Macmillan Books for Teachers

Practical techniques and ideas for classroom activities. Assumptions about learning. The role of TP on a teacher training course. Feedback on lessons. Eliciting, giving instructions and setting up activities. Students working outside the classroom.

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Second listening

1 Set a task to focus on more detailed understanding

Whether you are using published materials or devising your own activities, try to vary the tasks. If you ask questions, in addition to those which call for a factual answer, try to introduce some which require the students to infer meaning -particularly at the higher levels.

2 Give the listening text for the second time

This time you may want to make the task easier by pausing - especially if the students have to write notes, for example. Monitor and assess how well they are doing the task.

3 Feedback

Again, encourage the students to work together before eliciting their responses.

4 Personal response

Try to encourage a personal response from your students by asking questions like What did you think of what the woman did? Would you have done that? etc. In this way listening work can be naturally integrated with speaking practice.

Finally, if you are going to use the text to lead into language work it might be useful to let the students read the tapescript while they listen to all or part of the text again.

Is listening to a video different from listening to an audio tape?

Although using a video tape is very similar in many ways to using an audio tape, there are differences that you ought to think about when planning a listening skills lesson:

* Video is generally easier to understand because of the visual clues available. In fact sometimes no listening skills are needed to understand the action.

* Video is very useful if more than one person is speaking: in a conversation with overlapping dialogue, unfinished sentences, interjections, etc. Monologues are fine on audio tape but conversations, particularly if they are authentic, are often very difficult to follow - even for proficient speakers of the language.

* Video is more like real life. Unless they are on the telephone or radio, we can usually see the person we are listening to. As a result, watching video is usually more motivating.

* The viewer has to watch the screen to get all the available information. For this reason it is not easy for them to complete 'while-viewing' tasks that require a lot of writing (filling in a chart, etc). In this case it is usually better to let the students view once without writing and then do the task the second time they view.

* Video tapes (especially if they arc authentic) tend to be long. You need to be very careful about the length of the video or extract you show and choose aims and activities that are appropriate. Video can be popular with students but you have to ensure that useful learning outcomes result and the students don't just use the opportunity to go to sleep!

Can you use a listening text to introduce or practise language points?

Yes. After helping students get a general understanding of a text you may want to go on to pick out and examine some of the language in the listening: a point of grammar or pronunciation; a functional or vocabulary focus. Using a listening text is a very good way of introducing and practising language in context. (See Chapter 6: Presenting and practising language.)

Task 1


To practise writing questions to go with an authentic listening text.


1 Record a text of between one and two minutes. A short item from the radio, for example the news, is ideal.

2 Write questions suitable for students at intermediate level to fit into the following stages, in a lesson whose aim is to develop listening skills:

1 Set the scene and arouse interest in the topic of ... (Write three questions.)

2 Focus on the overall or general comprehension of the text. (Write three 'gist' questions.)

3 Focus on the understanding of more detailed aspects of the text. (Write six questions -two factual, two inference and two opinion.)


Play your text and show your questions to a colleague for comments. After making any suggested improvements you could try the activity with a group of students.

Task 2


To consider the staging of a listening lesson.


1 The activities, instructions and questions A-P on p93 refer to the authentic listening text at the top of p93. Which order do you think they should come in?

2 Compare your decision with a colleague and discuss the reasons for your recommended order.


1 To make this activity easier you can photocopy the material and cut it into sections that can be moved around.

2 You may decide that more than one way of ordering the activities can be justified. It might depend on the level of the group of students listening to the text. You may also want to add or omit some instructions or activities.

Listening text

Talking about telepathy... I've never experienced anything myself but recently, erm, my father went into hospital for an operation. And, er, he was having a knee operation at a particular time a few days ago. And my uncle, apparently, who's his brother, they're not twins but they're brothers, and as they've got older they've got a lot closer; they didn't use to be very close when they were young. And, erm,... he was telling me the other day that he was at work - he's an electrician- and he was working, and on Monday morning as he was working, he got this strange pain in his le..., in his left leg. He maintains that this is true. And my father at that time was having an operation on his left leg. And the pain got gradually worse as the morning went on so that by lunchtime he had to go home from work and rest his leg. Yeah. And he said - well it turns out that it was at the same time that my dad was having his operation. And he found it very strange and I mean - so did I. From Signature Intermediate by Phillips andSheerin (Nelson 1991)

A 'Read these statements. Some are true and some are false. Listen to the cassette and decide which are true and which are false.'

Teacher writes the statements on the board or gives them to the students on pieces of paper.

1 Angela's father and uncle are twins.

2 The brothers have a better relationship now than in the past.

3 Angela's uncle had an operation on his left leg.

4 Angela's uncle had a pain in his left leg.

5 Angela and her uncle think something strange happened.

В 'Listen to this account about telepathy. The story is told by someone called Angela.'

С Teacher writes these questions on the board: How many people are involved in the story?

Who had the operation?

Who had a pain in his leg?

D 'Compare your answers in pairs.'

E 'Inpairs, correct the statements that are wrong.'

F' Write the story that Angela told in your own words. You can use the statements (including those you corrected) to remind you of the story. You can do this in pairs.'

G The teacher elicits the groups' opinions.

H The teacher draws a picture of two heads on the board and links them with a line labelled thoughts. The teacher writes the word telepathy on the board next to the picture of the two linked heads.

I 'Do you think Angela's account is true?'

J The teacher elicits any stories the students may have.

К The students discuss in groups.

L 'Have you or anyone you know ever experienced anything that you cannot explain?'

M The teacher elicits the answers.

N The teacher plays the cassette.

О The teacher elicits the answers.

P The teacher plays the cassette.

3. Receptive skills: reading

How can you help your students improve their reading?

As reading, like listening, is a receptive skill, a lesson based around the comprehension of a reading text is similar in many ways to that designed to practise listening skills. Almost all the questions you have to answer when choosing a listening text also apply when choosing a reading text (see Section 2: Receptive skills: listening).

There are some significant differences, though, which in some ways make reading easier and in some ways make it more difficult than listening:



A listening text can seem 'unstructured'

A reading text is usually more obviously organized

Unfamiliar regional/national accents can cause problems

For some students the written script is unfamiliar

Meaning is conveyed by the stress on key words and the intonation of the voice

In a reading text the fact that English words are not always spelled like they sound can cause difficulty

If the students can also see the speaker (live or on video), gesture and expression will also aid understanding

Students have to listen in 'real time' {ie go at the speaker's speed)

Students can take their time, check back on details, puzzle out meaning

Listeners are normally expected to participate (eg reply) immediately

All students have listening skills in their own language

Not all students may be skilled in reading their own language

One Important aspect that is common to listening and reading:

Both listeners and readers have to infer meaning, using their knowledge of the world

What makes a reading text easy or difficult?

Generally, reading texts are easier if:

* they contain 'simple' language - structures and vocabulary familiar to the students;

* they are short;

* they contain short, simple sentences;

* they are clearly organized - eg there is a straightforward storyline or a clearly signposted argument;

* they are factual;

* they are in standard English - with no specialized vocabulary;

* the topic is concrete and familiar;

* there is support in the way of layout, titles, pictures, graphs, etc.

3 Receptive skills: reading

What are the different 'ways' of reading?

We read different texts in different ways, depending on our purpose. For example:


When reading a newspaper we often glance over the headlines until we find an article that catches our interest. If we are in a hurry we read through the article quickly -probably not reading every word, maybe reading only the first sentence of each paragraph. When we do this we are skim reading for the general sense or the gist of the article. We want to know what's in the article but only on a rather superficial level.

Next we may want to see what's on television this evening at 8 o'clock. We are unlikely to start reading from the beginning of the list of programmes - starting with what's on at 6 o'clock in the morning! Instead our eyes move quickly over the page until we find 8.00 pm and then we start reading the details of the programmes. In other words, we scan the page until we find what we're looking for.

Intensive reading

In the same newspaper we may find something that we want to read in detail. Perhaps the article we skim read at first is really interesting and we want to read it again, more slowly, taking in the information and perhaps even making a mental note of some of the details to tell someone about later. Or we may do the crossword - paying close attention to the clues in order to solve the puzzle. In both these instances we are reading for detail.

Extensive reading

This is the way we usually read when we are reading for pleasure - perhaps a novel or a biography.

You will probably want to introduce your students to a variety of different reading texts and give them practice in employing the appropriate reading strategies. Sometimes we can use a text to practise more than one type of reading approach; for example, skimming an article then reading all or part of it for detailed information. However, be very careful not to set a task which involves a reading strategy which is inappropriate for the text.

How can you help students to understand a reading text?

As with listening, choose a text and formulate aims that are suitable for the students' level and interests: challenging - but manageable with support. See the list on p94 for factors that make a reading text easier. How much of the text the students need to understand depends on your aim. The most important skill is to be able to identify what the text is about - what is the writer trying to say? When reading for gist or overall understanding it often isn't essential that the students understand every word of a reading text, though there shouldn't be too much which is unfamiliar. If the students can get an overall idea of the meaning they can more easily deduce unknown words and go on to a more detailed understanding. So focus on their general or global understanding before their grasp of detail.

Encourage the students to use what they already know - their knowledge of the world and of English. Before they tackle the text, help them to predict what they are going to read by activating any knowledge they may have of the topic or text type. Elicit the sort of language they might expect to meet. Start with what the students already know in order to tackle the new; begin with the easy aspects and go on to the more difficult.

Remind the students of the reading skills they employ in their own language. For example, discuss the ways of reading outlined above and encourage them to use strategies appropriate to the text and the purpose of reading. Encourage them to use any visual clues available - layout, pictures, etc.

Help the students understand the structure of the text by focusing, for example, on the key sentences and the way sentences are linked. Encourage the students to deduce the meaning of unknown vocabulary by guessing the meaning of the word from clues in the context; identifying the grammar of the word (is it a verb, noun, etc?); separating the root of the word from any affixes and seeing if it is like a word they already know. Help the students use a dictionary efficiently to find the meaning of unknown words and expressions. (See also Section 6: learner development and study skills.)

Give plenty of support, especially with lower level students or those who are not confident about reading:

* Encourage the students to work together and help one another.

* You may want to ask the students if they need more time to read the text or part of the text again.

* You can let the students work on the text at home before tackling another task in a later lesson.

Motivate your students by choosing texts that are interesting and that provide a real incentive for them to understand and to contribute their own ideas and opinions. You may not want to restrict questions about the text to those that require factual answers, but you can explore ways of getting your students to infer meaning or express their own views on the matters under discussion.

Is it useful for the students to read aloud?

It can be - but it's rather different from the activities listed above as it involves speaking as well as reading. It is quite difficult for the speaker to pay attention to the meaning of a text when reading aloud, particularly in public. It is also often not comprehensible to the other students who carry on reading rather than listening to the student reading aloud. So don't ask your students to read aloud in class and then expect them to answer comprehension questions. However, some students like to read aloud on their own, as they listen to a text on cassette. It helps them to associate the spelling of the words and the pronunciation, and improves their fluency. There are a number of simplified readers with accompanying cassettes that can be used in this way.

What are the stages in a reading skills lesson?

There is no one way of doing a reading skills lesson - it depends on such factors as the aim, the text type, the level of the students, etc. The following are guidelines

on one type of reading skills lesson, one in which the students are going to read a fairly short text - perhaps a newspaper or magazine article. The ultimate aim is that the students can understand the text well enough to discuss it with a friend -giving their personal reactions to the article.

Notice the many similarities (and the few differences) between these guidelines and those for a listening comprehension.

Before reading

1 Arouse interest and help prediction

Encourage the students to think about and discuss what they are going to read. Or create a 'need to know' by telling them how the reading fits in with a later activity they are going to do.

Don't worry about grammar 'mistakes' during these lead-in activities - the aim here is not to focus on grammatical accuracy but rather to interest and motivate the students to read.

Use such prompts as realia, visuals, references to your or the students' experiences, and questions to arouse the students' interest, to activate any knowledge they have about the topic and to help them predict what they are going to read.

Use any clues afforded by the text layout and format. Is it a magazine article, a letter, a theatre programme, etc? Are there any photographs or pictures accompanying the text that can help the students predict what the text is about?

2. Teach any key words

Consider whether there are any key words which you want to teach before the students read the text. As in a listening text the context makes the task of understanding individual words and expressions easier. However, unlike a listening text, the students can see the words so it is not as difficult for them to identify proper names or to take the time to puzzle out the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary.

First reading

1 Set a task to assist overall understanding

This can be in the form of two or three gist questions, or a task.


Choose a headline from a choice of three logo with the article.

Don't make the completion of the task dependent on the students reading in too much detail.

Give advice about the type of strategies the students might employ.


Don't try to read everything. Just read the first sentence in each paragraph and try to get a general idea of what it's about so that you can answer the questions on the board/choose an appropriate headline. You have two minutes.

2 The students read the text

You may want to give a time limit - this may discourage students from reading for detail when they should be skimming. On the other hand you may want to give them as much time as they feel they need.

3 Feedback

Ask the students to discuss their answers and opinions in pairs or groups before you elicit them.

Second reading

1 Set a task to focus on more detailed understanding

Whether you are using material from published materials or devising your own activities, try to vary the tasks - including tasks which require the students to 'read between the lines' as well as answer questions which call for factual answers.

2 The students read the text for the second time

Again, give them some idea of how long they have to do this and how they should set about the task.


You have three minutes; don't forget to look carefully at the linking words - they'll help you work out the order of events in the story. You can use your dictionaries if you wish.

3 Feedback

Again, encourage the students to work together before eliciting their responses.


You will probably want to encourage a personal response to the text from your students.


What did you think of the man's idea? Would you have done that?

In this way reading can be naturally integrated with speaking practice.

It may be appropriate for you to read, or to play a recording of all or part of the text so the students read and listen simultaneously. By doing so the sounds and spelling of the language are linked. If the resources are available students often enjoy doing this as a self-access activity. Or you could use part of the text as a dictation activity, perhaps as a revision activity in a later lesson.

As with a listening text, you may want to go on to use a reading text as a context for the introduction or practice of specific language; a point of grammar or pronunciation, a functional or vocabulary focus. (See Chapter 6: Presenting and practising language.)



To design an activity to go with a piece of authentic reading matter that would be suitable for your TP class.


1 Find a piece of authentic reading matter that you could use with the class you are teaching on TP: for example, a magazine article, a menu, a holiday brochure.

2 Consider which skills aims you could achieve.

3 Design an activity (or activities) for the reading materials which will fulfil these aims. (Consider which reading strategy or strategies the students should employ to do the activity efficiently.)

4 Show the reading matter and the activity to fellow trainees and invite their constructive criticism.

5 Try out the material with your TP group.


Is the task that you designed authentic as well as the material? You may like to consider the advantages and disadvantages of making the task an authentic one.

Task 2


To practise identifying key words in a reading text.


1 Find a reading text that you could use with the class you are teaching. Identify those words which are key to the understanding of the text.

2 Decide which, if any, you would need to teach before the students read the text for the first time.

3 Compare your list with a partner. Explain why you chose your words.


You can go on to discuss how you would teach the words as quickly and efficiently as possible.

4. Productive skills: speaking

Every opportunity for speaking in the classroom should be taken. It is by trying to communicate that students realize their need for language and by speaking that they increase their fluency and confidence. At first students may be self-conscious and reluctant to speak in front of a lot of people. However, there are ways (repetition work and pairwork activities) of providing a safer, less public environment in which the students can begin to practise speaking.

What do we mean by speaking skills?

Speaking has many different aspects. It is useful to look at them under these headings:

1 Accuracy

Accuracy involves the correct use of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. In controlled and guided activities the focus is usually on accuracy and the teacher makes it clear from feedback that accuracy is important. Ongoing correction is often appropriate during accuracy activities. In freer activities the teacher is hoping for the correct use of language but is also keen to encourage the students' attempts to use the language they have in order to communicate. (See below.)

In feedback the teacher will probably comment on correct use of language but also on how successfully the students communicated. (See also Chapter 6: Presenting and practising language.) Even in free activities students can be encouraged to be as accurate as possible so long as their anxiety to 'get it right' doesn't interfere too much with their fluency and ability to communicate. In any particular activity the teacher can make it clear to students in which areas accuracy is expected, and to what extent. (See also Chapter 7 Section 2: Correction techniques.)

2 Fluency

Fluency can be thought of as 'the ability to keep going when speaking spontaneously'. When speaking fluently students should be able to get the message across with whatever resources and abilities they've got, regardless of grammatical and other mistakes.

Normally, students should not be corrected during fluency activities. However, in feedback afterwards you can comment favourably on any strategies the students used to increase their fluency. For example:

* the use of natural-sounding 'incomplete' sentences: When did you go? On Tuesday (not I went on Tuesday);

* the use of common expressions like I see what you mean, Never mind, What's the matter?

* the use of 'fillers' and hesitation devices: Well, Let me think, Let's see;

* the use of communication strategies, such as asking for clarification: I don't understand. Do you mean ...?

* the ability to paraphrase - 'put it another way' or explain/describe what they want to say if they haven't got the right language. This can involve using gesture or even mime;

* the use of useful expressions such as That reminds me ... /By the way ... /Talking of... etc when introducing a topic; Still... /Anyway... /Strange, really... etc when finishing with a topic; and Well, I must go/Nice talking to you, etc when finishing a conversation:

Some of these aspects are more difficult to focus on than others. Students obviously transfer many of the speaking skills they have in their own language when they are speaking English. However, don't forget that some conventions of conversation are not universal and it can be very useful to focus on particular aspects in class. For example, Japanese people consider it impolite to interrupt -especially someone older or of a higher status. With more advanced students who have to take part in discussions and meetings with native speakers of English, it can be helpful to teach Japanese students how to interrupt in English in a way which is considered acceptable by native speakers.

What types of speaking activities can we use in the classroom?

Interactive activities can be divided for convenience into the following categories:

1 Controlled activities

For example: repetition practice or set sentences prompted by picture or word cues -to improve the accurate use of words, structures and pronunciation, and to foster confidence.

2 Guided activities

For example: model dialogues which the students can change to talk about themselves and to communicate their own needs and ideas; tasks which the students carry out using language (structures and/or vocabulary) which has been taught beforehand.

3 Creative or freer communication

These activities are usually designed to give either creative practice opportunities for predicted language items, or general fluency practice, where the specific language focus is less relevant.

The students are given the opportunity to experiment, to see how far they can communicate in situations where all the choices of language used are made by the people speaking; to practise the fluent use of language they know. In general these activities both increase the students' motivation, since the students talk for themselves, and help bridge the gap between the rather artificial world of the classroom, with its controlled language practice, and the real world outside.

Of course, any situation the teacher sets up in the classroom for such experimentation will, to a certain extent, determine the language used. For any limited communicative situation one can predict some of the language items likely to occur and teachers often plan a freer stage to follow the introduction and more controlled practice of language items. For example, a discussion about favourite television programmes can follow the presentation and practice of vocabulary items such as comedy, soap opera, documentary.

The most important point to remember is that the students must have a reason for speaking in order for the activity to be truly communicative; there must be a 'gap' between the speakers to be filled - either an opinion gap {I don't know what you think about this topic) and/or an information gap (you have some information I need to know). The existence and bridging of this 'gap' must be carefully planned for a successful speaking lesson. (See below.)

Inevitably lots of mistakes are made. They can be seen as part and parcel of learning to communicate. Although it is not usual to stop students in order to correct them in a free communication activity, it is important to note mistakes that you may want to discuss with students later.

How can you encourage students to speak?

1 Encourage student interaction

Many of the points answering the question How can you encourage good group dynamics and interdependence between students? (see p57) involve increasing the amount students speak in class. You should aim to create a comfortable atmosphere where students are not afraid to speak and enjoy communicating with you and their fellow students.

2 Give plenty of controlled and guided practice

Generally, the lower the level of the students the more controlled and guided practice, compared with freer practice, you will do. However, even quite advanced

students often welcome the chance to get their tongues round new vocabulary and grammar structures, expressions and model sentences before using them 'for real'.

3 Make speaking activities communicative

The aim of communication activities is to encourage purposeful and meaningful interaction between students. Communicative tasks are designed so that students have a reason or a purpose for speaking: they are bridging an information or opinion gap; they are asking for or giving real information or finding out about the opinions of their fellow students. Not only are these activities motivating in the classroom, but they offer a challenge which mirrors real-life interaction.

Even quite controlled activities can be made communicative if the students are talking about real events and opinions.


When students are practising talking about likes and dislikes they can choose from the list of vocabulary (going to the theatre, playing football, etc) - things they really like doing rather than mechanically repeating / like playing football when they don't!

In freer activities students have to listen and respond in real time without knowing what is about to come next and successful communication is of greater priority than complete grammatical accuracy.

4 Plan speaking activities carefully

Speaking activities need to be very carefully structured at first, especially at lower levels, so that the students have few demands on them. It is often difficult for students to come up with ideas at the same time as having to cope with the language. They need something to speak about, such as a picture; or a purpose -like performing a roleplay from the context of a reading text. As they become used to doing controlled and guided activities students become more sure of themselves and more adventurous so that freer activities can be attempted.

Freer activities, however, still need careful planning if they are not to fall flat. Carefully setup tasks (roleplay, picture description, debate, problem-solving, ranking tasks, etc) provide the reason, purpose and guidelines within which students can speak more freely. Examples of these activities are given below.

Guidelines for a free/creative speaking activity

Before the lesson

* Decide on your aims: what you want to do and why.

* Try to predict what the students will bring to the activity and any problems they might have. Will they have something to speak about? Are they capable of doing the activity successfully? Do they have the necessary language? Will the students find the activity interesting, useful, fun?

* Work out how long the activity will take and tailor it to the time available.

* Prepare the materials.

* Work out vour instructions.

4 Productive skills: speaking

During the activity

* Arouse the students' interest through visuals, a short lead-in talk, a newspaper headline, etc. Try to relate the topic to the students' own interests and experience.

* You may want to remind students of any structures or vocabulary that might be useful - perhaps leaving them on the board for reference.

* Set up the activity so that the students know the aims of the activity and what they are to do. This means giving clear instructions and checking that they have been understood.

* Make sure the students have enough time to prepare, perhaps in pairs or groups, before asking them to tackle the main activity. Don't be tempted to cut down on the time needed for this. Don't forget that the students are probably getting useful speaking practice at this stage too.

* Make the activity even more 'process' rather than 'product'-based by encouraging rehearsal if appropriate, particularly with roleplays.

* Monitor the activity: don't interrupt except to provide help and encouragement if necessary; try to keep a low profile. Watch the pace - don't let the activity drag on and remember to leave time for feedback.

* Evaluate the activity and the students' performance in order to provide feedback later but don't jump in with instant corrections.

After the activity

Provide feedback:

* Indicate how each person communicated, comment on how fluent each was, how well they argued as a group, and so on.

* Sometimes you might record the activity on audio or video cassette and play it back for discussion. Focus on possible improvements rather than mistakes - in fact if it is taped, sometimes they can be asked to do a rough version first, then discuss improvements, then re-record.

* Note down glaring and recurrent errors in grammar, pronunciation, use of vocabulary. Individual mistakes might be discussed (in private) with the students concerned and you might recommend suitable remedial work to do at home. Mistakes which are common to the class can be mentioned and then practised another day when you have had a chance to prepare a suitable remedial lesson. (For more ideas on how to provide feedback, see Chapter 7: Giving feedback to students.)

Examples of guided and free speaking activities

For convenience these activities have been grouped under five headings: interaction or information gap activities; roleplays; simulations; discussions; games, although there is obviously an overlap of features and techniques between the categories.

Interaction or information gap activities

These are carried out in pairs or groups and usually depend on one or more students either having incomplete information or no information at all, and the other(s) having the information needed to complete the task. The aim is for the 'haves' to communicate their information to the 'have nots' or the 'have nots' to extract it.


1 Giving directions

Aim: to give freer practice using the language of directions (for example, Go straight on, Turn left..., It's on the right, etc).

Procedure: The students do the activity m pairs. Both students have a map of the same town. On Student A's map some of the places are not marked. Student A asks Student В for directions to these places, Student В gives the directions and Student A marks them on his or her map.

В the roles can he reversed -- with Student A giving directions to Student B.

2 Making an appointment

Aim: to provide an opportunity for the students to use the language of suggestion, excuse, acceptance and confirmation as used in making an appointment. Procedure".

As the two students take the part of the parent and the teacher this activity could be viewed as a roleplay (see pi 05).


A roleplay is when students take the part of a particular person: a customer, a manager, a shop assistant, for example. As this person they take part in a situation, acting out a conversation. It is unscripted, although general ideas about what they are going to say might be prepared beforehand. These might well come out of a text or a previous context. Roleplay can be used to:

* remind the students of situations they might be in;

* give the students an opportunity to try out language recently introduced or revised and practised in a more controlled way;

* give the students the opportunity to improve their fluency, through a wide range of language, in a variety of situations and with different speakers;

* help you plan which areas to work on through the diagnosis of the strengths and weaknesses of the students' English.

Example 1

Simple roleplays where students are put in situations they may be faced with when they stay in an English-speaking country (for example, buying things from a shop, asking for directions, etc) are very useful, particularly at lower levels. In such roleplays there is no need for detailed character definition. The activity works best if there is no fixed conclusion to be reached, or if there is something awkward or unexpected in the exchange.

Step 1: Prepare the following cards:

Step 2: Establish the context of a railway station, perhaps using a picture or by talking about the students' experiences.

Step3: Divide the class into pairs. Each pair consists of Student A and Student B.

Step 4: Student A and Student В read their cards silently and digest the information written down without giving anything away to the other.

Step 5: Check that the students (particularly the weaker ones) understand what they have to do, and answer any individual queries.

Step 6: Get the students to act it out in pairs. Monitor unobtrusively. Step 7: Possibly get one or two pairs to act it out in front of the others.

Step 8: Provide general feedback.

Before the pairs of A and В students get together you can add an additional step. Divide the students into pairs of two As and two Bs and ask them to discuss their role cards together and practise some of the things they might say.

Example 2

More complex roleplays are usually more suitable for higher levels. For example, the students might play the various characters at a trial, or at a business meeting. In these cases, much of the work on the context needs to be done in greater depth-perhaps even over a series of lessons, particularly if the whole class is to be involved in an extended discussion. The students may need to prepare certain aspects of their role beforehand, perhaps for homework.

For this type of roleplay the students need to have clearly in their minds as much knowledge as possible about:

* the full context. This should include the characters - maybe their age, appearance, mood, any mannerisms, etc;

* the reason for the interaction. This will often have some conflict built into it somewhere so that the students have to 'negotiate' in English.

Step 1: Prepare the following cards:

Step 2: To warm them up to the topic discuss with students the problems any of them might have had going through immigration.

Step 3: Check they understand one or two words like out of dale and fed up, if you think they don't know them and they are crucial to the roleplay.

Step 4: Give out a copy of the cue card to each student. Get them to read the cards silently and check that they understand what is written on them by asking one or two comprehension questions.

Step 5: Allocate roles - half the students are A, and half В - and give out the character cards. Check that individual students have understood who they are without giving the whole game away to the other students.

Step 6: Put pairs or groups of As and Bs together and ask them to discuss what sorts of things they are going to say.

Step 7: Put the students into pairs - one A and one Б in each pair - and give out the props, or objects to represent the props.

Step 8: Get them to rehearse the situation in pairs.

Step 9: Ask one or two pairs to go through the roleplay again in front of the class.

Step 10: Discuss with the whole class how it might continue and what other characters might be needed (eg a police officer, the son).

Step 11: Build up a picture of the characters with the whole class, perhaps writing notes on the board.

Step 12: Assign roles to as many students as possible.

Step 13: Continue the roleplay in front of the class.

Step 14: Discuss the roleplay and provide feedback, making special note of the fluency strategies used by the students. (See also Chapter 7: Giving feedback to students.)


A simulation is slightly different from a roleplay in that the students are not playing roles but being themselves. They are confronted by a task to do or a problem to be solved and they must do what they would do in the circumstances. Some simulations are quite complex, with new information being fed in as the activity proceeds. There are a number of commercially available simulations - especially in the form of computer software. Simulations, however, can be quite simple. Generally the more realistic they are, the more likely the students will be to participate.


This task could be given to intermediate-level students, in groups:

7 'he bar/restaurant in your school or college is losing money and will have to close soon if changes are not made. In your group make some suggestions of what could be done to keep the restaurant/bar open.

If possible, the students should refer to the bar/restaurant in their school or college. If it doesn't have one you will have to feed in some information: what it sells, prices, opening hours, staffing, etc.


Most fully-fledged discussions (as opposed to small ones that arise naturally in response to something immediate like the day's news) take a lot of preparation if the teacher is not going to dominate. However, discussions with a class can be successful if you can ensure that:

* the students are interested in the subject and have ideas of their own about it;

* the activity has sufficient motivating factors in its structure to create the need to speak;

* the students have the language to discuss what they are supposed to discuss-this may include particular structures and vocabulary;

* the students have been prepared for the discussion and have been given time to organize their thoughts. Some of the preparation can be done in an earlier lesson and the students given time to prepare at home, or it may be part of a previous stage of the lesson. For example, often discussions arise from reading or listening texts (see also Section 1: Integrated skills);

* the activity is managed so that the discussion is not dominated by one or two students.

If you don't think about these factors you will end up doing all the talking!

Нow can you stimulate discussion?

These are a few examples of ways of structuring discussion. Many more ideas are included in books referred to at the end of the chapter.

Modifying statements

The students are given a list of, say, ten controversial statements around the topic of 'parents' (if that is a relevant theme): for example, Parents should teach boys to cook and girls to mend the car. Groups are then asked to modify the statements so that all the members of the group agree with them. If there is time, groups can then compare their statements with other groups.

Sequencing statements

The students are given a list of, say, ten non-controversial statements: for example, It 5 important to put children to bed early if they have school the next day. They are then asked, in groups, to sequence them (1-10) in order of priority for the successful bringing-up of children.

Defending statements

Different controversial statements are written on pieces of paper and then put into a box: for example, Children should be encouraged to leave home at sixteen. The students are told to pick out a statement and then spend a few minutes preparing arguments to defend it. One of the students can be made chairperson. All the students then have to present their arguments in turn, answer questions and defend themselves from attack. This usually leads to a lively discussion. You may want to end the activity with a vote to decide on the most convincing defence. It is sometimes a good idea, if there's time, to give the students a chance to say what they really think about the statement they had to defend.


Students can be presented with a puzzle or problem and given a set time to

discuss possible answers to or explanations of the puzzle.


Last Monday Katy left for college at 8.30 as usual. She went out of the front door, closing it behind her. A few seconds later she rang the door bell. When her father opened the door Katy said 'Thankyou' and then turned to go to college. (The explanation is given on p 124.)

Either the teacher can present the problem, or the problem and solution can be given to one of the students, who can answer questions (yes or no) from other students in the group. A number of such problems are to be found in Challenge to Think by Frank, Rinvolucri and Berer (OUP 1982).

Moral issues

The students are given details of a problematic situation and are asked to discuss the situation and make a decision. Such decisions as 'Whose fault was the accident?' 'Who should get the job?' 'What is the appropriate punishment?' 'Which charity gets the money?' can be discussed.


(from Non-Stop Discussion Workbook by Rooks, Newbury House 1981)

You have four remaining spots in your first year medical school class. You must choose four from eight highly-qualified applicants. (Details of the applicants are given.)

Describing and comparing

These activities work particularly well in a multinational class. Ask each student to prepare some information on something which varies from country to country.


The students tell about the ages at which people in their country can drink alcohol, marry, vote, drive a car, ride a motorbike, join the army, leave home, get a credit card, smoke, be sent to jail, etc. In groups the students compare the information about their countries and come to a group decision about which set of rules they think the most sensible - or they can decide on their own.

Ноги can you organize discussion in large classes?


Rather than try to include the whole class in a discussion, it is often better to divide the class into groups so that a number of parallel discussions can take place. In this way more students get a chance to speak, although it is more difficult for the teacher to monitor. At the end of the discussion phase there can be a period when the whole class comes together to compare conclusions. Each group can choose a reporter to take notes and report back on the discussion that took place in his or her group. The groups can also report back using an OHT or a poster to show the others.

Taking turns

In a smaller class the teacher can introduce a rule whereby no one who has already spoken can speak again until all the members of the group have had a turn to speak. This is rather an artificial constraint but it ensures that the discussion is not taken over by one or two students right from the start.

The pyramid technique

Another way to structure a discussion in a large group is via the 'pyramid' or 'snowballing' technique- For example, each student might list the five most important qualities a good parent must have (patience, a sense of humour, etc). The students then form pairs and agree on the list of five things. Then pairs form groups of four and have to agree on their five things - and so on until there are few enough groups for a list to be elicited from each group and put on the board, or the whole class is discussing the topic together. The pattern is shown in the diagram at the top of pi 10.


Many conventional games can be adapted to foreign language teaching. As with any communication activity the areas of language produced may be predictable, and therefore useful as a guided activity, or less predictable and suitable for a freer stage.

Games are particularly useful with younger learners but are generally popular with students of all ages, especially if they appreciate how they can help them improve their English. (See also Section 6: Learner development and study skills.)

In multinational classes some games can be a problem if some students know the game and others have never heard of it. The latter are at a disadvantage at first. Try to make sure that if you have people from different parts of the world the game does not depend on too much general knowledge. Frequently their general knowledge does not overlap!


Type 1: Predictable language

Twenty Questions

For low-level classes, to give freer practice of inverted form (for example, Is she alive?) and short-form answers (for example, No, she isn 'tj.

Instructions: A student chooses a place, a famous person or an object and the rest of the class has to guess what or who it is by asking a maximum of twenty questions that demand the answer Yes or No.


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