(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
You can see my video discussing Part 1 & Part 2 here: VIDEO Getting The Most Out of ESL Information-Gap Activities: Six Recommendations
At first glance, these activities can appear to be just a fun way for students to interact with each other. However, the more I’ve worked with and developed them, the more I realize what an effective skill-building tool they can be.
For this PART 1 posting, I’ll…
1) briefly review what an information gap activity is.
2) describe three important ways to make these most effective for students and the mistakes that teachers sometimes make with these.
In my next posting, PART 2, I’LL …
3) explain ways to customize them to review and reinforce vocabulary words and conversation strategies.
4) include more samples of these types of information-gap activities.
Here is an example of an information gap activity and a common mistake teachers make with them.
While working at my computer, I heard my officemate, Nadya, sigh. She had a stack of homework papers that she was in the midst of marking, counting points and recording. She told me that she was starting to feel burned out from all the paper work and wondered if I felt the same.
She showed me how she was evaluating her students’ homework. They had written 10 items, and next to each one, she had written points. For example, a 2/2 meant that the student did that item correctly, a ½ meant it wasn’t completely correct, and 0/2 meant it was completely incorrect.
That morning she was in the process of (1) totaling the points, (2) writing a score at the top, and (3) recording the scores in her grade book. She said that she didn’t have time to write anything more specifically about the reason for the points on the students’ papers.
I then showed her a set of papers that I had recently marked. I don’t write points next to each item, but instead, I marked each with green or blue. Then I explained that by doing that, I’m able to specifically reinforce what they did correctly or point out what was incorrect. At the same time, I don’t need to write and record points, which saves me a tremendous amount of time.
Here are samples of our different approaches to marking assignments:
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.
A boy wanted to ask a girl to the school dance, but he was too shy to talk to girls. To help him start to overcome his shyness, one day in a store together, his mom told him to walk up to a female clerk and ask where he could find the toothpaste. If he did that, he’d prove to himself that he could interact successfully with a female who was a total stranger, and he’d be able to see himself moving toward his goal. (From Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.)
I realized that I could apply the principle behind this story to a category of students who seem to be in many of the ESL classes that I’ve taught. They are the ones who are feeling discouraged about their seemingly inability to progress in their language-skill development. Many of them have failed the course, and in some cases, more than once.
Some of these learners don’t feel like trying any more.