Some of the things I’ve tried out recently

Trust me... we'll get there together! Photo by Josep Ma. Rosell

It’s been a while since I last shared a couple of things I’ve tried out in class. However, instead of writing a post about certain activities, I decided to share a couple of things that I did in class in the past weeks. Some of them worked particularly well; others not so much. Anyway, these might come in handy for any of you out there, or perhaps just be a memory exercise – they are definitely not my original creation, but things I got here and there from reading, attending a workshop, or remembering what my teachers had done when I was a student. Who knows, maybe you’d like to try them out (again).

Talking about yourself through images

I used this activity in particular to try and recycle some grammar, but I wasn’t really particularly bothered if students failed to use the structure I hoped they would to speak. We can always use anything they give us in a conversation to help them recast their own sentences, huh?! Anyway, this is what I did:

1. Give each student a blank piece of paper and have some coloured pencils available for them.

2. Write on the board something for them to focus on and some questions to give them some guidance. I asked them to imagine what their lives would be like in 20 years’ time and some questions to help them out:

a) Where do you live?

b) What do you do?

c) Are you married or single? Do you have any kids?

d) What have you accomplished in life so far?

e) What was the best trip you’ve had so far? Why?

Instead of letting them write down the answers, I asked them to read the questions carefully, close their eyes, and think about the answers while they listened to a song. I played just the introduction of “Hotel California” and then, when they started singing, I asked them to draw their answers. At first, it seemed they wouldn’t be able to produce much, but it got momentum and suddenly most students were actively engaged in the activity. When they’d all finished, they stood up and shared their stories through the pictures, with their classmates. As a teacher, you walk around, monitor, take some notes, and work on language after the activity is over.

As I was trying to get them to focus on reported speech, when the activity was over, I got each one of the pictures and asked them to report what the author of the picture had said about it.

The very first time I tried this out was as an undergraduate student. The professor asked a group of 50 students to go outside the classroom and to draw their name in a way that it’d say a lot more about ourselves than just our name. We then ventured guesses as we saw the pictures and heard what it actually meant. Surprisingly, it worked very well with us, a group of students who initially looked at the activity as something childish. Perhaps this could be a great activity for the first day of classes, huh?! 😉


Letting students run the show

I guess the key for such activity to work lies in the instructions which are given to learners. In this situation in particular, what happened was pretty simple and straightforward. As usual, there was a grammar point to be taught, but I didn’t really enjoy the way the coursebook presented it. No news there, all right. However, instead of coming up with anything else, I simply decided to test Sugata Mitra’s experiment. I photocopied a handout with exercises on the topic – tag questions – and gave it to students. No explanation had been given. I walked into the class and told them that they were going to have to do something different during the lesson. I said that I didn’t really know the topic I had to teach them, but I told them I knew they could grasp it on their own. Then I told them that I would be asking students randomly about the answers when we were correcting the exercise and that each and every student in the classroom had to know how to explain the answer. They were all responsible for the learning of all students in the classroom.

They could talk to one another, use their dictionaries, use their coursebooks, but any time they asked me a question all they got was “I don’t know. Sorry!” It was really good to see them all getting in groups and seeing fast students helping those who were struggling a bit more. As they didn’t only had to have the right answer, they really tried to help their peers learn the reasons why they were answering the questions like that.

As a teacher, I merely observed and, at the end of the lesson, I only had to talk to them about the differences in intonation patterns regarding question tags. But they all knew what they were doing, and, most importantly, why.

Act it out

It’d been a while since I last pulled this one out, and I’m sure most of you have already at least heard of it. Pretty simple as well. Choose a scene of a sitcom or a movie where there are at least two characters talking to one another. It usually helps if they are acquainted with the show (I chose a scene from FRIENDS). Play a short scene with no sound and group students according to the number of characters in the scene. After you’ve played it one, tell them to choose which character they’d like to play. Play the scene with no sound another two or three times. Give them time to come up with the lines on their own. Play the scene one more time for the groups to rehearse their lines. Finally, play it again and ask each group to say their lines as the scene is on TV. End it by letting students compare their versions with the original one. It’s fairly easy to work on the language that emerges once they compare what they had produced with the actual lines.

Hope you found this post useful! 🙂

11 thoughts on “Some of the things I’ve tried out recently

  1. Wow Henrick! I just loved the activity: Letting students run the show. I’m looking forward to trying it out in my class. Hope it turns out well. Thank you very much for sharing!!!!!!

  2. Hi Henrick,

    Thanks for sharing some ideas. I love using images in the classroom as it’s a great way for students to share more than just language. It’s so much more interesting for them to look at a partner’s picture and interpret it than to simply read the text or listen.

    I also like the idea of saying, “Sorry. I don’t know.” to students. I think they have the capacity to find out the answer for themselves, particularly if it’s a vocab question and they have access to dictionaries in the classroom. It encourages them to take more responsibility for their learning and they may even be more likely to remember the word if they’ve had to make an effort to find out its meaning.

    T 🙂

    1. Hi T,

      Working with images seems to be successful on most occasions, but I feel students need clear instructions if they’re not used to doing so. I can clearly remember when my professor at university used that with us – more than 50 students. That was something! That was one of the closest groups I’ve ever had at university, and we owe it all to our professor. What a difference we can make, huh?!

      Faking lack of knowledge has been very effective in terms of working on students’ autonomy and collaboration skills. In the long run, it also saves a lot of classroom time as they start looking things up on an individual basis. I agree with you! 🙂

      Many thanks for your comments! Sorry I couldn’t reply to it sooner… final exams at school in Brazil! 🙂


  3. Love your idea, but even better is that you suggest students run the show! I think this is really important so that our students take charge of their learning!

    1. And this is also something that has to be introduced from the very beginning. We can’t simply assume learners will be able to start running the show whenever we feel like giving them the control. Another reason why all teachers should work together. 🙂

  4. Great ideas! All 3 activities are very interesting and they promote students’ creativity which is extremely important. About the ‘Talking about yourself through Images’, have you ever tried ? I’ve started with my students and they love it, YLs, teens and adults.

    Eduardo =]

    1. Hi Eduardo,

      Thanks for suggesting fotobabble. I’d seen it before, but I’ve never tried it with students. I guess I’ll keep it up my sleeve for next semester! 🙂


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