How to IMPROVE Six Popular ESL Activities: Making Them More Than Just Talking PART 1

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 talkingand 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.

In this posting (Part 1), I’ll discuss three of the six activities, and in my next posting (Part 2), I discuss the other three.

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.

20 Quest Chart shot

Her is a link to a short videoo 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

Talk Pict chart shot

Sad photo samples shot

Her is a link to a short videoo Where you can see a demonstration of how this activity works and more explanations about its many improvements over traditional talk about your picture activity: Video A Better Way to do Talk about a Picture

Survey comparison chart shot

Survey Sample chart shot

Survey directions shot

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 surveys or questionaires: A BETTER Way to do ESL Surveys and Questionnaires Activities

(For a more complete description of this activity and a questionnaire handout that you can use with your students, see • Whole Class Conversation Mixer Activity: Good for Students’ Skills, Brains and More)

In this section, I’ll explain two important type of exercises that you will want to include in order to make these popular activities better.

(In the links to the videos aboveI discuss more details and include more examples for how to include these exercises.)

1) Conversation techniques. These exercises will prepare your students to engage with each other during the activities. These are techniques that they will need beyond the ESL classroom.

2) Modeling exercises. These show students how they should carry out the activity in ways that will best help them improve their conversational skills.

In all these activities, students have opportunities to use rejoindersespecially ones that show they are listening (I see / uh huh, etc.), are happy to hear what was said (Great! / Wonderful!) and are surprised (Wow! / That’s amazing! etc.)

Before doing an activity, it’s helpful to do a short exercise in which students focus on the type of rejoinders that they should use. For beginning levels, it might only be ones to show that they understand (That’s nice / Oh, yeah? etc.) or not understanding (I’m sorry. What did you say? etc.) For practice with rejoinders, see • Conversation magic: Two most important conversation techniques (Part 1)

and • ESL Students Won’t Progress In Conversation Skills Without This Technique.

Also, with these activities, they will have chances to ask follow-up questions. For practice with follow-up questionssee • Conversation magic: Two most important techniques. (Part 2)

In addition, for intermediate-levels, during the activities, they could be expected to answer questions with details. For practice with doing this, see • Conversation Activity: Getting Students to Say More Than the Minimum

It’s not very effective for the teacher to just tell the students how to carry out the activity and to remind them to use rejoinders, follow-up questions and tell details. So we want exercises that will engage the students and which will help them understand exactly what to do. Here are some examples:

  • Fill-in-the-blanks. Students choose words from the box to fill in the demonstration dialog.

Fill in the blank bouka BLOG shot

  • Juxtapose active and less active students. In pairs, students read two dialogs and identify which one shows students carrying out the activity correctly.

Mansion dialog BLOG shot

  • Two student model in front of the class. You choose two students to come to the front of the class and read Dialog 1 (above) and then choose two other students to read Dialog 2. Students tell you who were more active, and you can point out what they did that you want everyone to do during the activity.
  • Teacher modeling. You choose a student to model with you to the whole class. For example:
    For bouka-boukayou can demonstrate how you could make the activity more intriguing by starting off with general hints and then progressing to more specific hints.
    For talking about a pictureyou could show students how they could use their imagination when talking about their pretend picture.
    For the survey activityyou could illustrate how they could extend their interactions by asking even more than the one required follow-up question.

In conclusion, these popular activities should be more than just a way to get students to talk. They can be designed in a way to help students develop conversational techniques that they’ll be able to apply outside our classrooms.

David Kehe

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