From a quick activity to fill in the last 5-10 minutes of class to a review game, or even a full-blown project; extension activities are a way to further the learning aims for a lesson. For this reason, extension activities should always have a clear link to the activities which have come before.
Before starting, decide on the aim of your extension activity. An aim could be:
- giving students more practice with a grammar structure or vocabulary because they haven’t quite ‘got it’ yet.
- exploring a particular topic further.
- reviewing material from the lesson or unit.
- assessing where students are in their learning.
Whatever the aim, be sure to link the activity to the language, skills or topic that you want to extend.
1. Personalise it
An extension activity is a good way for students to relate the topic to themselves. In this way, the topic becomes more relevant and can make communication about the topic more meaningful. Students also tend to remember more when the language or topic is personalised. A simple extension activity would be to ask students their opinion about a topic: What do you think about…? Do you agree with…? Which do/would you prefer…? What would you do about…? More extensive activities might include students creating a set of questions and interviewing their partner, writing a personal response to a topic, or taking their own photos and creating an oral narrative using an app such as Fotobabble.
2. Integrate higher-order thinking skills
Thinking skills can be categorised into lower-order (remembering, understanding, applying) and higher-order (analysing, evaluating and creating). If students have been learning vocabulary, they have most likely been learning the definition (remembering), seeing the new words in context (understanding), and completing gapped sentences with the words (applying). An analysing extension activity might ask students to categorise the new words (you can provide the categories, or students could create their own categories), or you might ask students to compare the words to other words – for example, finding synonyms and deciding what the difference in nuance is between the words. If the words are used in a reading or listening text, you could ask students why certain words or phrases were used (evaluating). Students might also use the words creatively – in writing their own sentences (creating).
3. Review regularly
Hermann Ebbinghaus famously showed how much we forget over time, and how memory can improve with regular revision. Have a set of extension activities for the purpose of review in your teacher’s toolkit. Flashcards, revision games, spelling games, and pronunciation activities are all examples of extensions you can use for quick revision. An extension activity can also serve to review what has come before in previous units.
4. Give some choice
All classes have a mix of students with different abilities and strengths, so it’s a good idea to give students options to choose from according to what they feel they can do. For example, you might want students to show their understanding of a text. One option could be to write a summary (more language needed), another might be to create an infographic or timeline (less language needed). Another way to increase choice and provide differentiated instruction is to vary how much students have to produce. For example, you could ask students to write 1-3 true sentences about themselves and 1 false one. They then read their sentences to each other and guess which one is false.
5. Have some time extenders up your sleeve
for when you finish your lesson plan and still have 5-10 minutes left, or when you have fast finishers. Some standard activities include: (1) Students write 1-3 questions or sentences using the grammar structure they’ve been studying; (2) Pairs write 3-5 gapped sentences with the vocabulary from the section. They swap with another pair and complete each other’s sentences; (3) Students work in pairs – each student changes 5 words in a reading text. Student A begins reading the text. When student B hears a word that is different from what is in the text, s/he says, ‘stop’, quotes the word from the text, and then takes over reading where student A left off.
6. Integrate an informal assessment
Extension activities can simply be a way to informally assess whether students have grasped the language or skill aim of the lesson.
One way to do this is with ‘can do’… statements. Write a list of ‘can dos’ based on your lesson aim on the board for students to copy. For example, if the aim of the lesson is “Students will be able to order a meal from a menu.”, then the ‘can do’ statement might be: “I can order a meal from a menu”. Students tick ü the things they feel they can do. You can then discuss these or collect them up. No ticks = need revision.
Another simple assessment is a “ticket out the door”. If, for example, you have been working on a certain language point, you could ask students to write 3 sentences using that language. These are collected up and used to assess whether or not you need to spend more time on the language point in subsequent lessons.
7. Make it different, interactive or just plain fun
Extension activities that focus on interaction or competition can be very engaging and can make a change from the norm. Try some team competitions that focus on language, skills or topics. One time-honoured example is a grammar auction, in which teams ‘buy’ sentences they think are correct. Teachers can also create board games based on language in the units, or play an online quiz using an app such as Quizlet.
8. Turn it into a project
Projects are a great way to integrate a number of skills, including the 21st-century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. They also cater for mixed abilities because students can do them at their own language level. Projects should start with a question that gets students interested in finding out more. At this point, they may ask more questions or make hypotheses. Students should then do some research to find out the answers to their questions. Research can include surveys, interviews or internet searches. You could even invite a knowledgeable speaker into the classroom. Once they have done their research, students then decide how they will show it. What is important here is that they present their finished product to an audience – another class, the whole school, the headmaster, or parents, for example. When planning a project, think of the aims and work backwards.
If you would like to try some of the ideas above with your students, download my ‘try this in class’ tips for even more activity ideas and tips, based on New Headway Intermediate 4th edition.
Stacey Hughes works as a teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and educational consultant in ELT. She has taught English in the US, Poland, Italy and the UK in many different contexts, and currently volunteers as a teacher for FELLOW in Oxford. She has recently run an introduction to teacher training course for the Oxford Department of Education Summer School. Stacey has written a number of blogs, online student exercises and teacher support materials.