I wanted to encourage my Writing students to include information from their own country to support their ideas in their essays. If done well, this kind of information can be very enthralling for anyone who reads their papers. (See • The Huge Advantage International Student Writers Have Over Their American Classmates )
The problem was that, when they tried to do this, the information was often too general, which made it sound kind of trite. So, I decided to write an exercise in which they would see how effective detailed information could be.
For the exercise, I wanted to juxtapose weak short paragraphs with few details to strong ones with more , and then have students identify each type. The challenge for me was to come up with stimulating content for these short paragraphs.
Fortunately, I had a treasure chest filled with interesting content that I could draw from. And as I’ll demonstrate below, this treasure chest has been my go-to place when writing materials for all the other skills too.
Here is what is in my treasure chest.
Over all my years of teaching, any time that I came across something interesting, I saved it. If it was a newspaper or magazine article, I cut it out; if it was from an online source, including podcasts, I’d copy and paste or save the link.
What I saved may have been a complete article or one interesting idea or a surprising statistic or an antidote or a quote.
The folder with the paper articles and folder with the online sources were simply titled “Articles for Exercises.” These became my treasure chest. Then when I need some content ideas for an exercise, I merely flip through the folders.
Here are a few of the items in my treasure chest:
- 47% of Denmark’s electric energy comes from wind mills. (Article & statistic)
- A certain tribe in Africa consider fat people to be more attractive. (Newspaper article)
- One technique a thief used was to pretend to drop some ice cream on a tourist’s shirt. (Magazine article)
- A study found that employees who had Facebook accounts were less happy than those who didn’t. (Online article)
- A busy working mother absentmindedly dropped her son off at the babysitter’s house and didn’t realize it, so she thought he had been kidnapped. (Heard on a podcast)
As I searched for the Writing exercise above about information from students’ countries, I decided to use the Denmark article for one of the items in the exercise. The directions told students to identify the paragraphs that explained details and the ones that did not explain details from the country.
2) For an Advanced Conversation/Discussion class, I wanted to have students practice asking clarification questions when discussing an article. To do this, in groups of three (Students A, B, C), one student stops after reading his/her part of an article to the others at certain points. The other two then asked clarification questions. For that activity, I was able to use “A certain tribe in Africa consider fat people to be more attractive.” (See • Discussion Technique to Get Quiet Students Involved (Part 2)
3) For a Writing unit about describing someone, the article, “One technique a thief used was to pretend to drop some ice cream on a tourist’s shirt,” was perfect for illustrating how to describe someone’s routine by giving details. (See • Tools for Describing Someone with Details: Inductive Writing Exercises (Low-Intermediate to Intermediate Level)
4) In Reading class, I wanted to work on summarizing skills. To introduce this, I had students read the article, “A study found that employees who had Facebook accounts were less happy than those who didn’t.” The exercise was composed of a summary of the article that contained mistakes that they needed to find. (See • Quick and User-Friendly Technique to Teach Summarize Skills of a Reading Passage
5) A good Writing technique is to include a short narrative in a paragraph to support the topic sentence. To introduce this, in an exercise, I was able to use, “A busy working mother absentmindedly dropped her son off at the babysitter’s house and didn’t realize it, so she thought he had been kidnapped.” (See • ESL Students Can Increase Positive Emotions in Readers/Teachers with This Writing Technique )
Thanks to my treasure chest, when I feel inspired to write an exercise, it’s always been a great relief to know that I have a place to start for the content. In contrast, I have found that the biggest waste of time and energy is to start by going online to look for interesting and unique stories, ideas and data.