We all know students learn best when they are actively involved in the process of learning. While we lay emphasis on communicative language teaching in the classroom, there are times when we struggle to make our language exercises truly communicative in nature. I would like to share with you some activities and tasks that worked well in my ESL classroom at the university. While you may use some activities as they are, you may have to modify others depending on the language proficiency level of your learners, their experience of working together and your aim for doing these activities in class. Please remember what works for one may not work for another and therefore it is important that you trust your impressions about your learners before trying these activities in class.
Information Gap Activities
Information gap activities are used to create speaking opportunities between groups or pairs. In order for communication to be authentic and realistic, it is important that one group/ individual has some information that the other person does not have. All students bring different kinds of experience to the class and these could be exploited to generate genuine information gap.
Tip for teachers: For successful completion of the task, it is necessary that the students know the particular language to find the missing information. Students at the basic level would need some support here so the teacher could pre-teach the language that the students will need to find the missing information. If the students are at a very basic level, the teacher could also share some “Wh-” question forms that students could use for asking questions.
All students (and teachers) bring something to the classroom. We are all the sum of our experiences, likes, dislikes, hopes and expectations. We are all thinking, feeling individuals, capable of originality of thought and expression. Often, students in an ESL class become tongue-tied and awkward, which prevents them from actively participating in class activities. One way of helping students overcome their feelings of anxiety and incompetence is to allow them the opportunity of bringing their world into the classroom. You may also find ways for your students to contribute their own cultural experience in the classroom. This could mean asking your learners to talk about their own experiences, about how they celebrate weddings/festivals or what places they visit. When students find that their experiences are welcome and their feelings are respected, they usually start engaging in ESL activities with more enthusiasm and interest.
Newspapers provide authentic, up-to-date information about various topics and can be used effectively in an ESL classroom. The newspaper supplement, though not a great source of language, may be used to generate interest in learners if they are keen to know about the latest trends and media. However, if you are going to use a newspaper, the task itself should be authentic wherever possible, not merely the material. One aim of reading a newspaper should be to encourage students to read outside the classroom as well. So it is best to avoid activities such as “underline all the adverbs”, etc., because we do not read the newspaper to learn grammar. When teaching young adults, it is more important to talk about their opinions and see how and to what extent newspapers influence students’ thinking and opinions. Editorials and short articles describing latest research on topics of general interest are a great way to engage the interest of young adults.
The following activities work well with young adults. They could be modified according to the proficiency level of the learners.
Activity 1: Planning a Trip
Time: 20-25 minutes
Skill focus: Speaking, Listening
Materials: A4 sheets
Ask the students to write on a piece of paper the name of a place they have visited. On another paper, they should write the name of the place they would like to visit. Now pair up students according to their interests. For e.g., If student A has been to Goa (a beach destination) and student D wants to go on a beach holiday, the teacher can ask them to pair up.
Give the students 5 minutes to write down the information they want to share and the questions they want answered. For e.g., student D may ask what’s the best time to visit, what’s the must-do thing, etc., while student A may make a list of the highlights of visiting the place, highly recommended things to do, etc.
Now ask the students in each pair to talk with each other. They could either begin with student D asking questions or student A first describing a few things after which student D may ask questions to fill gaps in the information.
Activity 2: Memories and Experiences
Time: 25 minutes
Skill focus: Speaking
Materials required: Picture cards
Spread some pictures on a desk. Ask the students to pick up any picture that interests them. Ask all those who have similar pictures to pair up together, for instance all those who have a picture of a toddler to form pairs. Similarly, all those who have pictures of teenagers/school farewell will make pairs.
Ask them to talk to each other and share memories triggered by the picture and why the picture appeals to them.
This is a good exercise to conduct at the beginning of a session/course as it encourages the students to talk about themselves. This activity works well with students because there is no pressure on them to talk about things they may not know about, they simply share their own experiences. For a very basic class, the teacher may allow the students to use their first language if they are unable to find the appropriate words in English.
Activity 3: In my Opinion
Time: 60 minutes
Skill focus: Reading, Speaking/Writing
Materials required: Newspaper clippings, Handout
1. Cut and make multiple copies of a newspaper clipping that you know would interest your students.
2. Ask students to work in groups of 4-5 students each. Give them copies of the newspaper clippings. Ask them to read the article and decide whether they agree with the writer and to what extent. You may give them some questions to make it a focused reading exercise. If you want to challenge them, ask them for a different opinion from the one expressed in the article.
3. Some questions that the teacher could write on the board:
a. What is the writer’s opinion about…?
b. Is the writer taking a clear stand on this topic?
c. What examples are being provided to support the writer’s position?
d. Is there any data? Does it look convincing?
e. Is the writer generalizing (e.g. All men below the age of 45 are at a risk of being diabetic)? Is the generalization justified?
4. Distribute the handout on asking questions/sharing opinions, especially with students with basic proficiency in English. Once the students have read the article and thought about the questions, ask them to discuss it with the members in their group. Encourage students to share their knowledge/personal experiences to substantiate their points of view.
5. Alternatively, the teacher could ask students to write their responses to the article. If given as a home task, students could be encouraged to find more information/data/articles to support their points of view.
Giving Your Opinion
I think that...
I don’t think that...
In my opinion...
I agree with the writer…
I don’t agree with the point…
Asking for Support or Details
Why do you think that?
Could you elaborate?
Could you give (me) an example?
Can you illustrate that?
What evidence do you have?
Could you explain it in more detail?
Could you provide some details?
Supporting Your Opinions
Let me illustrate…
To give you an example…
Let me give you an example…
Nupur Samuel is interested in assessment of English language skills, teacher training and English language teaching. She teaches English language to undergraduate and postgraduate students at Ambedkar University, Delhi.