Activity Corner: Six Word Story

(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.)

This is a nice little activity you can use as a warm-up, a mini-quiz, summary practice, or even grammar exercise, about basically any content.

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We have that famous so-called six word novel:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

What else can our students convey in just six words?

In Six Words Or Less…

  • Introduce yourself to the class
  • Summarize the article/chapter you just read
  • Share your goals for the semester
  • Write down what you learned today
  • Describe someone important to you
  • Propose a topic for the next writing assignment

The possibilities are pretty much endless! Give it a try!

 

Idea Credit and further reading: Students Write Life Stories in Six Words or Less

Photo Credit: Rachel Torgerson on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Six Word Story, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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Five Strategies for Learning Names

Happy January!

What’s your strategy for learning names?

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Learning your students’ names quickly helps set a great tone for the semester.

Here are five ways to get it done:

Set a goal

I was born good at names. It’s a little eerie sometimes. Also, most classes I’ve taught are relatively small. In that kind of situation, I’ll usually know people’s names within the first two sessions without trying particularly hard.

But my goal is always to know my students’ names by the end of the first class session. I expect them to work hard – I can push myself, too.

You should set a goal that works for you, but make it as soon as humanly possible.

Feeling like you need some external motivation? Schedule a Name Test for yourself, and make it as public as you dare!

Use Two-Sided Name Placards

Yes, do some typical introductions and warm-ups. But don’t stop there.

On the first day, hand out card stock and dark markers. Ask students to write down the name they wish to be called on both sides. This helps the entire class learn names, including the students who sit in the back, and including the teacher.

Collect the placards at the end of each session so they’re always available in class. Plan to use them for at least the first five weeks of the semester.

Practice

Quiz yourself in both directions: face-to-name and name-to-face. Read down the roster, picturing each individual’s face. When you work with students’ assignments, attendance, grading, etc., deliberately picture each student. In class, look systematically around the room, recalling each individual’s name. At home, picture where each student was sitting and recall their names.

None of this takes a designated block of time, just a minute or two of your attention.

During your practice, make sure you don’t rely on identifying students by their hair, makeup, jacket, or other features of style they may choose to change at any time. You also can’t assume they’ll always be in the same seat – you need to know them wherever they’re standing or sitting.

If coming up with any particular name gives you trouble, practice repetition in multiple modalities: say it, write it, think it, spell it out loud, trace it on your palm with your finger, place it into a short tune or rhyme – play to your strengths!

Know Your Error Style

What types of name errors do you tend toward? And how does it manifest: blanking? garbling? slow recall? mixing up faces?

I’m a garbler, so mnemonics are my friend. My classic name problem is to mix up and/or reverse syllables in new-to-me names.

Since I know this is my error style, I recognize names that will give me trouble right away and immediately start building mental structures to keep me on track.

It’s often simple things, like “me in the middle” or remembering that this friendly person ironically has a syllable that sounds like mean in her name (not neam, but mean). 

If you mix up faces, ask permission to take photos, perhaps of rows of students at a time. Use the photos to study.

If you panic and blank, just going through the motions of studying may help you feel more confident, which may in turn help you blank less. You should also experiment with practicing in other modalities (see above) – maybe one clicks more readily for you than others do.

Double-Check Your Pronunciation

Names are important to people, even if they don’t say so. Take an extra few minutes to check your pronunciation. It’s really not awkward because the only reason anyone would check is because s/he cares. Even if it’s already halfway through the semester – just check.

How do you check? First, listen. How do the students and other teachers pronounce the students’ names? Do any differ from how you say them?

Then, directly ask individuals. You just quietly ask. Here are a couple of examples:

“I hear different people say your name differently. How do you say your name? What do you prefer?”

Or,

“This is how I say your name. Is that right? How can I say it better?”

You can be less direct too, perhaps asking everyone to re-introduce themselves to build classroom community, or by making a public “test the teacher” activity.

If you can just feel the pronunciations sliding through your head, ask again. Simply say that you’re having trouble with this name, but that it’s important to you to get it right. Try saying a name two or three different ways and asking which is best. Write your understanding of the pronunciation and ask, “Like this?” Write it down for yourself in IPA. You can even ask if you can make an audio recording of the student saying his or her name properly.

 

Names matter. They’re worth the work it takes to memorize them. My best semesters have been ones where there’s a sense of community in the classroom, and it’s incredibly hard to have that when you’re not fluent in their names.

Get them quickly, and get them right!

Have a great semester!

 

Photo Credit: k4dordy on Flickr

You’re reading Five Strategies for Learning Names, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

Activity Corner: Two Truths and a Lie

(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.)

1471150324_a52068a957_zI don’t usually choose to use this one in my own classroom. I mean, first of all, it’s a drinking game. Second of all, do we really want to get to know each other by lying? And third of all, since we’re all lying about something, it can lead to confusion, especially in a language-learning setting.

I should’ve gone into marketing – I can really sell these activities.

I’m including it because as an assistant teacher, I’ve seen this activity used multiple times to great effect. Nobody cares (or knows?) that it’s a drinking game, most people seem to have fun making up a lie to innocently trick everyone, and I’ve been impressed at how little confusion results from this game.

Plus there’s no prep, it requires no materials, and is general enough to be used in many levels and situations.

Procedure:

  • Write the name of the game on the board.
  • Model: tell two truths and one lie about yourself. It’s helpful to write them on the board at all but the highest levels. Have students guess which is the lie. When they identify the lie, go ahead and draw a line through it to show that it is indeed not true.
  • Give students time (around five minutes) to think of two truths and one lie about themselves.
  • Call on students randomly to share their two truths and their lie. Encourage the other students to guess which is the lie: the first, second, or third sentence.

It’s really simple, it doesn’t take much time, and people seem to get a kick out of it.

Note: there’s usually someone in all but the highest classes who doesn’t quite get that they are supposed to tell one untrue “fact” about themselves. When that happens, remember that it’s inevitable and be prepared to joke, “You’re just too truthful!” or “You’re so honest!” No big deal.

Give it a try!

Photo Credit: Carmella Fernando on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Two Truths and a Lie, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner: Who Are You?

(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.)

This is a nice warm-up activity that helps students get to know each other a bit better as we share how we see ourselves.

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You split students into small groups of about four each, and each group has a group of “personality” cards. Students have quiet time to think about which personality card(s) best describe(s) them, and then share what and why with their small group. This can be as simple as outgoing vs. shy, to pictures of various animals, to Jung’s 12 architypes.

Procedure:

  • Decide on a set of personality cards.
  • Print out enough that you have one set for every four students in your class.
  • Students work in groups of about 4. Give each group a set of cards.
  • Students look together at the different cards. Each picks one to represent him/her.
  • Students take turns holding up the card that best describes themselves and telling their group why.

Example:

In an intermediate class, the teacher should separate the class into groups and hand out five cards per group: lion, sheep, chameleon, robin, and goat.

Go through the cards as a class. What does a lion do? What about sheep? What kind of lizard is this, and what does it do? What kind of bird is this, and what does it do? What do goats do?

Their answers might differ – things like this are open to interpretation, and different cultures and individuals likely interpret them differently. This is part of what makes it an interesting conversation activity.

Model the activity. “I am looking at the cards. Which card is like me? Which card is similar to me? Here is the goat. Goats get into trouble. They jump over fences. They eat crazy things. They are always active. I am like the goat, in my mind. My brain jumps around like a goat. I think too much and I get in trouble like a goat.”

Give instructions. “Now, it’s your turn. Which animal are you? First, think. Then, tell your group. Tell them why. You have ten minutes.”

Circulate to make sure everyone understands and everyone participates.

Variations:

  • use different sets of cards depending on the level and interests of your students, and the content of your unit of study.
    • personality vocabulary (outgoing, shy, thoughtful, etc.)
    • colors (red, blue, gray, etc.)
    • musical instruments (trumpet, erhu, bass drum, etc.)
    • plants (cactus, rose, oak tree, etc.)
    • animals from an area of the world being studied currently
    • characters from a story you’re reading or a movie you watched as a class
    • Jung’s 12 archetypes
  • after students share within their own small groups, ask all students to re-group with others who chose the same card. For example, all the goats form one group. Students can compare why they chose that card – was it for the same reason or different reasons?
  • reflective writing can either precede or follow this activity.
  • follow this activity with a grid activity, in which students ask each other which card they chose and for one reason why. This in turn can be used for students to practice using reported speech.

Photo Credit: svklimkin on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Who Are You?, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Summer Vacation!

34323588412_cd71f2d88bHello!

I have decided to take the summer off from publishing on this blog.

The plan is to return in September when I start assistant teaching again, or possibly before.

Some links around this blog that may be helpful to you while I’m away:

Have a great summer!

 

Photo Credit: Carmine.shot on Flickr

Activity Corner: Snowballs

(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.)

2946943615_c95e521e6aI went to MD TESOL earlier this month and came away with some great warm-up ideas.

What I like about this one is that the students provide the input, but it gets randomized so nobody has to be put on the spot. It’s a particularly great way to review examples of grammar, writing, etc. anonymously, but can also be used for get-to-know-you activities.

Process:

  • Write a prompt on the board. (A question, several questions, an instruction to write a type of grammar construction, etc.)
  • Students each write their answers on a piece of paper.
  • Students crumple up their paper (“snowball”) and toss it into the middle of the room.
  • Everyone takes half a minute or so to pick up the crumpled papers and toss them toward the center again, which really mixes them up.
  • Each student picks up a random crumpled paper and unfolds it.
  • The students complete the activity with the random paper (i.e. read the example on the paper and correct it)

Example:

Let’s say I want to review Present Continuous with a fairly advanced grammar class.

I might put a picture up on the projector that shows people doing several different activities. Perhaps children on a playground.

I’d write the prompt, “Write three sentences describing what the children are doing. Please use Present Continuous in each sentence.”

The students would write their sentences. Then I’d have them crumple their paper, toss it into the middle of the room, and we’d all randomize them.

The students would each take a random paper, check it for errors by themselves, then switch with a partner. I’d circulate and help. If there’s time, we could also share them all as a class, or we could just spot-check a few where the partners disagreed on the corrections.

Other Content Possibilities:

  • as a more personal activity, students could write down information about themselves. When students receive their random snowball, they have to try to figure out who their paper is describing. In Level 1, this could be visible information (i.e. “brown shirt, long hair, glasses”). In higher levels, it could be less visible information (i.e. “I play the piano. I love to read. I work in a hospital.”)
  • ask students to produce pretty much any grammar point
  • ask a few content questions (perhaps about the reading assignment?) and then “grade” each other’s papers. The point would be to learn the content better from the process of answering and correcting, not to receive the grade. You could ask them to report what grade they would have gotten, though, as an extremely informal formative assessment.
  • in academic writing, you can ask students to write two thesis statements or three example topic sentences. Then they can evaluate and improve upon each other’s examples.

 

Photo Credit: Turinboy on Flickr

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

Activity Corner: Hidden Vocab Words

(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.)

About six years ago (what?!) I wrote a Journal post called Ice Breakers Impress. I said, “…students kept telling me how smart I was.”

How is this not in my Activity Corner?!

In Hidden Vocab Words, the vocabulary words are written one each on note cards. Then the teacher (with permission) tapes one to each student’s back. Students need to give each other hints so that everyone can guess which word is on his/her own back.

The purpose of this activity is vocabulary review and verbal communication. It makes a nice warm-up to review the previous day’s or week’s work, and is a nice excuse to get everybody walking around and using their English skills to figure something out.

Process:

  • Write the key vocabulary words on note cards.
    OR
    Assign each student a word to write on a note card (might be valuable for Level 1)
  • Model the activity. Be sure to communicate that they should not read you your word.
  • Tape the prepared cards to the students’ backs.
  • Tell them they have 10 minutes to figure out their words and get out of their way!

Example (in Level 1):

In a Level 1 class, explaining and modeling the activity takes a bit of effort. We do so much reading practice at that level that students might not expect a game where they are not supposed to read the word they see out loud.

I don’t remember the details of how I modeled it back in 2010, but if I were approaching it now I would go in two phases:

  1. Hold up a note card with a gadget word (i.e. washing machine) and ask students to tell me what the word does. Write their answers on the board. Rest or tape the note card near their answer.
  2. Hold up a different gadget note card and ask someone to tape it to my back. Pretend I don’t know perfectly well what it says. Tell students, “We are playing a game. I don’t know what word is on my back! Don’t read it to me. Don’t tell me. It’s a secret. Please tell me: what does it do?” If met with a ringing silence, I would refer back to the first note card and the information about it on the board. Keep modeling, “What does it do?” and perhaps also write it on the board so they know to ask that question.

I am envisioning not bothering with the word “clue,” but of course it depends on the level of the students.

I thought it was clever of Past Emily to focus on “what does it do?” This made students use the unit’s nouns and verbs. They couldn’t just say “square, in the basement, white, big” to describe a washing machine. They needed to recall and use the specific vocabulary of what it does. It was also an opportunity to repeat and hopefully memorize a short and grammatically correct question – a nice bonus in Level 1.

Other Content Possibilities:

This activity is great for vocabulary review at all levels. Here are a few ways to expand that idea a bit farther:

  • grammar: at higher levels, this could be an interesting way to review our twelve verb tenses plus passive, “going to,” “used to…”). Write the name of each tense on a notecard, and then as a hint students have to use that verb tense in a sentence. Try it with no repeats allowed to make sure that students speak to several others over the course of the activity.
  • content: all subject areas have information to memorize. You can write historical events, geographical features, nations, cell organelles, auto repair terminology, famous people, methods of birth control, characters in a Dostoevsky novel, pharmaceuticals and their dosing, or just about anything else on the note cards to review that content.
  • general warm-up: I’ve seen this activity used as an ice-breaker among all native English speakers. They used a fun theme, I think “famous fictional characters.”

You’re reading Activity Corner: Hidden Vocab Words, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.