Activity Corner: Information Gap

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

13981256424_9658f31715Information Gap is a classic type of flexible communicative activity. It’s a close cousin of the Jigsaw Reading, in which students provide each other with information.

The teacher does not have the answers. Instead, the students are divided into two groups that each have answers for the other. The students communicate to give and receive the information they need.

Example:

Here is a simple information gap activity example. Each student is given a slip of paper with one of these sentences.

Group A: Ann is traveling to Brazil on a _______. It leaves at 3:10 Tuesday afternoon.

Group B: Ann is traveling to Brazil on a boat. It leaves at _______ Tuesday afternoon.

Students partner up across groups. They are not supposed to look at each other’s papers.

Group A would ask a question to fill in their blank. For example, “How is Ann getting to Brazil?” Group B would do the same, asking something like, “What time is the boat departing?”

That’s it!

Procedure

  1. Decide what you want your students to practice. See below for some suggestions.
  2. Choose or create your materials. Note that materials can be reading passages, lists, maps, nutrition labels, and so on. The more material, the longer the activity can be.
  3. Prepare the information for Group A and Group B. The more blanks, the more time the students will need. This can be as low-tech as using white-out. It’s very handy to number each blank. Different colored paper can also be handy to prevent confusion.
  4. In class, prepare students for the content and language to be used in the information gap task.
  5. Explain the activity: each group is missing some information and they need to talk to each other to fill in the blanks. They will work with a partner who is missing different information.
  6. Be sure to emphasize on what the purpose is. For example, if you primarily want them to practice forming and asking questions, be clear about this so they don’t gloss over their helping verbs and intonation.
  7. Form partnerships however you see fit. Make sure each partnership has one student with the Group A paper, and the other has the Group B paper.
  8. As the students begin, circulate to observe, provide help, etc.
  9. Check answers. This can be done as a class, in pairs of partnerships, with all the Group As and all the Group Bs… Depending on your objectives, you might also choose to have students model how they asked for the information.

Content Possibilities:

  • reading any level of informational text in any subject
  • in academic writing class, could be sample paragraphs or essays
  • conversation/intonation practice – the content is just a vehicle for communicating verbally
  • spelling out loud – content just a vehicle for spelling words out loud
  • skimming and scanning
  • map reading and/or prepositions of place
  • forming questions
  • vocabulary practice
  • introducing the syllabus or other “boring” policy information

Variations:

  • Regular grammar exercises – the students check each other’s work. Group A does the odds and Group B does the evens. Each group is provided with the answer key for the other group. I recommend checking answers verbally – so much of our grammar practice skews toward written instead of spoken!
  • Multilevel classes – Group A could be the lower level and Group B be the higher level. Group B would have more blanks. Group A could practice spelling them out loud if they didn’t know the word.
  • Metacognition – students guess the information in the blank first. (You’ll want to at least triple-space these ones.) This could be especially useful with content in an ESP class.
  • Editing practice – create an info-gap of level-appropriate writing that needed editing, but leave a gap instead. Students can write in their answer. You can then provide the original and Ss can discuss their different answers and compare them to the original. (You might want to provide suggested answers as well, especially at lower levels.)

This is a super flexible type of activity – I hope you’ll give it a try!

Photo Credit: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Information Gap, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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Throwback Draft: Life With Limited English

[I have a modest collection of unpublished drafts in various states of completion from at least five years ago, and I thought I’d publish some from time to time.]

427338446_4b1e18bef7From conversation time in Level 2:

“I’m sad… because… I want to discuss…. with neighbors… but…. can not.”

“My daughter, she sees the children playing outside, and she want to go with them.  But I don’t let her. Because I can’t speak to them.  I don’t have English.”

Worth remembering as teachers and as neighbors, I think.

 

Photo Credit: Nisha A on Flickr

You’re reading Throwback Draft: Life with Limited English, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Journal: Love Apples?

Students: 13

One thing that went well:  Jared did a voice recording for me yesterday.  He really did call me yesterday evening to tell me that his bike pedal broke off mid-commute and that he needed a ride home.  The recording he made for me was the message he would’ve left had I not been able to pick up the phone right when he called.  The class seemed impressed that it was really him and about a real situation.  And we all kind of got a kick out of it.

One thing to improve:  I talk too much.

One surprise:  Our long reading was about tomatoes.  (Apparently, in French they used to be called “love apples.”  So the title of our reading about tomatoes was “Love Apples.”  It was weird.)  It was surprisingly engaging.  The pre-reading questions, which are so often lame, actually led to some really interesting conversations and a debate as to whether tomatoes were fruits or vegetables.  Then, once the reading explained the biological definition of “fruit” (it contains the seeds), we had a great time thinking up surprising examples, for example, peppers and cucumbers.  I guess I would’ve thought the article about tomatoes would be mind-numbing, but it wasn’t at all!

Journal: Jigsaws and Shovels

Students: 19

One thing that went well:  Unlike yesterday, today I remembered to bring the DVD with the listening exercises on it!

Ok, that’s cheating.  

One real thing that went well:  We ended with sort of a truncated jigsaw reading.  I think the big success was the reading itself – it was really interesting! It was a magazine-style quiz with ten different scenarios.  Each scenario highlighted norms in different countries and cultures, and the questions were either, “What should you do?” or “What was your mistake?”  I gave each group two questions from the quiz, and they read them and discussed their answers.

Since we were short on time, I didn’t mix up the groups as I normally would in a jigsaw.  Instead of mixing up the groups for phase two, I had a volunteer from each group read one question to the whole group and give their suggested answer.  Then, I told everyone if the book agreed or not.  We also related it back to US culture.  This saved a lot of time (we were running a bit short), and it was also a great, high-energy way to end class.

One thing to be improved:  With grammar, sometimes I feel like I’m digging us into a hole rather than clarifying anything.  Today was one of those days.  We didn’t do too much – I cut it a bit short when I felt the shovel in my hands.  I hope to start to dig us out tomorrow.  Aside from making sure my points are clear, I need to do my best to steer them away from obsessing over exceptions and weird overlaps (i.e. “Have you eaten dinner?” vs. “Did you eat dinner?”).

One surprise:  We’re studying Present Perfect.  We also watched a DVD dialogue  in which one character said to another, “I never forget a face.”  A student asked why this wasn’t in Present Perfect: “I have never forgotten a face.”  She even backed it up: it emphasizes the past up to the present, and it’s about an experience (or rather, the lack thereof).  I thought it was a brilliant connection!  We talked about it being a normal phrase, and why it’s in Present tense, and the slightly strange tone it would take in Present Perfect.  But still, really great insight.

Journal: AmTrak… right?

Just a quick anecdote from Monday:

We were studying different options of public transportation.  The students brainstormed everything from cars to planes to walking to taking the bus to riding a horse.

short train by Bright Meadow on Flickr.com
Train, photo by Bright Meadow on Flickr.com

We all live between Baltimore and DC, so we have an alarming number of train options: the light rail, the metro, the MARC train, and AmTrak. 

They’re all trains, but they’re all different.  The light rail serves Baltimore and its suburbs.  The metro serves DC and its suburbs.  The MARC train serves the corrodior between DC and Baltimore… but only on weekdays.  AmTrak serves major cities nationally, but it’s much more expensive than the other options.

They seemed really interested in AmTrak and asked a lot of questions. 

Where does it go?  Does it go to Canada?  Is it the terrorists?

What?

After September 11th.  Terrorists.  AmTrak.  Envelope.

I was slow to catch on.  I was wondering if there was some sort of train attack I didn’t remember.  Can you tell what they meant, readers?

One of the students finally looked it up on his iPod.  No, is antracks.

Ah.  Anthrax.  Got it.  No, AmTrak is different.

Activity Corner: Guess The Word

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

This is basically “Catchphrase,” a game by Hasbro.  I use it to review vocabulary.  One student randomly selects a vocab word from a hat and then tries to get his or her classmates to guess it.  They can say any word except the vocabulary word itself.

What you need: the vocabulary words they’ve already been working on, each written on a separate index card or a scrap of paper.

Here’s an example of how I used Guess the Word to practice the names of jobs in my Level 1 class.

Scaffolding:  We played this game early in the unit, so the words were still relatively new to the students.  First we went over what all of the words meant.  I wrote the words on the board, elicited definitions from students, and wrote those down too.  The students copied them down.  Then, I erased just the vocab words, leaving the definitions on the board.

Modeling:  I held up an index card with a job on it (carpenter) with the blank side toward the students.  I said, On my card, there is a job.  It’s a secret. At this point I held it close to me, protecting the information.  I will tell you about it.  What job is it?

I made a show of reading the card to myself, looking up at the ceiling to think, and then gave some clues: they build things, they use wood to build.

Here somebody guessed “construction worker.”  I was being vague deliberately so that the modeling would last long enough to get some flow.  I said they were close, and added, they build tables, chairs, and cabinets.

They guessed carpenter, and I showed them my card as I told them they were correct.

I immediately asked for a new teacher.  I had one of the more advanced students come up first just to make sure the process was clear, and it went off without a hitch.  She picked out one of the cards I presented her with, gave clues, and told the class when they were right.  Each student came up and gave clues for a word.

Other content possibilities:

  • practice descriptors – if you’re working on adjectives, write nouns on the cards so that the clue-giver has to list appropriate adjectives for the class.
  • spelling – have the clue-giver read the word and ask, “How do you spell that?”  The class will spell out loud to the clue-giver, who will write down the class’s answer on the board.
  • verb charades- write verbs on the cards and have the clue-giver mime the action instead of giving verbal clues.
  • advanced – use this to practice advanced vocabulary (mostly nouns and adjectives) just as I described above, but split the class into teams and have them compete to get the most correct the most quickly.
  • low-beginning- have words and pictures on each card.  Have matching word/picture cards (or even objects, like plastic foods).  The clue-giver should read the word, and then two students should race to hold up the matching card or object.

Activity Corner: Dictation Relay

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

This is a fun way to get students to dictate sentences to each other and focus on the nitty-gritty details of writing.  It also gets students up out of their seats.

This activity is not a quick one.  For a quick activity, just dictate sentences to your students and have them copy them down.  They tend to love plain old dictation, by the way.

What you need: a sentence on a piece of paper taped just outside the classroom.

Here’s an example of how I used a Dictation Relay to review dates in my Level 1 class.

Modeling:  Note that you will need to do a lot of mock-running for lower level classes to be sure that they understand the instructions.

I separated my class of 16 into four groups of four.  I held up a folded piece of paper and said, “I have a secret.”  I then made a show of taping it to the wall outside the classroom.  (The secret was, “Today is Wednesday, September 8, 2010.”  We had just worked on this earlier in class.)

I named the groups A through D.  I said I needed one student from each group to run and walk.  One student from A will run, one student from B will run…. you get the idea.  I had the runners stand in the front of the room.

The runners will read the secret.  They will remember the secret.  They will run to their group and tell the secret. (I play-ran out the door and back in again.) The other students will write the secret.

If they forget, they can read again and again. (Yep, I ran right back out the door again and then back in).

All students will write the secret.  It must be perfect, 100% correct to win.

Runners, no pens and no paper.  You cannot write.  Writers, does everyone have a pen and paper?  On your mark, get set, go.

I had to remind runners not to write just a couple of times.  After a few minutes they were ready for me to check their work, and it often had little mistakes.  I told them when they were close and what words they spelled wrong or how many commas they forgot.  When one team won, we all applauded.

Other content possibilities:

  • spelling – put some hard-to-spell words you’ve encountered recently into the dictation sentence.  It’s great practice.
  • vocabulary review – be sure to meaningfully use at least one vocabulary word in each sentence.
  • grammar – make sure the sentence includes relevant grammar, particularly if that grammar involves picky spelling rules (i.e. plural endings are either -s or -es)
  • pronunciation – have your sentence be a tongue-twister to focus in on a sound or two your students struggle with (i.e. The fish has a thin fin.)
  • reading – use a sentence straight from the day’s reading.  Make sure that the writers know not to just copy it from the story, but to listen to the runner.  Do this to review the reading.  Alternatively, pick an interesting sentence and use it to introduce the reading.  You can also have students scan the reading to locate the dictation sentence.
  • low-beginning – just write a vocabulary word and have the runner spell it to the writers.