Unexpected Vocabulary Lesson

I was just reading through some old blog posts, and I couldn’t believe I left this anecdote out of the Controversy piece.

I was teaching Beginning way back in my library learning center days, and we were making a list of vegetables. I was writing quickly, leading, listening, and encouraging more answers… and in my distraction, I didn’t write pea. I wrote pee.

Great, Emily.

I quick erased the error and fixed it, but not fast enough. Someone noticed. If I remember right, I think whoever it was knew what pee meant and thought it was a funny mistake. I agreed both then and now. But not everyone knew what it meant, and they asked, and I had the sort of uncomfortable task of explaining it.

Then a student asked, “What’s the other one?”

28684513151_7d0314bfdc_c

I asked her what she meant. Even years later as I write this, I recall feeling embarrassed and desperately hoping against all hope that my vegetable lesson wasn’t devolving into fecal matter.

She explained that she was at the store one time, and she went to the bathroom and there wasn’t pee on the floor, but the other one. She needed to report this but she didn’t know the word.

And I thought that was a really good reason to spend a few minutes of class talking about excrement. It was a legitimate vocabulary question that clearly related to surviving and thriving in an English-speaking country. Why would I cajole the class into naming vegetables they may or may not use, but refuse to name something with universal relevancy and serious health implications?

My embarrassment evaporated, and that was the night I wrote poop on the board.

 

Photo CreditRusty Clark ~ 100K Photos on Flickr

You’re reading Unexpected Vocabulary Lesson, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

 

Advertisements

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.

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.

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: Grid Activity

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

I use The Grid Activity for several reasons.  The most obvious is that it’s great fluency practice – it requires that they talk to each other and gets the teacher out of the middle of it.  I also use it as a pre-writing activity, having students gather information that they’ll use to write full sentences later in class.  The activity also serves as practice reading a grid.

What you need: a piece of paper for each student with a large grid drawn on it (for Intermediate I often used one that had three columns and eight rows).

Here’s an example of how I used the Grid Activity to practice Present Continuous grammar.

I drew my own 3×8 grid on the board.  On the top row, I wrote in one question per box:  What’s your name?  |  What are you doing after class today?  |  What are you cooking for dinner tonight?

I then proceeded to have a conversation with my coffee mug (I named it Michael for the purposes of this activity) in which I asked it the three questions on the board and wrote all its answers in the same row.

Then I asked a student the three questions and wrote all their answers on the same row.

Then I told the students it was their turn.  They needed to interview each other.  Just like I did, ask other students these three questions.  Write the answers.

It was interesting because for some students, it was very easy.  A few students had trouble remembering how a grid worked each time.  And a couple other students (the students who had high speaking ability and much lower reading ability) would make up their own questions, usually completely unrelated to the grammar and/or content I wanted to focus on.

The point is that even after both modeling and explaining, you need to watch them very carefully each time you do the activity.  You can’t just assume that because they’re talking and writing that they’re practicing the language you want them to practice and that they use the grid correctly.  Not that it’s a disaster if they’re not doing it perfectly, but some gentle guidance can make it a richer learning experience than general conversation.

After the interview time (it can easily take 30 minutes), I asked them questions about their classmates’ answers.  This made them read their grids for specific information.

I also had them write full sentences based on the information they gathered.  The concept of taking the information from the grid and putting it into sentences is not necessarily obvious.  Even in Intermediate, you have to model this a lot.

Other content possibilities:

  • alphabetics – just have students write down each other’s names.  They’ll have to spell their name out for their classmates.
  • grammar review – use questions that use the target grammar.
    For example, “Where did you grow up?”  “Where would you like to live when you are old?”
  • vocabulary review – use questions that call upon target vocabulary.  For example, in a food unit, have them ask, “What are three foods you like?”  “What are three foods you don’t like?”
  • advanced – you can use more questions with more complex grammar and vocabulary.  This will take the interview process up to their level.  Definitely have them work with the information they gather, writing sentences, paragraphs, or even making graphs.