Tag Archives: small-group activity

One of the Worst Mistakes Conversation Teachers Make

race competition

For some strange reason, some ESL instructors think they can improve any activity by making it as some kind of competition between students or between groups.  Unfortunately, doing this can be counterproductive and actually discourage the most serious students.

To illustrate, consider an information-gap activity like the one from the March 1st posting Another Conversation Activity: Listen to Partner and Ask Questions to Complete Information-Gap Chart .  In this, pairs of students fill in missing information in a schedule by talking, asking questions, and using clarification strategies.

Imagine the teacher tells the students that he will give a prize to the pair who finishes the schedule first.  This is what will happen and how students will miss out on the skills that the activity is meant to develop.

Continue reading

Another Conversation Activity: Listen to Partner and Ask Questions to Complete Information-Gap Chart 

image schedule chart

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

At first, this pair-work activity looks like it’s about getting students to talk a lot by filling information in a chart.  But that’s not the most important value of it.

Yes, students will talk a lot during this.  But by including a short pre-exercise, they will see how they should ask clarification questions when they need more information or if they didn’t understand.  Asking clarification questions is the strategy that they can use in future conversation situations in and outside the classroom.

In this activity, the students will be filling in information about a class schedule.  They’ll need to listen to their partners tell them the name of courses, days, times and room numbers.  They’ll have many chances to ask questions, especially if they don’t understand.

There are three steps in this activity:

  • Step 1: Brief work with a model showing how to do Step 2.
  • Step 2: Pair activity (Student A/ Student B)
  • Step 3:  Exercise to do if they finish before other pairs have finished.

Continue reading

Most Important Motivator of Students: How You Can Use It


This posting includes sample lessons that give students a lot of autonomy.

YouTube This posting is discussed on my YouTube video ESL Writing Workshop Approach

The most important ingredient for motivating students is autonomy. 1 The sense of being autonomous can produce a very positive effect on students’ attitude, focus and their performance.  Best of all, it’s very effective and quite easy to include this in ESL classes.

Having autonomy doesn’t mean that students decide what is taught in a lesson.  Instead, students can experience autonomy if the lesson is set up so that they can individually choose which exercise to do first, second etc., how fast to work, when to ask the teacher a question or for help and even when to take a break.

A lesson plan template that gives students autonomy (Writing Workshop)

Teachers can organize their lesson in a Writing Workshop using many different types of materials, but it works best when using inductive exercises.  That is because inductive exercises require little or no time taken up with teacher lectures.

These are General Steps for a Writing Workshop and Sample Specific Lesson with handouts

Continue reading

Customized Speaking/Listening “Game” (Actually, more than just a game.)

Three classmates are playing the game.

Vy: Here are the names of four classmates.  Which one is special? Julie,  Mai,  Saura, Thi.
Katya: Could you repeat that again?
Vy: Sure. Julie,  Mai,  Saura, Thi.

Alessa: I know.  Julie is special.
Vy: OK.  Why?
Alessa: Because she is not Asian, but the other three are.
Vy:  That’s right!  But there is another one.
Katya:  Let me see.  Oh, I got it.  Thi is special.  She is the only one who knows how to drive.
(Everyone laughs.)
Vy: You got it.
Danica: I know another one.  Saura is special.

Katya: Really?  How come?
Danica: She is the only one who finished her homework for today.

(Eruption of laughter.)
Vy: Now it’s your turn, Alessa.

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.  See below.)  

While the students were in engaged in this activity in triads, I was standing on the perimeter.  I could overhear the list that Vy read, but couldn’t think of anything special about the four names except the obvious one that Julie was the only non-Asian.  A minute later, I heard the sudden explosion of laughter and talking from them.  I realized that they had shared an inside joke.

The basis of this game (Odd Man Out) might sound familiar to many of you.  But by exploiting it more, it turns into a great interactive activity that is not only fun but also a chance to internalize many useful expressions and produce a lot of conversation.  And students are intent on listening to each other.

In its simplest format, student read a list of four words to their partners.  The partners have to choose which word is strange or odd or special and explain why.  For example:
cat, lion, dog, fish

Most of us would probably identify “fish” as being odd because it is the only one that lives in water.  However, another choice could be “lion,” since the others are common pets.

Making this a good learning tool and customizing it

Continue reading