Teachers' Tips

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Trevor Hawes
Are you starting work with a new class this term? Try these 5 awesome ice-breakers 1) Name Chain Games The best way to learn and retain student names is to do a name chain game to start off the class. You can use various specifics to fit the needs of your particular class, but my class usually goes like this: the first student says: 1) his or her name, 2) his or her home country, 3) one interesting fact about himself or herself, and 4) his or her favorite English word. The next student must then repeat all of the information about himself or herself and then say the name and favorite English word of the previous student. The third student introduces himself or herself and then says the names and favorite English words of the previous two students, and so on until the last student. To make the activity more challenging, tell the last student not to write anything down! As the teacher, you can also go last instead and impress the class with your knowledge of their names while simultaneously making the last student feel better. Make sure you quiz your students throughout the week to see if they can remember everyone's names and favorite words. I've also made a practice vocabulary quiz using each of their favorite English words before which is a great way to transition them into your testing style. Variation: Instead of having students say their favorite English word, have them choose a word that starts with the same letter as their name, a favorite city, favorite food, etc... the options are endless! 2) Word Association A great speaking activity that helps to loosen up nervous students on the first day is a word association game. One student says a word (choose a category like travel if you wish to narrow things down) and the next person must say a word associated with that word; the next student says a word associated with that word, and so on. If another student challenges the association, the student must justify how those words are related. Make it a competition to see who can get the most points if you want to add a little friendly rivalry in the mix. Variation: To make things more challenging or adapt this activity for a higher level class, put extra restrictions such as the word you say must begin with the last letter of the word the previous student said. For example, if Student A says “Japan,” Student B might say “ninja.” 3) Who Am I? A great way to mix students up to arrange them into groups or just get them speaking to one another is to put nametags on the back of the students of famous people, teachers, movie characters etc... Make sure that these people will be well known by all of your students. Students must walk around with their nametag on their back that they cannot see and ask questions to their classmates about who they are. Variation: If you wait a few days and do this activity on the 2nd or 3rd day of class, you can put a classmates' name on their back and their peers will have to know that classmate well enough to describe him or her to the student. This is a great way to review names! 4) New Year's Resolutions Your students may be familiar with this popular tradition in January, but a new school year should bring about new resolutions for students and teachers alike. Have students partner up with each other and discuss what goals they have for themselves for the school year. Encourage them to be specific with the things they would like to accomplish and what they want to be different. Make sure that you as the teacher make some resolutions too! Variation: While students are talking together, have them create a poster of their resolutions. Display the posters around the room to help students remember their goals throughout the term. 5) 3 Common, 1 Unique This activity is good for small groups. Randomly group students into three or four and give them a time limit to discover three things that all members of the group have in common and one thing that is unique for all of them. When the time is up, have each group report to the class. Then, change up the groups and have them do it again with their new class members. If it starts to get too easy, start ruling out common answers like “We're all from different countries” or “We all breathe oxygen.” Variation: Try this with the whole class after doing it in small groups. If they've been good listeners, they should be able to recall many things that all students had in common. It may take awhile, but there are surely at least 3 things the whole class has in common! What are your favourite first day activities? (comment on our facebook page too!)

Grammar auction

Angus Savory
Most teachers learn about the grammar auction during their initial training, but just in case you forgot, here it is! Students are put into pairs and are told that they are in an auction house, where people bid against each other for antiques. The hope is that they buy something which is a genuine antique and worth a lot of money, and that they can pick it up for only a little. What they don't want to do is spend a lot of money on an antique which actually isn't worth much at all. Instead of buying antique furniture, however, the students are bidding for sentences. They have a sheet with twelve sentences on it, six of which are correct (the equivalents of genuine antiques); six of which are wrong (the equivalent of forgeries and completely worthless). As each sentence comes up, presented by the teacher, the student pairs must guess whether it is correct or incorrect and start bidding for it from the ?5000 that you have generously given them. The bidding goes up and up until someone wins the bid and bang! You strike the table with your imaginary gavel. Then the students are told whether it is correct or not. If it is an incorrect sentence, they can then optionally earn part of their money back by correcting it. The auction continues until all the sentences have been dealt with, or until the students have no more money or until the teacher has no more voice! This is one way to deal with areas of grammar the student's find particularly difficult, student composition mistakes, or false friends etc.




Television news

Angus Savory
At the start of a news broadcast, there is usually a preview of what is to come, along with pictures of the first few news stories. Video this, and prepare the following worksheet:

News Item What Where When Who Why How 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Now give the sheets out to the students. Give each student one of the question words. They must watch the opening preview pictures with the sound turned down, and just write a few words to say what they think is happening. They can write in their own language if necessary. So student one will answer the question 'what' four times, for the four different stories, student two will answer the question 'where' four times, student three 'when' and so on. Sometimes it may clear what's happening on the screen. So much the better! They must use their imaginations. Play the preview as many times as they want to hear it, and ignore their protests about "It's too hard!" When they have finished writing their brief notes, you put them together in groups of six and ask them to share their knowledge and come up with the news story in less than 50 words. This is the fun part. They will probably have written about events completely different from each other. They must use use their imaginations, along with a healthy dose of arguing and persuading, to write out the news stories. What you have as a result is usually very funny and very different from what the story really is about. After the groups have finished and read out the full previews, error correct and play the real previews, with the sound up, to see how close each group is to each story.


Correcting written work

Angus Savory
When a student hands in a piece of written work and you mark it, correcting the mistakes and giving them back, how much do your students actually learn from all the time you've spent with a red pen in your hand? Probably, not a lot. This is certainly true of my Spanish written work. When I got it back, I really only wanted to know that I'd done okay. Yes, of course I made a note to go over the mistakes and write them down in a written errors book, but I never quite got round to it. What a waste. Surely, it's better to get the students to mark their own work from hints given by you as to their mistakes. One quick way to do this is to read through their work and, instead of marking where the problems lie, just put a number next to each line, the number corresponding to the number of mistakes the student has made in that line. The student will then get back their composition with no red through it, just numbers down the margin. They must then spend five minutes checking through and re-reading their work, making corrections as they recognise them. It?s much easier to find a mistake in a line of text if you know there is one there. There are two main benefits to be gained from doing this : 1. Students spend mental energy proof-reading their texts, helping them notice their common mistakes, those they make time after time. This, if done often enough, will make them think about these mistakes whilst writing, so that hopefully they can be avoided during the writing as opposed to being noticed during the checking. 2. Teachers can distinguish between errors made because the student was lazy or sloppy and errors which need tackling in class because the student really didn't know the structure they attempted. In exams where accurate writing skills are of benefit, this guided self-correction can be invaluable in improving students' written work.


Dominant students in speaking activities

Angus Savory
So you want to have a speaking activity, maybe a debate or at least something where students express their opinions and disagree with others in the class. You also have one or more students who like the sound of their voice too much, and others for whom "Good Morning" is a major undertaking in itself, not because of language ability but just because they are quite happy to let the dominant ones do the talking. Instead of interrupting all the time when the students are debating, and trying to shut some people up and let others speak, you should hand out five pieces of paper, bits of Lego, rods, etc. These are their speaking tools. They cannot speak without them and when they do speak they must give one of them up to you. This is explained to the students at the beginning of the discussion, and then, every time a student wants to express an opinion they must give up one of their five pieces of paper etc. Students will soon realise that to interrupt another student with simply, "I am not agree!" and to say nothing more, is a big waste of their valuable speaking resources. They must therefore use their resources wisely, and make up a (hopefully) cogent argument with their time. Once a dominant student has used up their rods, you can either, if you are strict, say "tough" and the student must keep quiet, or give a time limit and re-issue resources every five minutes. You'll soon find that the quieter students come out of their shells more once they have nothing to fear from the silent dominants.

Giving and receiving blind instructions

Angus Savory
Most students will use their English over the telephone, and using a foreign language over the telephone is so much harder than face-to-face, as body language and gesticulation cannot be seen or utilised (you should try listening to me speak to my Mexican father-in-law!) and yet most speaking activities are undertaken face to face. There are two ways to get round this, using the same example activity. Get hold of a lego set (every language school should have one!) and put students in two groups in different corners of the classroom, or in different classes if you have the room. They must construct something using the lego, preferably something abstract. Give them a couple of minutes only. Then one student from each group must meet in the middle, put on blindfolds and give instructions about a small part of what they have constructed to the other student, who listens, but doesn't take notes (obviously!) for example, "Get two blue rectangles and put a square red block in the middle". The other student then reciprocates and returns to the group and sets about following the instructions given in the middle, while the second pair meet in the middle and give other instructions, whilst blindfolded. What then happens is that each group must try to follow the instructions of the other group exactly to form a clone of the lego shape created by the other group. Your role is simply to monitor and take notes on language errors and on expressions that would come in useful, but which they might not need to use when talking face to face (many prepositions of place can be demonstrated when face to face). If you don't have blindfolds, or believe your Swiss-German business executives might object to the idea of using them, simply place them opposite each other and make them give the instructions over their shoulders so they can't see their opposite number.

Picture ordering

Angus Savory
Get a cartoon story made up ideally of as many pictures as there are people in your class, or of at least six different pictures (use photocopies so more than one student can have the same piece of paper) and cut it up so that each of the pieces of paper just contains one picture. Give each student one piece of paper each for thirty seconds. They must look at the picture and try and memorise everything they see, without writing anything down. After thirty seconds take the pictures back. Give each of the students a letter for their picture. Now put the class together, and explain to them that they've got different parts of a story which they must put in the right order. Write the numbers (1-11) on the board; they must act together, describing their picture to the class and debating where it comes in the story. The teacher's role is to do absolutely nothing, except help with vocabulary and keep a note of errors. If they come to a standstill, don't do anything; they will start trying again, I assure you! After a while, one of the class will assume the role of leader and go up to the board and try to organise things. Eventually, they will make some kind of order of the information they've given. They will then write down a letter next to each number in what they hope is the right order. Once they've finished, stick up any pictures that they've got correct next to the correct numbers, then sit down again. They then continue until they believe they've got the right order again. Then do the same. This is a great activity for a number of reasons: 1. Class bonding. By making it a class activity, you are essentially pitting the students against you, which helps group identity. 2. Genuine communication. I think this is a more useful task than closely controlled drills that often bear little relation to what happens outside the class. Here the students have to use whatever communication skills they possess to put over their message, just as they would in the real world. 3. Multi-level. By careful choosing of the cartoon, you can make the activity easier or more difficult. You can also help with the amount of assistance you offer the students. 4. Class dynamics. You get to know what the key relationships of the class are, because you essentially disappear into the corner of the room and observe.


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