Posts Tagged ‘social encounter’

Update. Thanks for stopping by! I was delighted to hear that this post has been shortlisted for TeachingEnglish blog award! =) If you like it, you can vote for it on Teaching English – British Council Facebook page.
Just a short addition to the previous post in which I described how my B1-C1 students work on fluency by mining texts for related expressions, organizing them into mind maps and retelling the texts several times to different classmates.

I use a very similar procedure with my group of pre-intermediate 7 graders to help them remember functional expressions used in social encounters (and generally in ‘Conversation Strategies’/’Everyday English’ sections of coursebooks).

The general lesson plan is

  • [gist] Students listen to a dialogue from the coursebook and answer gist questions
  • [analysis] The teacher helps them to analyze what kind of expressions are present in the dialogue and sketches a mind map on the board; the students copy the mind map and use the transcript to find expressions in the dialogue to add to the mind map.
    Usually I try to set up the gist questions so as to guide the group towards the structure of the mind map (e.g. ‘How many speakers are there? Who are they?’ or ‘How many questions do the speakers discuss’?)
  • [pronunciation] The teacher models & drills the natural pronunciation of the expressions; students practice pronunciation in pairs, challenging each other to pronounce expressions as fast and naturally as they can; a fun variation is to challenge the students to say each expression on their map twice in under 60-120 seconds – the goal here is to encourage the students to pronounce fixed chunks of language fluently.
  • [practice] The students act out the dialogue from the coursebook without looking at the text, using their mind map instead
  • [recreating the map ] They turn their mind maps over and try to recreate them from memory; after a few minutes, they listen to the dialogue again and add the missing expressions. The students will need lots of support and encouragement the first time they do it – I don’t expect them to remember more than 1/3 of the map when they first reproduce it, but this stage does prime them to notice language while they re-read/re-listen the dialogue and does encourage them to use the expressions during the production stage
  • [improvisation] The students act out similar dialogues (e.g. if the topic is ‘buying clothes’, they change the items/colours/sizes/prices either based on verbal or visual cues)
  • The students repeat the map recreation +improvisation stages once or twice or, time permitting , three times, each time with a new partner. This can be done in an ‘onion’ activity: the students are seated in two circles, those from the inner circle pairing up with students from the outer circle; the inner circle rotates between the stages so that each time each student works with a new partner; the level of challenge can be increased by introducing increasingly tight time constraints
  • They do it again for homework and, finally, again in a later class. 

A few tips:

  • [source] Use complete dialogues. It sounds tempting to organize all functional expressions used in a particular situation into a mind map, but in my experience unless there’s a text to organize the map, it becomes impossible to remember and reproduce. The only thing I add is alternative answers (E.g. ways to say ‘yes’ if the person in the dialogue said ‘no’).
  • [personal experience] Try the procedure out on your own before the lesson.
  • [preparation] Mind-map the coursebook dialogue before the lesson. Choose gist questions to direct the students towards the structure you’ve chosen.
  • [minimal preparation] For the improvisation stage, have students produce the prompts: bring in slips of coloured paper, ask them to brainstorm alternative items that can be used in the dialogue and write them on the slips (e.g. types of clothing on blue slips, sizes on green ones, prices on yellow ones etc), redistribute the slips
    Alternatively, brainstorm situations for students to adapt the dialogue to – board them and ask the student initiating the dialogue to choose one
    (e.g. for ‘buying clothes’: brainstorm ‘how you might spend a day off’ – e.g. in the forest/at home/at the beech/in the opera etc; the students initiating the dialogue choose a situation and buy clothes appropriate for the situation;
    for ‘buying food’ brainstorm a list of animals/meals; students buy food for the animal/ingredients for the meals; etc
    for ‘at the doctor’s’, brainstorm reasons why people get ill or, again, types of vacation
    for ‘having friends over’, brainstorm famous visitors, etc)
  • [personalizing] For some topics, to personalize the improvisation stage, ask the students to think about their favourite item of clothing/dish/place so that they buy a replacement for that item/order that dish/book a ticket to that place.
  • [fueling imagination] Use picture prompts for the improvisation stage: project a picture of a person in a difficult situation and ask the students to buy/order/book something for that person. Compassion is very memorable!

  • [revision] Insist on revision. Take a photo of a good mind map and upload it to the class blog. Tell the students that you’re going to ask them to reproduce the mind map from memory at the beginning of a next class. In my experience, when these two ingredients are in place (there’s a course blog/file where the learners know they can find the language dealt with in class and there’s a test, even a short and informal one, coming up), this does encourage at least around 60% both teenage students and adult Business English learners to revise.

I like this activity more than the more traditional sequence suggested in some coursebooks, in which learners just read the dialogue a few times substituting individual items and then act out their own dialogue using functional expressions given on the page, because when they mind map, it gets much less mechanical (as they are forced to think about the structure of the dialogue and process the functional language deeply), it challenges them and strains their memory and helps them to memorize the expressions much better, as well as giving them the confidence that they do remember them – having tested themselves a number of times. I’ve noticed that when the students improvise, they use the expressions that they put on their maps quite confidently and fluently, but if they choose not to write something down deeming it ‘obvious’, they might have problems with that language.Here are a few examples of mind maps my group has produced and used.

Example 1. This was the very first mind map we tried. It was at the very start of the course and the students really struggled with this one.

We used the following dialogue from our coursebook:

From Touchstone Level 2 by Michael McCarthy, Jeanne McCarten and Helen Sandiford

From Touchstone Level 2 by Michael McCarthy, Jeanne McCarten and Helen Sandiford (CUP)

Based on Touchstone Level 2 by Michael McCarthy, Jeanne McCarten and Helen Sandiford (CUP)

Based on Touchstone Level 2 by Michael McCarthy, Jeanne McCarten and Helen Sandiford (CUP)

Example 2

A few months later – the students coped much better with this one although it’s pretty huge!


Example 3.

The latest one that we’ve been using this week:

Based on Touchstone Level 2 by Michael McCarthy, Jeanne McCarten and Helen Sandiford (CUP)

Based on Touchstone Level 2 by Michael McCarthy, Jeanne McCarten and Helen Sandiford (CUP)


Update 07/05/2014 Since writing this post, I’ve been experimenting with this technique more, trying it with my Business English groups. Here’s a 45-minute lesson for an A2+ group  focusing on talking about advantages and disadvantages.

Talking about advantages and disadvantages
Discussing advantages and disadvantages: teacher’s notes.
Discussing advantages and disadvantages: the worksheet. 
I think I’ll use the same approach with my IELTS students, giving the students ‘narrow’ practice in the same type of question, e.g. pros and cons, comparing the past and the present, talking about differences between A and B and so on.


This is one of the posts in the series of posts on spoken fluency. Click here for the links to the remaining posts