(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
Students are going to make the most progress in their conversation skills if they get into the habit of doing two things:
(1) Listen carefully to what the other person is saying and
(2) Respond to what was said.
This information-gap activity is great practice for a couple of reasons. First, students will immediately know if they hadn’t understood clearly what their partner had said. And second, it provides an example of how to respond to what the partner had said.
There are three exercises in this activity.
This handout Controlled Conversation Exercises 1 & 2) includes two exercises. Exercise 1 (listed as Exercise 10 in the handout) is an interactive model for how to carry out Exercise 2 (listed as Exercise 11 in the handout).
In Exercise 1, they will see both parts (A & B) simultaneously. This model is very simple and straightforward.
Student A reads: “Hello.”
Student B has to choose to answer: Today is Tuesday (or) Hi. How are you?
Student A then has to choose to answer: I’m fine too, thanks. (or) My name is Bob.
After they have completed Exercise 1, they know exactly how to carry out Exercise 2. In that exercise, students are assigned a partner. One is given the handout for Student A and the other is given Student B. Student A starts by reading the first statement in the dialog (just as A did in Exercise 1). Then B, who can’t see Student A’s first statement unlike in Exercise 1, must then choose the correct response. The conversation continues from there. Needless to say, the partners need to focus on what the other is saying or the conversation completely breaks down and makes no sense to them.
Another very important benefit to this activity is that students become aware of how understanding responses work, e,g, “I see” “Uh huh” to let the other person know that they are listening and understand what was said.
Also, this activity provides students with many chances to ask clarification questions naturally if they haven’t understood their partner, for example, “Did you say …?” “Could you repeat that?”
Preventing a Teacher Nightmare with Early Finishers
A dilemma that teachers commonly confront with pair work is what to do when one pair finishes well before the others. There is a fear that those students will get bored or start to get out of hand unless the teacher stops the activity soon and moves on to something new. This is unfortunate because often the most diligent and highly skilled students are the ones who take more time to complete activities. There is a way to keep early finisher productively active while waiting for the rest of the pairs to finish. You can see in the attached handout that they have three options:
1) They can trade parts (A becomes B and vice versa) and do the activity again. I have found the majority of students like to do this.
2) They can discuss the questions that are included in Exercise 3.
3) They can talk about any topic that they want in English.
This type of activity is often called “controlled conversations,” which are a type of information gap activity. Attached here is a second one that you can use with your students. Controlled Conversation Activity 2
For more activities for responding to partners, see Conversation magic: Two most important conversation techniques (Part 1) and Conversation magic: Two most important techniques. (Part 2)
For more about information gap exercises, see Introduction to Teaching ESL Conversation: Effective Pair/Group Activities
For many more controlled conversations and information gap exercises at this level, see Basic Conversation Strategies