My Survival Kit

Like all teachers with some experience, I've also learned that it's wise to have a few items at my disposal whenever I enter the classroom, or at least somewhere nearby. First of all, it's my cup of coffee. Well, seriously, one of my invaluable allies is the coursebook. Not that I stick to every single exercise but I can simply use it to my advantage and exploit it to the full in many different situations. Apart from the obvious things one does with a coursebook, students can, for example, use it when they want to hide something, such as a text or picture, from the sight of their peers during various games, mingling and information gap activities. But primarily, it's a great resource of coloured, high-quality images, which can be recycled in every lesson. As I believe that learners generally love pictures, I always have a collection of interesting magazine images on my desk. I've also found it useful to have a set of dice (at least one die for each pair is a must), a pack of word cards, a few pelmanism sets, Rory's Story Cubes, an hourglass and blank sheets of paper. Finally, students' mobile phones with recorders, cameras and dictionaries will always make things easier. All these items come in handy and often save the day when I need to come up with a short and quick activity, especially if high technology doesn't work or if something unexpected turns up. Interesting enough, this is when some of the most amazing activities can be discovered, virtually by chance.

I'd like to share an activity that was originally supposed to be only a slot-filler but eventually evolved into a complex task with a lot of pedagogical benefits.
You all know it; you ask your students to talk about a specific topic but as soon as you turn your back to them, they start talking about their favourite PC game. Once you start listening again, they quickly come back to the topic, looking at you with that guilty look. If you teach small classes, you can control this easily but with big classes it is a big issue. You might also have experienced another problem: your students stick to the assigned topic but they avoid using specific language features - especially those you wish they practised. The following activity has always helped me keep the learners talking and using exactly those language items I wanted them to use. I'd like to point out that this activity works best for those students who are quite fluent but need to work on their accuracy.

1) Students work in pairs. Each pair gets a die and a suitable magazine picture to describe. Before you get your students to start speaking, elicit some functional language for expressing opinions and display it on the board. Ask each pair to draw a chart and to copy the functional language in the following way (the numbers are just examples of students' possible scores).

Student A
Student B
I think/guess ....
5, 6
I’m not sure but I think ...
4, 3
3, 0
Perhaps/ Maybe
It looks as if/ as though + clause
He looks + adjective
He looks like + article + noun
In my opinion/view
I’d say

2) Student A throws the die. The face of the die that is uppermost when it comes to rest provides the value of the throw. So if the number is 5, student A can get 5 points, provided s/he makes a correct sentence about the picture, using the functional language from the chart. At this stage, student B has to listen carefully to spot any mistakes in student A's sentence. If s/he spots an error, student A gets a zero and it's student B's turn. The players put their scores in the appropriate columns.

I didn't actually invent the chart myself; it was one of my students who created it to make the game more transparent for him and his partner. I thought it was a great idea and adopted it immediately because I realized it drew attention to the target language and guaranteed that all items were used during the game (although at some point you may ask Ss to cover the left-hand column and try to use the language randomly, from memory).
The most obvious advantage of the activity is that students have to concentrate on the language they produce but they also have to listen carefully to their partners. The game element encourages peer correction and the teacher needn't interfere at all in most cases, only when asked for help. However, you might want to set the minimum of words a sentence should consist of because some learners tend to avoid long sentences in order to avoid mistakes.

*Goal 11/ Cycle 4