Teaching Tips 182
Reconstruct the text
Rolf Palmberg from Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa, in Finland, joins us again with this week's Tip - A house and a number of rooms.
The purpose of this exercise is to practise learners' text-reconstruction skills and at the same time increase their vocabulary awareness. It is suitable for most proficiency levels, provided that the learners are familiar with (most of) the vocabulary included in the text. The exercise also encourages the use of dictionary work in the classroom.
Explain to the learners that the text in the first box (displayed e.g. on an OHP transparency)
I live in a red house near the main road. Our house has eight rooms and two balconies that overlook a big garden.
can also be conveyed like this:
ILIVEINAR EDHOUSENE ARTHEMAI NROADOU RHOUSEHA SEIGHTRO OMSANDTW OBALCONI ESTHATOV ERLOOKAB IGGARDEN
Give them enough time to notice that there are no spaces or punctuation marks. Answer any questions, if necessary.
Ask the learners to form pairs or groups of three and hand out copies of the worksheet below. Give each learner his or her own worksheet, and emphasise that everyone has to fill in a worksheet of their own even if they work in pairs or in groups. If needed, read out the instructions.
To be able to read the text, you must put the groups of letters in the box below in their correct order and provide the text with spaces and punctuation marks. Do not add or delete letters. Do not change the order of letters.
This is the beginning of a text: ILIVEINAB (not included in the box)
The text ends with this group of letters (not included in the box):
Write your passage in the box below. Use both lowercase and uppercase letters. Don't forget to add spaces and punctuation marks.
When most of the learners have completed the task, ask them to re-group and compare their findings with their classmates.
Solution - This is the unscrambled version of the text:
I live in a big house. On the ground floor we have a kitchen, a hall, a living-room, a dining-room, a bathroom and a toilet. On the first floor we have three bedrooms, a bathroom and a small toilet. On the second floor there is an attic.
This is a modified version of an exercise taken from my eBook Multiple Intelligences revisited [Palmsoft Publications 2011]. The eBook can be downloaded free of charge at http://www.englishclub.com/downloads/multiple-intelligences.htm courtesy of EnglishClub.com.
For a past Tip on a similar idea check out 'Runningtexttogether':
Back to the contents
Expanding the Talk
IThe Oscars are upon us so for class material check out:
A simple topical discussion warmer - put the following film
titles on the board, elicit the Oscar film winner - 'The Artist',& get the students in small groups discussing:
- if they agree with the choice of winner
- if not, which film do they think should have won
- & explain to each other about films in the list that they have
seen but their group members haven't - plot, characters, stars...
- round off with a class discussion
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
Before beginning, put up some sentence stems on the board for the
students to incorporate into their discussions, alter to suit
I don't agree at all with the winner because..
I really don't agree...
You can't be serious...
We ask out students to do a lot of speaking in a lesson - for example;
as a class:
- responding to you, the teacher,
- responding to each other
in pairs of small groups
- discussing language discovery
- general problem solving & information gap tasks
- discussing opinions
- comparing answers e.g. after listening & reading tasks
All the time the students are developing their speaking abilities, their communication strategies, but they will use the
same language. So to maximise the effectiveness of the limited
time we have with our students we really need to take advantage
of these incidental speaking tasks. One way is to focus them on
the type of language they will be trying to use e.g. persuasion,
agreeing/disagreeing... by eliciting the areas from them. Taking
it a little further & elicit ways of expressing these functional
areas & write some of the more advanced ones on the board for
them to refer to when doing the task. Add some more of these
stems in yourself, language that will stretch them & help them to
incorporate new exponents, with a brief phonology spot on them
before moving on to the actual task.
Choose the occasions you are going to incorporate this
development & use the other times to monitor, & take notes on,
their language use, feeding in your observations to future
For the general English student this area will usually be at the
top of their speaking skills needs' list, the language of
discussion in the classroom. They spend so much time discussing& it is immediately useful outside the classroom. It's easy to
waste the opportunities & expect the speaking skill to take care
Here are some ideas on developing speaking skills from the past
Tip 'Speaking Up':
Lots & lots of controlled speaking activities - from drills
to dialogue reading aloud to building dialogues to flow charts.
Here are some past Teaching Tips dealing with these controlled
with the flow
& meaningless drills
Incorporate the ideas from the
'Fill it with English' Teaching Tip.
Try to keep the whole lesson in English so that it just becomes
a habit that the students are expected to respond in English.
Work on introducing & practising classroom language &
routines. This will then help to reduce the general embarrassment
level when speaking English.
Explain the purposes of pair work & group work - to maximise
student talking time. Explain the purposes of the roleplays
Choose motivating, interesting & manageable topics for
roleplays & discussions.
Prepare the students for the speaking with information &
role cards. Give them time to think about what they might
say & help out with any questions.
Rotate the stronger roles so that all have a chance to take
lead roles. And don't let the stronger, more extrovert students
dominate the others.
Stay out of the way. Let the students do the activity as much
as they can.
Use video rather than audio tapes where possible to work on
the listening skill. This is not only more realistic &
less stressful but the speaking skill can be fully appreciated.
Give positive feedback, as well as helpful ideas for improvement.
Also try to help them with things that they couldn't say during
the activity by encouraging them to note these things down
as they occur & deal with them afterwards.
Exploit any spontaneous conversations that arise in the class.
These could come from something that has happened to a particular
student or something in the news that day.
Record the students at the beginning, in the middle &
at the end of the course to show them that have made progress
with this skill. It may not be part of the examination but
it still needs highlighting.
With the secondary class one of the most motivating things
you can promote is the idea that speaking in another language
is 'cool', pop music being an obvious way into this.
are some more past Teaching Tips concerned with the speaking
ideas with little language
in & take a seat
it with English
out where you are
on a train
specific language use in freer oral activities
Back to the contents
Speaking in mother tongues
It's International Mother Language Day on the 21st, certainly a topic well worth reflecting on in this age of three or four dominant languages.
A recent article from the BBC, 'Digital tools 'to save languages'':
The UN page for the Day this year:
'Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and
developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to
promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only
to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but
also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural
traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based
on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.'
And on the site there is a past Tip with some classroom ideas, 'International Mother Language Day':
Your students' mother tongue is clearly a very important factor in the classroom. Here are a couple of related past Tips:
If you are teaching monolingual groups it
is clearly very useful to know the mother tongue of your
students as you can pre-empt some problems they might
have. But actually using the mother tongue as a teaching
tool has been a different story as teacher training courses
used to banish it to ELT oblivion & we used to ignore
the poor student who was desperate to translate, encouraging
them to 'think' in English. Nowadays it is recognised
as a useful & natural tool in the process of language
learning. There is still a case for not using it on the
initial training course as some teaching skills might
not be developed if translation were relied on. Here are
a few translation activities:
1. Same day articles - for news stories
that have international appeal, get hold of copies of
the English story & the students' language story -
newspapers, internet, radio.
- predict the content of the story.
- read the English version & picking
up on any useful language.
- students translate the story.
- they then compare their versions with the mother tongue
- they could also then compare the mother tongue version
& the English versions, looking at style & content.
The shorter the article the better!
2. False friends - picking up on them as
they crop up or in warmers/coolers. There is a
page about Spanish/English false friends on the site.
3. New language consolidation - after the presentation
& before the practice, elicit & have a quick comparison
with the mother tongue version of the target language
to highlight the similarities or differences. This can
be a very comforting stage for the students.
4. To provide variety to your array of techniques, use
the Community Language Learning (CLL) procedure now &
then. Very basically, this involves seating the students
in a circle with a tape recorder in the middle. They have
a conversation, preferably about a subject of their choice
but you could lead into it from the current theme, &
all of their contributions are taped. When they have a
problem, they call on you & you whisper to the student
the English version of what they want to say. They then
say this in the conversation. This technique can be used
at all levels, & is especially useful at very low
levels. If you don't speak the students' language, then
you could do all of this in English although the students
would need a level of English to be able to tell you what
they would like to say.
Before the next lesson, transcribe interesting parts of
their conversation & use it for analysis & consolidation.
5. Word-for-word versions - good for the translation obsessed
student. Give out a literal translation of a short article
or conversation & the students translate it into their
language & discuss how it could be more naturally
expressed in English.
For professional translations.
6. Get hold of a copy of 'Using the Mother Tongue' by S.Deller & M.Rinvolucri (Delta) - excellent ideas for the classroom.
The important thing about using translation
in class is that it is used in a principled way - you
know why you are using it, the students know, there are
times when it is OK & when it is not. The alternative
is a lazy use of translation where both the students &
the teacher become reliant on it. Discuss these issues
with your students.
But I don't speak their language!
As an observer of a lot of lessons at different levels of teacher experience I see quite a few with teachers who do not know the mother tongue of the monolingual groups, in this case, Spanish. Communication breakdowns between student & teacher can sometimes seem obvious to me but totally bewildering to the teacher. The teacher is left shaking her head wondering what it could possibly be that the student wants to say.
These teachers are at a disadvantage as having a degree of ability with the mother tongue can help in several ways;
- understanding what the students want to say in speech & writing,
- anticipating what they might have problems with,
- understanding some of the causes of their errors,
- using translation as a tool in the lessons.
But then there is the danger that as we know the mother tongue we make allowances when students express themselves, we know what they want to say & incorporate that in the interaction. If they were faced with native speakers of English, the reaction they get might well be very different. However, the advantages of knowing the students' mother tongue clearly outweigh the disadvantages.
So what can we do if we are faced with a nationality that we have no awareness of their mother tongue? Here are a few ideas:
1. Quickly get hold of 'Learner English' Edited by Michael Swan & Bernard Smith (CUP 2001). This is an excellent reference book, each chapter dealing with a language in terms of pronunciation& structure, together with problems learners might have. To see the review of the book on the site:
2. Learn the language if you can. If you have moved to a new country the obvious thing is to immerse yourself in the language & try tom pick up as much as possible as quickly as possible. If you are in an English-speaking country, the likelihood of dealing with one nationality is much reduced.
3. Talk to colleagues when you are planning to see if your students will have problems with what you are going to teach. Anticipating can go a long way.
4. Learn from your students. Ask them how certain things are expressed, although don't rely on this as you have no way of knowing if they are right.
5. Possibly insist that your students keep everything in English as there's no way you can tell if they are translating things right or not.
6. When there is a communication problem between you & the students, insist that they clarify what they want to say.
7. Find out not only about the language differences but also the cultural differences.
8. Talk to your students, if they are of a level to discuss it in English, about how useful it is that you are unaware of the mother tongue as you are reacting as any other native speaker, making the students work harder to clarify their messages.
9. With younger learner classes, find the translation for some basic classroom instructions. These might save a lesson with a boisterous group of youngsters.
And then there is the complicated, but incredibly interesting & dynamic, situation of the multi-nationality group.
Back to the contents
To the Past Teaching Tips