Monday, 31 October 2016

Running Dictation for Shopping Lesson

I love using running dictation in my classes. I don't do it often, because that would ruin its effect, but every now and then I'll throw a running dictation activity into my lesson plan. It gets the students excited - bringing out the fun-loving side of even the most sullen student - and forces them to think and speak in English.

Why Running Dictation is Awesome

Firstly, as I said above, it is fun. I've always found it to be fun, and it's always been an activity that has turned a rainy Monday afternoon into a frenzy of excitement, even for the most apathetic students. It is inclusive, too, bringing the outsiders into the fray. 

Most importantly, however, it gets students using English. On the surface it might seem trivial - they just memorize something that they'll soon forget. Yet it is so much more than that. Through gamification, the students are in competition against each other, and there is pressure to remember the spelling, the word order, the grammar... But more than just memorization, the students have to piece it logically together. Realistically, students won't be able to remember everything, and later they'll have to proof their version of the text.

How to Set up a Running Dictation

I like to choose a long passage or long sentences from a short passage. The more challenging it is to remember, the better. You want students unable to remember the words exactly because later they will need to figure out what they missed. If they can do it perfectly, they learn nothing. If they see a sentence that doesn't make sense, they'll work on getting it right. 

Have students in groups with one student as "the writer." Place a text (or multiple texts) somewhere outside the classroom. Give clear instructions (with ICQs) on how to perform the activity. No more than one student should leave the room at any time from each group. 

Set a time limit and when it is reached, allow the students a few more minutes to review their version of the text. Then have them practice reading it, and one student can read to the class from each group. 

When to Use Running Dictation

You can use it for almost any lesson. As long as it contains the target language or sets the context (or preferably both), it can be used. I've used it in grammar lessons for introducing the language point, and today I used it in a speaking lesson to give students some key language. Think of it as a noticing task. 

In today's lesson, I gave students a basic running dictation. I put the following passage outside the classroom door and set the instructions slowly and clearly. 


I put the students in groups and had them run the activity as mentioned above. Afterwards, they checked their written version against my correct version, and I asked them some questions to check comprehension. This led into an exercise where I had them make shopping lists, and then a role play set in the five stores mentioned at the bottom of the above document.

For the role play, I used this lesson.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Fun ESL Intonation Activity

Here's a great activity for teaching your students to speak more naturally. I've found, over my many years of teaching ESL, that students tend to speak like robots... They're focused on the nuts and bolts of the language, and lose that natural bounce and rhythm that comes with any language.

Sometimes, when you have students practice a dialogue, they'll get into the rhythm of it and play up the role, but it's rare, and only when they can make fun of each other. With this activity, I've found a way of unleashing their natural creativity and allowing them freedom to be silly.

Yet this also emphasizes a serious point - contextual intonation. I only do this activity after teaching some key elements of phonemics - like word stress or sentence stress. This tends to move the lesson into a fun area.

Setting Up

Give the students a short dialogue. It can be anything, but make it well below their level. This is important. You don't want to challenge them here, because the point isn't the dialogue, but how it's spoken. Give them something so easy that they immediately laugh at it and even the very lowest level student in the class has no trouble comprehending. 

My students are intermediate level, and I use this dialogue: 

A: Hi, how are you?
B: Fine, thank you. And you?
A: Just great. What have you been doing lately?
B: Oh, not much. But I've been keeping busy.
A: Well...it's been good to see you.
B: Yes, it has...well, bye!
A: Goodbye.

Tell your students to practice the dialogue a few times. If they're like my students, they'll act silly because it's so easy. Then tell them to memorize it. Tell them that soon you will remove the dialogue from the screen/board and they'll have to perform it from memory.

Running the Activity

Once the students have confined this dialogue to memory, bring up a list of scenarios that involve two people. These could be any two people, but make them fun and interesting. Tell the students to pick a scenario and perform the dialogue in the role of these two people. Demonstrate with an obvious example and show how the above statements could be said while happy or sad, angry or excited, etc.

Here are some idea for roles:

  • Two old friends meeting by chance for the first time in many years.
  • A divorced couple. 
  • A dying man and a doctor.
  • A police officer and a criminal.
  • Two doomed lovers.
  • A landlord and a tenant who owes him money.
  • A monster and a child.
  • Two rival athletes. 
Come up with as many possibilities as you want. Try to make them fun and weird. Have the students pick one and practice it for a few minutes, and then choose another and practice that. You could have students read in front of the class or a group and other students need to guess which roles they were playing.  

Monday, 10 October 2016

ESL Activity: The Price is Right

Today I was teaching my students how to say numbers. They're in university and have quite a high level of English, so you might be wondering why I bother... but numbers are challenging for many learners of English - especially those from East Asia.

In East Asia, some languages group numbers by the tens of thousands - ie with four zeroes instead of three. When students think in their native language and translate, it can be difficult for them. As a result, you need to show the rules for stating long numbers.

I do this by starting at zero and building up to 1,000,000,000,000. It seems inconceivably massive, but if you explain the formulas for stating long numbers, demonstrating slowly and building up with lots of examples, it's actually incredibly easy.

There's also the tricky subject of pronunciation. Most Asian students struggle with "thousand" because of the /θ/ sound. Then there's the slight difference between 15 and 50, 16 and 60, etc.

To practice numbers, I use the idea from The Price is Right - a TV show where people guess prices of products. It's very easy to set up. Just take some pictures and prices from Amazon or any other online store and stick them into a PowerPoint presentation. Put the students in groups and have them guess the prices.

I find the natural competitiveness of people gets even quieter students fired up, and because they might both think the product costs around $250, they'll get tricky and one will say, "$251" to beat the other. It's a great way of having them practice their language.