This is the second of a four-part series of articles from Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, about establishing a positive learning environment in the classroom. Here he shares some exercises to engage students before the lesson begins.
Following on from last week’s post, we have our students working on a simple exercise, in this case, simply writing words from the board whose letters have been scrambled. We have set the pace of their work and eventually, you can get them to do such a simple exercise within about 5 minutes. Once students have completed the exercise, you can use it to start working on their speaking skills at a very basic level.
Let’s use this exercise as an example. Students have a list of words that they have written correctly. Usually I aim for a list of between 8 and 10 words to make it challenging.
- retrohb – brother
- tanu – aunt
- nusico – cousin
- rsites – sister
- ehrtom – mother
- aefhtr – father
- celnu – uncle
- eehnpw – nephew
- ceein – niece
- adeguhtr – daughter
Confirm that everyone in class has the right answer. Ask a volunteer for number 1, another volunteer for number 2, and so on. At the end, there is no excuse for anyone in the class not to have the answer. You can go around the class until everyone has heard the words twice.
Then, pick up the pace a little. Go around the class again asking for the answers, but this time a little faster. Start with volunteers, but then start choosing the students to answer. Again go through the list about 2 times, or even only once, if it becomes very easy for them.
At this point you are telling your students 2 things: One, that they should know the answers. Two, by choosing some of the students to answer, you can choose any that are distracted or talking to someone else. They will soon understand that they can easily be a target. If a student does not answer, do not wait for them too long. You want to keep the pace of the exercise challenging.
For large classes there may be some students who have not yet said a word. Start again with number 1, choosing a student to say it. Point to a student and say number 2. Then, point to a student and simply say “next”. Then, point to another student and again say “next”. By simply saying “next” all students in class will need to listen in order to know which word to say. Keep a challenging pace, so they don’t get distracted.
At this point you can divide your class into 2 – 4 groups. Say “next” to a student in each group. If the student cannot say the word, they must sit down. Go through the list twice. The group with the most students standing, wins. As it is a game, don’t wait too long for them to say the word.
Finally, have the students “build” a memory chain with the words.
- Ask a student to say any word they want from the list.
- Ask the student sitting next to them to repeat the word and add another.
Student 2: “mother, uncle”
- Ask the student sitting next to them to repeat the first words and add another.
Student 3: “mother, uncle, niece”
- Continue until the chain is broken, or students have completed a chain of six words.
A chain of six words can be challenging for younger teens. You can challenge older students by asking them to complete a chain of 8 words. If a student cannot continue the chain, then it begins again from the next student.
Each step in the activity has challenged students a little more than the previous, even though the language itself remained the same. Weaker students listen in order to have the answer. By simply saying “next” students have to listen to each other in order to know what word to say. Doing the activity in groups and the memory chain adds memory to further challenge the students, as well as continuing to encourage them to listen to each other. While stronger students may find the language easy, remembering the order of the words keeps them interested in the activity. More importantly, for any student or group to be successful, they depend on others to be able to say their word and continue the chain. When a student is not listening and so cannot continue, the whole group loses. In this way, students who are distracted in class are encouraged to listen not only by the teacher, but by their classmates too, in order for all of them to complete the chain.
In this simple way, all students have had an opportunity to speak in class, albeit only one word. But this is important, because through these simple activities, you are telling your students that:
- you will help them get the right answer,
- you will confirm the right answer for everyone,
- you will give them an opportunity to practice the language,
- you will make it challenging and, hopefully, fun.
Everyone can participate.
My aim is to be able to do this in the first 10 minutes of class. Then, I am ready to begin my lesson.