Thursday, May 19, 2011

Some teaching activities

Though I conceived English, Jack as "second thoughts on English and how she's taught," it seems I do a lot more thinking and writing about English than I do about how it's taught. I'm not really sure why that is, but the bias is quite obvious to anyone who reads a few posts. Anyhow, recently a number of ideas have come together and I've tweaked a few activities that I use, so I plan to explain a few of them over the next few days.

One almost-universal characteristic of reading or listening texts is that they come with a set of comprehension questions. This presentation suggest two obvious options: do them for homework and take them up in class or spend some quiet time in class answering them and then take them up in class.

Of course, there are other ways to deal with them. One that I like is to print each question in large type on its own sheet of paper with the answer printed on the other side, and to hand these out one per student. When there are more students than questions, I print out more than one set.

Each student then spends a few moments understanding the question and the answer (This should facilitate accuracy and complexity in the answer). Then everyone stands up and finds a partner. Student A asks B the question while showing it. A is not allowed to simply show it or to read it. This should promote grammatical accuracy in asking the question since A has seen it and knows B is looking at it.

Next, B attempts to answer. If B is successful, A indicates as much. If, however, B is unsure, or doesn't know at all, A becomes the teacher and explains the answer to B. Having already see the/an answer A is likely to feel the authority and confidence to take on this role. When B has understood, B repeats or paraphrases A's explanation. When B has answered the entire exchange is repeated with B in the asking role. Finally, A and B exchange papers and find a new partner. In this manner, they move from student to teacher and get the opportunity to revise the question immediately, which should promote fluency.

The problem with this is that students don't have to come up with the answer themselves. It's given to them. That's good as a confidence builder and a way to support interaction, but it's bad in that they may not attend fully to it. Their easy success may also give them the idea that the task is not particularly difficult, leading them to become overconfident and perhaps not study as hard as they should.

I attempt to overcome these problems by having students repeat the activity a day or two later. The difference is that this time no answers are provided.

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