I’ve gained important perspectives from students over the years. The following insight was shared with me by a student after a group-work activity, and it altered how I organized groups.
Typically, during my first year of teaching ESL, when I wanted students to get with a partner or form groups of three or four, I instructed them to do that and let them choose whomever they wanted to work with. However, early in my second year, this happened.
In this Part 2 of IMPROVING Six Popular ESL Activities, I’ll discuss how three popular activities are traditionally used and ways that they can be made more stimulating and conducive to conversation-skills development. Here is the link to Part 1. How to IMPROVE Six Popular ESL Activities: Making Them More Than Just Talking PART 1
Activity 4: Desert Island
RECOMMENDATION: It’s helpful to tell students a day or two in advance that they will be doing this activity so that they have time to think about the items that they would want to take in their cars.
Her is a link to a short video where you can see a demonstration of how this “better” activity works and more explanation about its many improvements over traditional Desert Island: A Better Way to do Desert Island
Activity 5: Ask a Partner Questions
You’ve probably seen some of these activities demonstrated at ESL teaching conferences or on some internet sites or on YouTube videos with titles like: “The 10 Best Speaking Activities.” The activities are usually promoted as a way to get students to talk. However, professional teachers don’t assign activities just to get students talking. They try to make sure that students are developing some specific technique or conversational strategy during the activity. There are ways to make these activities more than just talking, and there are ways to alter them to facilitate conversational skill-building, and there are ways to format them to be more stimulating for the students.
The postings will have two sections:
Section 1: I’ll describe the activities
Section 2: I’ll describe conversational skills that students could apply during the activities and three different ways that you can model the conversational techniques which they should use during the activity.
Section 1: Activities
Her is a link to a short video where you can see a demonstration of how this activity works and more explanations about its many improvements over traditional 20 Questions: Video A Better Way to do 20 Questions
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)*
One day, I ran into an exasperated-looking colleague in the copy room at our school. She had just come from her ESL class in which she wanted to check some homework whole class. To do this, she asked, “What is the answer to Question 1?” Then she waited for someone to volunteer to answer, but nobody would.
Many of us ESL teachers have been in similar situations, especially with East Asian students. In his book, Behave, neuroendocrinology Robert Sapolsky gives a possible explanation for this by describing “… the archetypical experience of American Peace Corps teachers in [East Asian] countries—pose your students a math question, and no one will volunteer the correct answer because they don’t want to stand out and shame their classmates.”
[For more about the reasons for the differences among students from different cultures, see Best Subject for an ESL Integrated-Skills Class (Part 1 Overview)]
Needless to say, it’s not just East Asian students who are reluctant to volunteer answers. Students from other parts of the world who are basically shy or lack confidence in their speaking skills may also be hesitant.
Most of us would agree that a willingness to volunteer an answer during group discussions carries some great benefits in helping students take advantage of speaking opportunities. Once they become comfortable with this skill, there is often a carry-over effect in which they tend to be more will to volunteer in whole class situations. Also, perhaps more importantly, I’ve noticed an increase in students’ willingness to initiate a conversation with me before or after class and to ask for help on assignments and not just wait for me to offer.
How to help students feel comfortable volunteering an answer