exercise).

Also, one of the sub-aims for this lesson was to revise question formation, focused on in the previous lessons.

I’ve tried this procedure a few times since then. A variation that might break s/s’ shyness could be to ask s/s to test their partners’ comprehension and then pool their questions (in this way it could also be used for a reading passage).

Benefits: This procedure could be used for authentic videos/articles – makes the teacher’s life much easier!

One pitfall I’ve run into: If the level of the audio text is not quite right, students might end up hearing some things they consider to be ‘obvious’ and thus not worth asking, and fail to come up with any new questions in (2). I guess in this case the teacher should provide the questions. The procedure worked well with a pre-intermediate group listening to an audio from a pre-intermediate coursebook, but broke down somewhat with a group of (self-critical) teens watching an authentic video.

A general reservation: this procedure is definitely more time-consuming than ‘going with the book.’