Activity Corner: Put It In Order

(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.)

My lead teacher used one of these activities to introduce essay structure in our Advanced Academic Writing class last week. She gave each student an element of an academic essay (i.e. “thesis statement,” “topic sentence 2,” etc.), and as a class they had to tape them to the board in the correct order.

I’ve used it in the past to teach sequence signal words (first, then, etc.) and to review several different verb tenses all at once. I’ve also used a variation where students put words in an appropriate order to form a sentence.

One of my Russian teachers used it on us to teach… well, I’m not sure what she was trying to teach. It was the first week of class and she gave us two stanzas worth of separate lines of a Russian poem. We had to put them in order. It was waaaay over my head.

This is a great activity for students to do in small groups or as one big group. They’ll be negotiating meaning together and the conversations will be authentic because of that. It can be individually done as well, but there’s less conversation and lots more cutting out that way.

Process:

  1. Decide what you want your students to put in order. Some kind of chronological or other objective sequence (i.e. introduction, body, conclusion) is the most clear-cut way to do this.
  2. Decide how many students to a group, and how many groups.
  3. Decide where the students will be working – at their tables, on the board, etc.
  4. Cut out the pieces onto separate strips of paper.
  5. In class, introduce the activity. Explain that you’ll be putting the papers in order. Explain what the students will be looking for to determine the order.
  6. Give the students time to figure it out.
  7. Go over the students’ results. Highlight the clues that pointed us to the right answer (i.e. “last” would go at the end; a thesis statement always goes at the end of the intro). Go over what is correct and be sure to answer questions about it.

Variations:

Other prep ideas:

  • Bring several pairs of scissors and have students help you cut strips.
  • Write on index cards or sentence strip card stock.
  • Assign students to each write on each card, then they can put the cards in order. Example: ask each student to write one sentence that told one activity they did last week and when they did it. (This element can be practice of Simple Past.) Then they can put all their sentences in order on the board.

Levels of focus:

  • word building (i.e. prefix, root, suffixes)
  • sentence building (each strip is just one word)
  • paragraph building
  • narrative building / timeline

Other uses:

  • Conversation starter – have students put things in a more subjective order, such as importance, preference, fairness, etc. This sets up the class for meaningful conversations: students can discuss why they put things where they did, ask each other questions, and practice politely disagreeing. Examples: best food, most important belongings, spouse traits, etc.
  • Syllabus study – the first day of class, when going over the syllabus, have students put their major assignments in order so they for sure know what’s coming up in the semester.
  • Grammar study – include sentences in various past, present, and future tenses and aspects that the students are familiar with.
  • Content – put a step in a process on each strip, then have the students put those in order. Examples: photosynthesis, blood transfusions, rebuilding a carburetor, etc.

You’re reading Activity Corner: Put It In Order, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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Shaping a Writing Class

2183799236_e16d497eccThe Fall 2016 semester ended last month. I was an assistant teacher in an advanced academic writing class. It was really incredible professional development, plus quite fun in its own right. And I’m scheduled to do it again this coming semester! So naturally I’ve been ruminating on teaching writing.

If a kind/diabolical genie granted me an advanced academic writing class for which I had to write a syllabus without regard for anything else, how would I shape it?

Content-wise, I think I would emphasize:

  • reading example essays and papers
  • logic, argument, and reasoning
  • grammar review
  • writing many, many shorter assignments
    • writing thesis statements (direct and indirect) for a huge variety of topics
    • writing body paragraphs or conclusions to complete example essays
    • intentionally using the four different sentence types (simple, compound, complex, compound complex) in shorter writing assignments
  • drafting and editing several full-blown essays

Pretest/Post-test:

  • edit the same essay (for grammar, argument, and structure) on first day and last day
  • write the same essay on first day and second-to-last day
    • compare the two on the last day

In the day-to-day of class, I would ideally have the basic structure be quite consistent:

  • warm-up time (grammar, argument, editing)
  • homework review time
  • reading/citation time
  • writing time
  • conferencing time
  • similar homework expectations each week

Homework:

  • due same week: grammar and editing work on same topic as was done in class, submitted on Canvas
  • due next week: writing, for peer review in class, then to be handed in

What am I forgetting?

Photo Credit: kellinahandbasket on Flickr

You’re reading Shaping a Writing Class, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Starting My Source List

Katie left a comment asking:

Also, how did you go about generating the list of reading materials for the course?

It’s been an ongoing process.

Books by Svenwerk on Flickr
Books by Svenwerk on Flickr

I started by searching my local library’s catalog for “teaching adults.”  I reserved several books that looked interesting and relevant and put them on the syllabus.  This way, even if they’re not The Books on the subject, I had somewhere to start after only 10 minutes of pursuit.

Actually, speaking of easily accessible, the library had several electronic resources that I emailed to myself and forgot about till I wrote that last paragraph.  There, I just popped them onto the syllabus.  Writing really does help me think.

From there, I looked at the resources referenced in the books, particularly in Renner’s The Art of Teaching Adults.  Renner wrote a great first chapter outlining what cannon of work informed his book and what it had to say – it’s basically a readable and engaging annotated bibliography.

One of my volunteers also just happened to mention an article he’d been reading about teaching adults basic reading skills, and when he offered to give me a copy I gladly accepted and added it to the syllabus.

Craning For A Book by *Your Guide on Flickr
Craning For A Book by *Your Guide on Flickr

I also realized that my learning center has a bunch of books, some of them teacher references, so I grabbed one I’ve been curious about (thoughts on “English from A to Z” here) and can definitely grab more.  This brought to mind how I’d love to LibraryThing my center’s books so that my volunteers, students, coworkers and I could know exactly what’s there and sort through it all in meaningful ways.  Right now I’m pretty much the only one who knows what we have, and that’s a waste of a pretty handy collection!

It’s kind of fascinating how even one or two sources lead to a huge number of sources.  Identifying them was definitely not the hard part.  All I had to do was start!

Other material-finding resources I considered but haven’t really tapped yet:

  • syllabi from Adult Education courses at leading colleges and universities
  • recommendations from experienced teachers (I haven’t really talked to any yet)
  • Wikipedia, used specifically for a list of other (reputable) resources

The beauty of the 5-week project is that another can start quite soon.  The sources I don’t get to can always go to a future project.