Activity Corner: One-Question Surveys

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

In a One-Question Survey, each student has one slip of paper with a single question on it.  These questions are generally related, often by content.  They’re generally yes/no questions.  Each student is to ask each other student their question and tally up the results.

This is similar to my beloved Grid Activity, but with a One-Question Survey there is little writing, no record of how an individual answered, and it’s a much faster process.

The purposes can be to have students practice asking the same question repeatedly to work on their pronunciation and/or fluency, to reinforce key points of a lesson (i.e. vocabulary, grammar, content, etc.), or to gather data to aid in a math, Excel, writing, or conversation lesson.

Process:

  • Decide on your purpose.
  • Based on that, write as many different questions as there are students.
  • Model the process of asking the same question to everyone and tallying the results.
  • Give each student a different question.
  • Tell them to ask everyone, answer only Yes or No, and keep a tally of the results.
  • Debrief as a class.  How depends on your purpose.  Leave plenty of time for this – it’s the real meat of the activity.

Example (from Level 3):

Yesterday, we used a One-Question Survey in my Level 3 class in the context of our unit on cars and driving.

First, I modeled.  I took a slip of paper out of the pile in my hand and told them, “This is my question.  I’m going to ask everybody, including myself.”  I wrote it on the board, asked each student, and kept my tally on the board.

Then, I told them it was their turn.  I handed out questions we had talked about during the unit, such as “Have you ever gotten a ticket?”, “Do you speed?”, and “Do you cut people off?”  You can see we used all sorts of grammar.  This was for two reasons: a) it’s Level 3, so they already know a lot of grammar, and b) our focus was not on a grammar point, but on the content and vocabulary.

I asked them to ask all students, including themselves, and also to ask me.  I said that the only answers should be “yes” or “no.”  And I asked them to keep a tally.

When they were finished, we went through the questions and put them into an Excel spreadsheet that automatically calculated percentages for us.  This was to reinforce some of our computer lessons from last month.  At this point, it was time to go home.

Next time, I’d be more careful to make sure that each student understood his/her question.  In a few cases, students thought they understood, but they were mistaken.  We easily cleared this up during the debriefing time, but it would’ve been more powerful if students could have accurately explained to each other during the survey time itself.

Next time, I’d also like the debriefing to be more than just an Excel demo.  It could be a full-out Excel lesson, or even better, fodder for a conversation and/or writing assignment.  So, I recommend leaving plenty of time to work with the survey results.

Other content possibilities:

  • Warm-up: have students ask innocuous personal questions.
  • Graphs: use the data to practice graph-making, either analog or with Excel.
  • Academic writing: using the survey results, students can summarize, compare and contrast, predict based on, and explain the data.
  • Grammar: all questions should use the same structure.
  • Content: cut up a practice test with multiple-choice questions and have each student tally up answers A, B, C, and D.  Look at the results as a class.  Go over right answers and identify weak spots together that the students should study.
  • Google Docs: send students to the same Google Spreadsheet and have them enter their data simultaneously.

Journal: Not in the Text!

We’re in a unit on travel with a unit test coming up on Thursday.  Today we were working within the framework of four new vocabulary words: exciting, interesting, relaxing, and unusual.

The students gave lots of examples to show their understanding of these words.  For relaxing, they talked about sleep, sitting, massages, and spas.  For exciting, they talked about roller coasters and action movies.  For interesting, they talked about visiting museums and the White House. 

For unusual, they had trouble thinking of examples.  This makes total sense – it’s much easier to think of things that are usual than things that aren’t.  Finally, one student said, completely non-judgmentally: “sometimes, a man dresses like a woman.” 

“Transgender” is a fantastic teaching point for so many reasons.  You can break the word apart to show “trans” + “gender” to construct the meaning.  You can bring in such fantastic movies as “The Birdcage” and “To Wong Fu.”  You can get into freedom, tolerance, and discrimination in the USA.

The thing is, these are all tangents within our travel unit.  I made sure they had the word “transgender” for the concept the student brought up, and then I felt we should get back to our travel context.

Come to think of it though, transgender is a tangent within all of our units.  I will basically never teach “transgender” (or “blossom,” or “poop,” or “Xbox,” or “accuracy vs. fluency“) without knowing that I’m straying far away from the bounds of the textbook’s scope and sequence.

I understand that texts must have a limited scope and a logical sequence in order to be usable.  I’ve said several times in this blog alone that I think our text does a lot of things really well.  And I’m lucky to not be tied to teaching the text and only the text. 

But isn’t it interesting how these shiny books with their grammar charts, canned dialogs and amusing illustrations are teaching me when I’m “straying” and when I’m teaching “real” material?  The material seems so natural when you’re flipping through the book, but everything they put in (and everything they leave out) is a value judgment.  I find the subtle power of their voice to tell me and my students what’s normal, what’s acceptable, and what’s worthy of talking about to be a little frightening.

And for all that power, are textbooks really more valid than the experiences and questions the students bring to the table?

Journal: Moving to Fluency Practice

Today I had a total of 23 students attend class, though we were a class of 20 as class ended at noon.

One interesting challenge that’s come up is that my enrollment cap is thirty, but there are only 21 computers in a computer lab.  So far I’ve never had more than 21 students at computer time…

Anyway, we were very grammar-heavy in yesterday’s class, focusing in on the structural similarities and differences in using “can” and “have to.”  I really wanted to get beyond the form, meaning, and even pronunciation fo  of the words and into usage.  To do this, I needed to design a fluency activity.  This means I had to set the stage, step aside, and let them use the language. 

To set the stage, they needed a quick vocabulary review of different activities.  I tend to struggle with vocabulary, but I was pleased with how this one turned out.  By the end of this activity, they had gotten up out of their seats, reviewed the vocabulary, demonstrated some level of understanding by putting it on a spectrum, and put a huge word bank on the wall to prepare for the upcoming writing activity.

Here’s what we did:

  1. At home, I wrote 22 activities on 22 notecards in dark ink.
  2. I wrote on the board, “Shh!  Do not read the cards out loud!”  I drew a picture of a card and wrote “secret” on it.  I explained verbally too.
  3. I asked a student in the front to tape a card to my back.  Naturally, someone read it out loud.  🙂  We repeated the directions and laughed.  I demonstrated that I could not see it, but everyone else could.
  4. I taped a card to each student’s back.
  5. First, students walked around silently, reading each other’s backs.  I demonstrated first, and gave them 5 minutes.
  6. Second, each student had to figure out what was on his/her back, still with no talking.  I demonstrated the charades game and told them they had to act.  I gave them about 7 minutes.
  7. After they’d figured out their cards, I had them tape them to the top of the blackboard, organized from great exercise through no exercise (for example, play basketball and talk on the phone were on opposite ends of the board). 

I was very happy that it was quick, interesting, and a nice transition piece.

The writing activity was to write three invitations using “can.”  For example, Can you play golf on Saturday morning? 

We then used these invitations to begin the part of lessons that tends to make me nervous: fluency practice.  For fluency practice, the teacher sets the stage and then backs away to let the students actually use their English.

Students paired off.  Using their written work either as a script or as inspiration, they invited each other to do things.  The invitee made up an excuse using “have to” (i.e.  Sorry, I have to teach class then.).  Then we changed the rules so that the invitee had to accept (i.e. yes, sure, good idea). 

Tomorrow, we’ll do a small amount of accuracy practice, probably sentence scrambles.  We’ll spend much more time making calendars and having some real conversations about them with even less of a script than we had today.  We’ll see what happens!

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.