Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Third Time's A Charm

If you're any good at all, you know you can be better.
~ Lindsay Buckingham

The nice thing about teaching ESL for the 3rd time is that I've already done most of the "heavy lifting" in preparing my class and now I can focus on "fine tuning" the activities and exercises that didn't work as well as I had hoped the last 2 times...  

The first year, I developed an activity for practicing prepositions of place (above, below, on, etc.) that I was really excited about.  I had my students pair up and gave each a pile of little foam pieces - different geometrical shapes, in different colors and different sizes.  

Then I gave one student (from each pair) a photograph that showed some of those foam pieces arranged into a pattern.  This student was supposed to give her partner directions like "Put the large blue square above the small yellow triangle," until the partner had re-created the pattern in the photograph with the foam pieces.  

Then, of course, I'd give the second partner a different photo, and they would exchange roles.  

I like it because it gives the students opportunities for both speaking and listening practice, the vocabulary is tightly constrained but there is room for individual control/choice (regarding the order in which they give the instructions) and at the end they get nice concrete feedback on the success of their efforts.  :)

In the past, an aide and I would demonstrate the activity once (using poster board and big shapes cut out of construction paper so that everyone could see) and then "let them at it".

Unfortunately, they never seemed to jump into it - after that introduction, they still seemed confused...  I had to go around and, one-by-one, help many of the pairs get started.

So, this year, I added a more extensive introduction to the activity.  I created 3 additional arrangements (see below) and basically I had them do the activity 3 times, with me giving the instructions and each student trying to follow them.  

After we had worked these 3 examples together, I had them get into pairs and start the main activity.  

This little change made all the difference in the world!  Everyone jumped in and got busy and the room was soon full of language - English language - the best sound an ESL teacher can ever hope to hear!  :)

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