(This posting includes a form which you are welcome to use with your students.) *
This posting is discussed on my YouTube video ESL Writing Class Activity: Fun, Lively and Productive
This is a paragraph that a student secretly wrote to describe one of her classmates. All the students are circulating around the periphery of the room, reading description hanging on the wall with no names on and trying to determine who is being described in the paragraphs. Each student seems very focused on reading the descriptions, searching for the classmate who is the object of the description but also looking out of the corner of their eyes to see what kind of reaction others are having to the description that they secretly wrote. There is energy in the room, a lot of interacting and a lot of laughing.
Describe your classmate activity
In brief, the steps for this activity are:
1) The students are secretly assigned by the teacher to a classmate to describe.
2) They write a description. It can be a list (for lower levels) or a paragraph (for higher ones).
3) They give their papers to the teacher, who briefly looks them over to make sure that there is nothing inappropriate on them.
4) At random, the teacher returns the papers (perhaps the next day) to the students, and each one tapes the one that they were given on the walls of the classroom. These have no names on them, only a number.
5) They move about the room, read the descriptions and write on a separate piece of paper the name of the classmate who is described.
6) When most students have finished #5, the teacher asks them to stop. Then as a whole class, they tell the teacher who they think was described on each paper, and the teacher confirms the correct answer.
Variation depending on the level of the students
For lower-level students, they can describe the physical appearance, e.g., clothes, hair, size etc.
For students who are a bit higher, they can describe the personality, habits, backgrounds, unique characteristic or experience, or even recommend a future job for them. For this one, I tell them that they shouldn’t include information that isn’t well known to the other students. For example, they shouldn’t write something like, last night she dreamed that she couldn’t find our classroom.
The only tricky part of this activity can be assigning the secret numbers. This form has been found to be helpful for that.
Describe your neighbor Form
Here is one of my favorite last lines in a description that a student wrote about a classmate: “This student would be a good toy salesman.”
I like your ideas. I am going to reread it.
I used to teach English conversation in a private high school in Japan. Since the exams were mostly written, except for the listening part, we decided to add journal writing at the beginning of each class. We would assign a topic, but we also allowed them to write whatever they wanted to, and share it with a partner. By the end of the year, we had them writing a three paragraph essay. Once these students entered the attached university, we started hearing comments from the English teachers there, that our graduates were well above the level of the students coming in from other high schools in reading, writing and speaking English. It was a tribute to how well they learned and remembered what they had learned.
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Thank you, Holly, for sharing with us you experience (and terrific success!) with reading journals. It’s always interesting to hear how teachers respond to what students have written in their “journals.” At a college that I taught at, we developed a process that provided students with motivating feedback yet added no extra work for the teachers. Here is a posting about it: One of Best Uses of an ESL Program’s Funds—And a Giant Help to Teachers. https://commonsense-esl.com/2019/06/01/one-of-best-uses-of-an-esl-programs-funds-and-a-giant-help-to-teachers/