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Breathing Life into Checking Answers
By Hall Houston
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What aspect of teaching do you find the most uninspiring? Is it taking attendance? Or grading papers? Or perhaps passing out exam papers?

One area I've found particularly dull is checking answers to exercises in the coursebook. While most of the exercises serve a good purpose, I feel as if I'm on automatic pilot. The energy level drops and I look forward to doing something else. I suppose my students feel the same way.

In order to make the class more engaging and interesting for everyone, I started to devise some new ways of checking the answers. I tried these out with my students this semester. I found students were more eager to interact, as they were no longer just reading out their answers, but having fun as well.

First, I would like to present a few pointers for making this part of your lesson a little more playful.

Vary the order of the questions. You can go from the last question to the first, or skip around.

Vary the pattern of interaction. You can allow students to call on each other or have a student come up to the front of the class to check answers. Alternatively, you can have students ask you some of the questions.

Vary the ways students give their answers. You can ask them to call out their answers, write their answers on the board, or even write their answers on index cards that they pass to other students to read.

Give students some choice. Permit students to select the question they want to answer, or who they want to answer the question for them.

Let students become critics. Call on a student to answer a question, and then get another student to evaluate the first student's answer. You can also ask students to critique the questions in the book by giving each question a score, or ranking them from best to worst. If there is enough time, get students to brainstorm some clever ways to improve the exercise. (For more information about brainstorming in the EFL/ESL classroom, I refer you to my book, The Creative Classroom, Lynx Publishing, 2007).}

Introduce a game-playing element. This can raise the interest level, particularly if you give a small prize to the winner of the game.

Take a break. Stop right in the middle of the page and tell students to look out the window. Challenge them to name 10 things they see outside.

Don't let the coursebook take over the class. Set the book down occasionally and ask the students how they are today. Comment on a student's new hairstyle or clothes.

Now I'd like to present some teaching ideas you can try out in your classes.

Your Worst Teacher

Tell students to imagine their most feared or hated teacher from a previous class or school. Ask them these questions:

What was the teacher's name?
What did the teacher look like?
What were the teacher's pet phrases?
Did this teacher have any funny mannerisms?
How did the teacher behave when upset?

Call on a couple of students to describe this teacher. Then ask one of the students to come to the front. You give the student your teacher's manual to check the answers in the role of the teacher she described.

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