September 7

Recycling without Repeating

One-to-one teaching can be a draining experience – both for the student and for the teacher! Students with a higher level of English are more able to sustain a natural conversation, and have the grammar, vocabulary and fluency to discuss topics. However, low-level students do not. So how can we maintain a dynamic environment when recycling the same material?

Age matters…
One major difference between children and adults is that adults are more aware of their learning needs. Whereas an adult will understand the need to repeat the grammar or vocabulary in order to strengthen their comprehension and fluency, a child will tend to respond, “But we’ve already done this!” This doesn’t mean though that an adult won’t get bored of doing the same activity, and so for both groups we need to vary the way in which we present and practice a topic.
…or does it?
We all know that children love games and no doubt focus on making our classes a fun as possible for young learners. Don’t be afraid to use the same materials with both groups! It’s sometimes surprising to see just how much adults enjoy using games in language learning – perhaps because it’s not a technique which is used often in mainstream schools and so brings a new level to the experience, or perhaps because it makes them feel young again; though whatever the reason, the fact is that games make learning fun – which is just as necessary a quality for adults as it is for young learners.

Your learner’s needs
It sounds obvious, but don’t forget that each student is an individual and so will have different strengths and weaknesses in English and varied approaches to learning. A student with a good grammar base but terrible pronunciation will need a different focus to one who is struggling with basic use of first and third person verbs. This does not mean, however, that we need to think of different activities for each learner. In a conversation class, we will be focusing heavily on pronunciation and so any activity that we use to help the second student will benefit the first.
Sharing resources
No matter how many students you teach, you don’t want to be producing new activities for each lesson. Inventing and creating new materials is a time-consuming process and so it is best to avoid single-use activities and increase your bank of multi-use resources. By this I mean activities which can be reused with different groups (irrelevant of age, level or group size) or which can be modified to be used according to the grammar point or topic being covered. The activities below are all examples of activities which can be used with different students, thinking not only for one-to-one classes, but also for larger groups.

Neither the student nor the teacher enjoys a repetitive class and whilst it is often necessary to repeat grammar points, we need to present them in a way that doesn’t make the student lose interest. The activities below will help to increase a bank of multi-use resources in order to make classes more dynamic and maintain the student’s enthusiasm towards leaning English, without draining the teacher.

Tried and tested
This summer I decided to take on some one-to-one classes so as not to get bored with the long Spanish school holiday. Below are profiles of two of my elementary students who have both used and enjoyed the resources below.
María is a middle-aged Spanish housewife who enrolled on an elementary English course this year. However, in a class amongst twenty other students, she was too shy to speak and so was unable to pass the oral end-of-year exam. She was interested primarily in conversation, as she had a firm base of the course grammar. The activities I have used with her have both helped review the grammar in a structured manner whilst looking at pronunciation (see “Basic verb board game”), and given the opportunity for more natural conversation (see “Focus on question words”). The “Topic-based board game” has allowed us to practise key vocabulary whilst again taking the opportunity to look at pronunciation and develop natural conversation skills.
Jesús is a ten-year-old Spanish student who narrowly passed his mainstream English course and was advised to review the course over the summer. Whilst we have also used the course book in his classes, I have used the activities below to further strengthen his knowledge. Although there are some games used in our classes which he would be happy to play repeatedly, games relating to grammar are not so well-received. When I pulled out the “Topic-based board game” for a second time Jesús’ reaction was, “This one? Again?” Having previously played the game using School as the topic, he was expecting another round of “What’s your favourite subject?” and “How do you say pencil case in Spanish?” He was pleasantly surprised when I pulled out a set of question cards about the beach and as he knew how to play the game already, was much more enthusiastic and motivated to play and think of vocabulary items.

Basic verb board game
A board game to practise different tenses and strengthen use of the third person singular.
Draw a simple board with a verb in each square – you may like to repeat more common verbs. There is no need for start/finish squares as the game can be played for as long as you wish and each player can start wherever they choose.
Version 1 – This version practises the first person using a specific tense, e.g. present simple. Throw the dice and then move your counter. Make a sentence about yourself using the verb you land on. Again, encourage your student to ask for more information.
E.g. A: I play football.
B: When do you play?
A: On Tuesday evening.
B: Where?
A: In the sports centre.
B: Who do you play with? (…and so on.)

Version 2 – This version again practises a specific tense, but this time uses different pronouns and the positive, negative and interrogative forms. For this version you will need three dice: one normal, one with the pronouns and one with the different forms, the models for which are below.

This time, roll the first dice and move to the verb, then roll the two special dice and form a sentence or question according to what has been rolled. Although this isn’t such an interactive activity, it strengthens the student’s use of the different forms and can also help with pronunciation. Encourage the student to make more complicated sentences using time phrases or other particles.
E.g. I watch the news every day at nine o’clock.
He doesn’t play football because he prefers tennis.
Do you often go to the cinema in winter?

Version 3 – This version is played to practise more than one verb tense. To do this you can either make another dice with different tenses on or relate the number rolled on the dice to the tenses being used, e.g. make a present simple sentence if you roll an odd number and a present continuous one if you roll an even number.

Focus on question words
A pelmanism activity which practises question words and recycles basic information.
Produce a series of about twenty cards in two coloured sets: one set which has the question word and another which has the rest of the question.
Take two cards (one of each colour). If the question is correct, ask the student to answer and keep the two cards. If the question is incorrect, ask a question using the chosen question card.
This activity, whilst practicing responses to basic questions, also allows students to invent other questions and use a wider range of vocabulary. Always try to get as much information from the student before taking your turn and encourage them to do the same when asking you.
Although this activity in itself is fairly limited, you can use the question cards for other games. For example, to make this game harder, you could have keywords on the other card rather than the rest of the question.
This gives your student more freedom to ask a variety of questions.
E.g. What type of books do you read?
How many books do you read in a year?
When do you usually read?

Topic-based board game
A multi-use board game which can be adapted for different topic areas.
Draw a simple board with start/finish squares, question squares and vocab squares. You can also include squares to move forwards/backwards and miss a turn, if you wish.

For this game you will need to produce question cards related to the topic. I recommend looking at the Internet TESL Questions page.

Roll the dice and move to the square. If you land on a question square, your partner should take a card and ask you the question. Again, encourage follow-up questions. If you land on a vocab square, your partner should ask you for an item of vocabulary related to the topic, either English to L1 or vice versa.  Alternatively, you could produce a set of vocab cards related to the topic and on landing on a Vocab square, take a card and make a sentence.
This game can also be used in larger groups both to review topics and as an end-of-unit game to review course book content. It can be easily adapted for higher level classes and you may even like to ask your students to write the questions.

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Posted September 7, 2012 by Teresa Bestwick in category Resources

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