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Twist on a classic: Discussion questions

A classic

Course books and published materials are full of discussion questions. They’re a chance for learners to react to a listening/reading task, practise new vocabulary or practise speaking fluently. Here’s a typical example from TeachingEnglish (scroll to ‘Discussion’, page 3).

I’ve known teachers to adapt these in all sorts of ways:

  • Learner training. Give the learners discussion phrases and get them used to the routine of using these in group discussions.
  • Playing hard to get. Scramble the words in each question and ask the learners to reorder them before they answer. The scramblinator is a good tool for this job. Very TEFL-y.
  • Random questions. Use some way of randomising the questions to add an element of suspense. Dice corresponding to numbered questions, drawing question cards from a pile, wheeldecide.com etc.

My twist on this classic activity isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but it’s probably one of my most-used free speaking activities.  Read More

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Traffic lights for tailored teaching

I’m a big fan of any sort of graphic organiser (as you’ll see here). So when I hit upon a new way to use traffic lights in class last week, I thought: ‘I know, I’ll write a blog post about it!’ Here it is, along with two other ways to use traffic lights in the classroom.

1. Traffic lights answers

I was teaching a new pre-intermediate IELTS class of fairly mixed ability. We did IELTS reading and listening tasks for the first time. When I went to elicit answers, I stopped for a moment and realised: I don’t really know how they feel about the difficulty of the task.

I could elicit answers and go into why it’s the right answer, referring back to the text or listening… but if they found it quite easy, I’d just be patronising them, right? And do they all feel the same about it? Read More

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Twist on a classic: Ranking

Not quite as ubiquitous as the past two classic activities (brainstorming and warmer questions), rank-ordering is nonetheless a TESOL mainstay. Here’s a nifty adaptation…

A classic

Rank-ordering activities generate lots of discussion. Presented on the board, on paper, as little cards, or even on screen, we often get learners to rank things from 1 to 10 in order of preference or importance, like:

  • Holiday destinations
  • Restaurants in the local area
  • Personal qualities in a best friend
  • Ingredients for success (see example here)
  • Goals for a language course (see First lessons with adults or teens)

Ranking is often chosen as a way to engage learners in a topic or personalise a lexical set. But beyond that, it’s a great for critical thinking.

The twist

A ‘priorities diamond’ is a simple graphic organiser that takes ranking to the next level. I’ve used it several times, even in training sessions with teachers, and it’s worked a treat every time. Here’s how it works: Read More

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Why I gave up on ‘fast finisher activities’

So I was delivering a short training session for teachers about lesson planning a few of weeks ago. One of the things that came up was ‘fast finisher activities’. We didn’t have time to go into it in the session, but I think it’s possibly one of the most misleading terms in TESOL.

The idea – as far as I can tell – is that you have an extra piece of material for any bright sparks who finish their classwork before others. I assume it’s a concept that has come from mainstream education (primary in particular). It’s often cited as a way to reduce ‘off-task behaviour’ and further challenge stronger learners in mixed-ability classes. Pinterest is full of colourful, fun-looking ‘fast finisher activities’, like these ones I collected:

So what have I got against them? Well… Read More

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Twist on a classic: Warmer questions

This week’s twist on a classic is all about reversing the roles of teacher and learner…

A classic

Warmer questions are surely the most common warmer/lead-in to any lesson (along with brainstorming from last week). You just write some questions on the board and learners answer them in pairs. Why’s it so good?

  • No materials required.
  • Hardly any preparation required.
  • Doesn’t eat up too much lesson time.
  • Learners speak in English from the get-go.
  • Sets context and activates schemata.
  • Acts as a diagnostic, especially in form-focused lessons (eg. vocab, phonology, grammar, etc.).

They do get a bit repetitive if you’re doing them most lessons, though. There’s all sorts of ways you can jazz them up, but for me, the beauty of warmer questions is their simplicity!

The twist

So here is a twist on warmer questions that preserves their simplicity: Read More