image from imdb.com
Don’t you just love it when things seem to come together? I was observing a colleague’s class this morning and then came home to find a wonderfully hilarious thread on twitter of #makeamovieTESL, to which one of my contributions was The (vocab) Box.
Anyway, back to my original thoughts about vocab boxes.
They are a fabulously versatile way of reviewing and revisiting both target and emergent language from our lessons – for example, this morning the learners in my colleague’s class were drawing, miming and explaining the lexis from previous units. It also works well as a filler for fast finishers – give them the box and they can review the lexis in pairs, again perhaps by miming or drawing.
However, whilst observing the lesson this morning, I realised that at the same time, the use of vocab boxes is a rather unnatural and arbitrary way of using language. In the game today, the lexis which learners faced was: go on holiday, stepmother, arrest, argue, housewife and supermarket. Whilst I won’t disagree that most of these constitute useful language, each one is taken out of context.
That’s not to say that I’m going to stop using them though – but it’s made me realise that it often requires more effort on the part of learners to identify the word as they must first reactivate schema for that context and then find the particular word being defined.
This is a fabulous game which I picked up at a conference years ago, but rarely play as I always worried that it would only be good for higher-level learners. However, if you limit the questions, it could be a really useful game to play with younger learners and lower-level adults as well as it really enourages them to focus on sentence structure. Here’s how I set the game up with my B2.2 group the other day:
I gave each learner a piece of paper and asked them to write a topic on it – I said the topic could be very general or very specific. After collecting in the papers and shuffling them, I gave each person a topic and asked them to imagine one question they would ask if they met an expert in that topic.
Next, I explained how the activity works – we are the panel of experts and are going to answer these questions; however, each person can only say one word at a time. We did a quick concept-check with the question, “What’s your favourite colour?” to check they had understood how to play.
The first question was on the topic of films and we had to recommend a good soundtrack composer and the second one was about the dangers of mobile phones. It was a fun activity as we moved away from the original topic – on the subject of mobile phones we somehow ended up talking about people who cook chicken in microwaves with no protection. I admitted to the class that I wasn’t sure how the game is originally played – whether you just keep speaking until you get to the end of a logical sentence or if there is a time- or word-limit. Thinking about it now, it could be good to work in two teams and for the other team to judge the experts on the content of their answer; they could also transcribe the sentence to check it was grammatically sound as I error-corrected on-the-spot during our game.
Word Ladders are fun for any age and they’re easy to play with minimal preparation from the teacher. On the board, draw two ‘ladders’ with an equal number of rungs on each. Divide the class into two teams and set them playing. If you have a large group and enough space on the board, you could draw more ladders. I always say that learners can help their teammates and keep an eye on the game so you can rub words off if they’re spelt incorrectly or if the other team has already written it first. Here are some ideas of variations on the game, which you can combine to make the game more challenging:
In one of the simplest versions of the game, learners start with a word with three letters at the bottom, then on the next rung write a word with four, then five, and so on until they reach the top of their ladder.
Going up with a topic
To add a bit of challenge, you could give the learners a specific topic for the ladder; for example, if the topic was adjectives, they might write fat – thin – happy – strong – serious – exciting – fantastic. Or for animals, it could be cat – frog – snake – rabbit – leopard – elephant – crocodile.
Last letter, first
In this version, as learners move up the ladder, the word must start with the last letter of the word on the rung below – this gets trickier when combined with Going up. So you may end up with cat – take – eaten – notice – easiest – terrible – everybody (lots of es in that round!). And even more so if you add in a topic!
In Macmillan’s Footprints series, there are always pages for cross-curricular learning and whilst the topics themselves are often interesting, they are frequently explored through an extended text with comprehension questions, which can be less than inspiring for our learners. The subject for this unit in Footprints 5 was History and as the unit was on “Treasure Hunters”, the topic was archaeologists, with a photo of Indiana Jones (unfortunately from the fourth film which was fairly atrocious!).
I wanted to engage the learners in the topic and also to use a clip from a film as I don’t often use videos with these two groups. We started with a quick game of Hangman to spell out Indiana Jones and then discussed what the learners knew about him – this surprised me as in the second group of 10, only one of them had ever heard of him and seen one of his films! In the first group, the learners were more able to produce sentences about him and it gave one of the quieter learners a moment to shine as he was more familiar with the films than others.
We then watched this short clip and I asked them to write down as many objects as they could see in pairs. We watched the same clip again and wrote down verbs and then a third time, writing adjectives.
The learners then competed against each other for points: an object was worth 1 point; a verb, 2 and an adjective, 3. Plus, if they chose a word which no other team had, they won double points for it.
Unfortunately we then ran out of time, but if I had had more time, I would have asked the teams to write sentences using all the vocabulary we had boarded to retell the story from the clip.
I’m not a fan of games where people get eliminated – both in terms of the group dynamic and linguistic production. Here’s a quick five-minute filler which will hopefully ensure learners avoid elimination.
Everyone stands in a circle and the lexical topic is chosen, for example food. Go round in a circle naming food; if somebody repeats or takes too long to think, they go down on one knee. If they forget again, they go down on the other knee – as I use this game just in the last minutes of class, it’s always been time to go before anyone has actually got to that stage. Another option could be that if someone is down on one knee and provides a correct answer, they can stand up again.