November 26

Mental Imagery through Stories

“Anabel was sitting in the kitchen, listening to the radio. Normally she loved singing, but the song playing at that moment was making her feel sad. She looked at the clock and saw that it was almost dinner time. She went to the fridge and looked inside, wondering what to cook that night. As she started cooking, she heard the doorbell. She went to the front door, opened it and almost collapsed.”
How old is Anabel?
What was she wearing?
Describe Anabel’s kitchen : What colour are the walls? What furniture is there?
What song was playing?
Why was it making Anabel sad?
What time was it?
What did Ana decide to cook?
Who was at the front door?
Why did Anabel react that way?
Explain to the students that you’re going to read them a story and you want them to imagine the scene. Read the story slowly, to give students time to “see” it in their heads. Then, when you’ve finished, ask individual students the questions.
This activity comes from a workshop I attended run by Jane Arnold, who I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries. It’s another fantastic exercise which allows students to express their ideas and for which there are no correct answers. It gives them the opportunity to develop the story further and as a writing activity, you could give them the basic story, into which they can incorporate their ideas.
November 16

Lights, camera, action!

What’s your favourite storyline from a coursebook?  Can you think of one easily, or is it hard to find a story which has really engaged you (and your students)?  The fact is that stories are often thrown into teens’ coursebooks to provide students with some “natural” English: all those key phrases which native-speaker teens use all the time (!?), and some real-life situations which teens can really empathise with (!?). And so we often either skip the story or whizz through it as quickly as possible, checking the vocabulary and ocassionally apologising to the students for making them listen to it.I will admit that in the past I didn’t make as much of the stories as I could have, and was the type of teacher who would go through it once, do the comprehension questions and then move on to the next activity.
Although our students often don’t like the stories presented to them in coursebooks, they enjoy acting and drama, especially when given the chance to produce something themselves, with the freedom to express their ideas as they choose.  So, use the stories in the coursebook and get students to create roleplays and dialogues based around them, either by doing a “What’s happened?” or “What’s going to happen next?”
A few tips:
  • If you want students to create something dramatic, introduce it to them in a dramatic way.  Simply saying, “Write a dialogue about what happens next.” will not inspire them to be creative
  • Get some ideas in the air before they start by eliciting them from the students.  Once they’ve started working, if you see pairs who are still staring into space, give them a push in the right direction by going over and giving them the basics
  • Encourage students to be inventive and give them some freedom to write what they choose, within your personal comfort zone.  Students see sex and violence on the TV everyday and hear and use a wide variety of swearwords but that doesn’t mean they should bring it into the classroom – make it clear to them what you would like their limits to be
  • Encourage students to come to the front, but if there are some who crumble at the thought of standing up in front of the class, let them speak from their desks and try again next time
  • Give copious amounts of praise to everyone who produces something, even if it isn’t exactly what you wanted.  Give words of encouragement to those who produced something too short or didn’t fully understand the task
  • Remember that this is a great opportunity to get students speaking and always make that the focus, rather than the ideas or language used
November 4

Theatre with Young Learners

Children love stories and they love being a part of the action, so a great way to work with stories is to act them out in class.  This can either be on a grand scale, which involves taking the time to find costumes, make props and rehearse; or it can be a much smaller, quicker activity.
The easiest thing to do is draw the faces of the characters on card and then have students colour them in and cut them out.  Whilst they are busy colouring, make a headband for each student using thick paper and sellotape or staples.  When the masks are ready, paper clip one to each of the headbands and on with the show!
October 30

Narrative Consequences

I was doing future tenses with my class and wanted to do something fun to practise the grammar, so I decided to play Narrative Consequences.  Each student has a piece of paper (pink for the girls and green for the boys) and they have to complete the following sentence:
This weekend I …
Then they fold over the top so you can’t read the sentence and swap papers with a partner.  That person completes the next sentences, then they swap again, and so on.
Next summer I …
When I finish school I …
I’m definitely going to marry … (that’s why you need to have pink and green papers)
We’ll …
I’ll be … because … (completed with an adjective and reason)
When I’m 60, I …
You then collect all the papers and invite students to the front to read out their futures.  It’s a great activity to practise all the skills and it’s a good laugh too.
As an additional activity, I checked the stories and wrote next to each sentence how many mistakes there were.  The students then worked in groups to correct the mistakes and made a note of the most frequent errors in their books.
June 1

The Wandering Woolly Mammoth

Many, many years ago there lived a woolly mammoth named Dave. This woolly mammoth was not like the other mammoths. He didn’t want to hunt pots. Even though he had a really tasty, pink coat of hair, he hated the cold. He dreamed of living in warmer places.

One day, his dream came true. He thought he took a short winter’s nap, but when he awoke, almost all the ice around him was gone, and he was surrounded by grass and hippos. He had hibernated for 2009 years!

Dave decided to go explore his new neighborhood. Where his cave used to be, now there was a million-story building with delicious windows and new doors!

He tried to get inside, but the doorman wouldn’t let him in, saying, “No rabbits allowed!”

He didn’t know what rabbits were, but he knew he was afraid of them.

Feeling a bit confused, he wandered around until he saw a sign that said “Zoo.” It smelled like his friends, so he decided to hop in. He found a section called frogs, and they seemed to be very friendly animals, so he made himself right at home. The zookeepers discovered him, and they were happy to see him. They brought him big buckets of apples, beans, and cucumbers. He finally felt at home!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the story of The Wandering Woolly Mammoth. It’s from a site called Wacky Web Tales – choose the title of your story, then the computer will ask you for some words (verb, plural noun) and create a story for you. A great activity for teens!