Tag Archives: task repetition

Using a teacherless task to develop student interaction

The first teacherless task I ever came across was in the first edition of Headway Upper Intermediate. Students were given the scenario of a murder mystery and each given a card with a different piece of information. They had to work together to solve the mystery, without any teacher intervention, obviously using only English.

The activity always went brilliantly and produced a lot of language. It was, of course, a task-based lesson, devised before TBL became a mainstream idea. Later, thanks to Simon Marshall, a long time colleague and friend of Mario Rinvolucri, I discovered that the teacherless task was something Mario was writing about in the late seventies. So, once again, there’s no such thing as a new idea.

What defines a teacherless task, however, is that it is always a problem-solving exercise where the students have to work together in order to solve it.

In Teacherless Tasks (sadly out of print), Rinvolucri specifies three different types of these tasks:

–          The students are given a logic puzzle in which the sentences describing the situation are divided up between them. They need to memorise their piece of information, then put the information together in order to solve the puzzle.

–          The students are each given a sentence from more than one short anecdote. They need to memorise their sentence then find the others who have the same anecdote as them before finally putting the sentences in order. They then need to prepare to tell the story fluently before being put into new pairs or small groups to share their stories.

–          The class is split in two. One half has the scenario of a typical lateral thinking logic puzzle. For example, Romeo and Juliet are found dead on the floor, amidst a small puddle of water and some broken glass. What happened?  The other half of the class has a clue each. For example, Romeo and Juliet are quite small. The questioners ask those with clues any questions they like and anyone whose clue helps can answer the question. (Incidentally, if you don’t know this puzzle, the answer is that Romeo and Juliet are goldfish and the cat knocked over their bowl)

I included a teacherless task like this in Premium B1, together with an exercise on ‘managing’ a conversation. See below if you want to try it out. There are j-pegs from the Students’ Book and Teachers’ Book.

The teacherless task can really help to develop interaction between the students in the following ways:

–          Each person only has a small part of the information, so everyone has to work together to solve the problem.

–          Every piece of information is essential, so everyone has to join in.

–          Fitting the information together is a complex process, so the students have to listen to each other much more carefully than they might usually do.

–          If students cannot understand each other they are forced to ask for clarification rather than relying on the teacher to ‘interpret’.

–          It is highly motivating, providing a genuine reason to communicate.

–          You often find that students who have previously been quiet come to the fore, as this task requires different skills, such as logical thinking.

–          Solving the puzzle brings a sense of achievement and encourages greater group cohesion- it’s a kind of team building exercise!

The focus is primarily on communication. However, you can start by looking at the kind of interactional language they might need, as in the example from Premium above. You can also note down any errors and carry out some feedback at the end- making sure that you do focus on their achievements as well.

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Filed under Speaking, Teaching methodology

Using live listening to prepare for IELTS speaking

The extended monologue

In the second part of the IELTS test, candidates have to speak for 1-2 minutes on a given topic, having been given 1 minute to prepare. (Incidentally, I have mentioned IELTS in the title, because this is perhaps the best known example, but there are other speaking exams (e.g. Cambridge ESOL Skills for Life L1 and L2 ) where candidates have to carry out similar tasks).

Although Part 2 of IELTS is not actually as tough as Part 3, for many candidates, it is the part they dread the most. However, it is also the part where familiarity with the task and plenty of practice can really make a huge difference. As an IELTS examiner, I sometimes examine native speakers applying to emigrate to Australia, and even these perfectly fluent speakers can struggle with Part 2 if unprepared.

In IELTS the candidate is given a number of points to cover. For example:

Describe a leisure activity which you enjoy doing.

You should say:

–          What the activity is and how you do it

–          When and how often you do it

–          What equipment you need

And explain why you enjoy it.

[example from IELTS Foundation Second Edition]

In order to do well in this part of the exam, students need to:

1 Structure their answer well, so that it is coherent and cohesive.

2 Speak fluently, without too many hesitations.

3 Demonstrate accuracy and range in their language.

Live listening is an excellent technique for both modelling the kind of answer the students should be aiming for, and providing a source for language they can use.

What is live listening?

In a nutshell, live listening means listening to the teacher (or another visitor), in a face to face situation, rather than using a pre-prepared recording. The teacher can be a neglected resource in terms of listening, as teachers try to avoid the dreaded ‘teacher talking time’. However, there is a world of difference between the teacher mumbling away to the class instead of giving clear and concise instructions, and using the teacher as a rich resource for listening.

Listening to the teacher speaking at length offers the benefits of:

–          genuine, real-time communication.

–          all the features of natural spoken English (hesitations, false starts, connected speech etc)

–          facial expressions and gestures

–          the opportunity to offer clarifications

Using live listening to prepare for IELTS Part 2

Using set of prompts like those above, the teacher prepares to talk for 1-2 minutes on the topic. You might want to spend more than the 1 minute that candidates are allowed, but it’s important that you don’t script what you are going to say.

Talk for 1-2 minutes to the students, and, ideally, record what you say. They listen and make notes on what you said about each prompt. Carry out brief feedback. This should help them see how to structure their talk, using the prompts.

Then play the recording (or repeat the task) and encourage students to write down any useful ‘chunks’ of language that they hear, which they think they could use in a similar task.

The reason that native speakers are able to speak so quickly and fluently is because they have a huge store of chunks of language which they are able to pull out and use; they don’t have to create every word from scratch. So it makes sense to encourage learners to develop their own store of ‘chunks’.

Here is a Vocaroo recording of me using  the prompts above to talk about Qi Gong

http://vocaroo.com/i/s0J4pGleT6oB

And here is the language I might encourage the learners to pick out from this recording:

The leisure activity that I’d like to talk about is_______

It’s a kind of __________

It’s all about + ing

It’s quite similar to_________

The main thing about _____ is (that)____

I don’t often get around to it.

You don’t actually need any equipment at all.

Sometimes I find it difficult to motivate myself.

I always feel better after I’ve done it.

Spend a little bit of time checking that students understand the ‘chunks’ and can pronounce them fluently, then put them in pairs and ask them to carry out the same task themselves, using any of the chunks they find useful.

The beauty of this activity is that it requires minimal preparation, but, repeated on a regular basis, with different prompt cards, it can really help learners to develop their ability to structure a short talk and to use natural sounding ‘chunks’ of language.

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Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, IELTS, Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary

Ideas for taking an ’emergent’ approach to using a coursebook

Most coursebooks have an essentially structural syllabus. Each unit has a handful of language points, what Scott Thornbury refers to as ‘Grammar McNuggets’, and the assumption is that these points will be presented, practised and learnt.

As a coursebook writer, I understand why the syllabus is presented in this way. Most teachers, institutions, parents, students like to have a sense of the way ahead as a series of steps. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this so long as:

–       We remember that what we are teaching is not necessarily what the student is learning.

–       We aim to teach the students rather than the material.

I believe that the material in a coursebook should be seen as a resource, pure and simple. It can and should be used and abused to best meet the needs of the class.

There are certain key elements we need to provide students to give them the opportunity to develop.

Input or language in context (this needs to be motivating and relevant)

Opportunity to ‘notice’ language

Clarification/consciousness raising- whether after noticing or after using (feedback)

Opportunity to use language (this also needs to be motivating and relevant and ideally personalised)

If all these elements aren’t in the coursebook (and they might be), there is no reason why we can’t adapt it to provide them.

‘Noticing’

Many coursebooks do now ask students to notice the language in a text. There are two possible problems with this. Firstly, the text may have been specially written to include these examples, and not in a very natural way. Secondly, if the text is authentic, there may only be a couple of examples.

One way of dealing with this (and it could be used for any text you want to use, not just coursebook texts) is to also use a concordance. For example, there is a text in a coursebook I’m familiar with which has some examples of the different meanings of the word ‘like’ (as a verb and as a preposition). Students are asked to find examples and decide on the meaning. This could then be extended by looking at a concordance (or a simplified version at lower levels) and deciding on the meaning of these examples before returning to the personalised practice in the coursebook. In this example, students write each other questions using both meanings and then answer each other’s questions before going on to write about a place they like and what it’s like.

‘Interlanguage’

Another example from a well known coursebook has a short text. Students are asked to underline all the examples of articles and then find examples of the rules given. An alternative might be to do the text as a dictogloss. The teacher reads the text aloud, at fairly normal speed (not slowly) and the students try to write down what they can. They then work together to recreate the text. Inevitably, if articles are a problem area, they will miss some out or use the wrong ones. They can then compare their version with the original and identify the gap in their own interlanguage.

Alternatively, or even as a follow up task, students could translate the text into their L1 and then, a few days or a week later, try to translate it back. Again, this will highlight any individual difficulties.

Task repetition

Another way to get students to ‘notice the gap’ using a coursebook activity works well with a more traditional kind of activity where students listen to a dialogue which exemplifies a particular language point.

Fans of emergent grammar might avoid these kinds of recordings like the plague, but it can work well in a kind of task based approach. This way, you begin by getting the students to improvise a similar kind of dialogue (obviously this works best if the topic is something they might actually want to talk about). You could even record these conversations if you have the technology. Then you listen to the coursebook dialogue and encourage students to notice any language in there that they could have used. Incidentally, this might not be the language the coursebook writers intended. Finally, the students carry out the dialogue again, perhaps this time with a different partner. If you have recorded the first version, you could record this too, and students could then listen to the recordings at home and note any improvements in the second version.

Task repetition has been shown to have a very positive effect on what Thornbury refers to as ‘grammaring’

I am very far from believing that everyone should be using published materials all the time. However, always starting from scratch can be very labour intensive and, I believe, requires a good deal of experience and understanding. Why not use everything that’s available, just tweaking and adapting as you go?

Incidentally, there are some fabulous ideas, perfectly applicable to published materials, in Grammar and Uncovering Grammar, both by Scott Thornbury.

Here are a few links I have found since writing the post, related to using a coursebook in a more unplugged style.

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Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook