lunes, 28 de abril de 2014

Learning to use prepositions of time with a fun actitivity

Have you noticed your students have a hard time using prepositions of time correctly? Here is an activity idea that can be used as both an introduction to a lesson on prepositions of time and as a revision. What´s more, the very procedure of the activity can be easily adapted to other topics such as prepositions of place or regular verbs past form pronunciation.
The first thing you do is make a list of time expressions that use the most common prepositions: in, on and at. I usually include a list of expressions that do not use any preposition. You will end up with lists like these:
IN : the morning, the afternoon, the evening; 1977, March, etc.
ON: 28th July, weekends (US usage), Monday, Monday 22nd December, etc.
AT: the weekend (UK usage), night, the turn of the century, 6.00 o´clock, etc.
No Prep.: yesterday, yesterday morning, this morning, today, tomorrow, etc.

My lists usually have about 15 expressions in each category. Obviously, you will repeat some “similar” expressions, like “on Monday” but also “on Friday.” This is good practice because it will provide examples of “on + day of the week.”
Once you have your lists, cut out pieces of paper or card of ¼ A4 page. I use paper of different colours to bring a little bit of fun and “life” to the activity, but be careful not to use the same colour for one category so students are not given hints. Then, write the expressions on the cards, one at a time, without the prepositions, like this:
the morning
6.00 o´clock

Make a deck of cards and shuffle them. Now you will need some “blutack” or similar and you are ready.
In class, divide the board into four spaces and write on top: IN, ON, AT, NO PREP. When I have a large class, say about 24, I also use the walls but instead of writing on the wall, I stick up a card. Next, distribute the cards, more than one each hopefully, to the students together with a piece of “blutack”. Ask them to stand up and stick the time expressions they got under the corresponding preposition. These will bring about some minutes of noisy activity while the students decide where to put their cards. Since they had gotten cards with expressions that belong in different prepositions they will cross paths with each other and laugh and smile and have a good time, they may even correct each other on the way and/ or ask their classmates for help when in doubt. All this is great, let it happen and encourage it if possible.
When they have finished and are sitting back in their places, go through the cards and put a cross next to the ones that are wrong. Then, ask for volunteers to change the marked cards to their correct place. Encourage students to come up even if the marked cards are not theirs. If there are still some incorrectly placed cards, repeat the cross marking until all the cards are in the correct area.
Now you may ask your students to look at the expressions on the board and come up with rules. They must deduce that IN goes with months, etc. provided you have given enough examples for them to notice. Afterwards you may want to do another type of exercise to reinforce/ use the expressions.
You may also adapt the same procedure for expressions of place, do vs make, pronunciation of regular past tenses, and any other grammar or vocabulary topic you want.
The advantages of this activity include the fact that it gives kinesthetic/ tactile students a chance to move about. It also provides an opportunity for visual learners to pick up concepts, they will see the rules “appear” in front of them on the board –you may use colours as suggested but also forms for the cards, etc.  The rules are not given straightforward to the students but they will deduce them as the activity evolves. This makes it more memorable.
The activity provides variety and a moment of apparent relaxation as the students walk about and maybe joke with each other. When the teacher marks the incorrect cards, they are asked to rethink their grammar/ vocabulary and try their hand at another possible solution to the language problem. This is an example of the trial and error process present in language acquisition and one skill that every good language learner must develop.

In short, the activity lends itself useful and fun, easy to set up and valuable. Why not try it out and see what happens?

lunes, 14 de abril de 2014

"Hot slips", a non-invasive correction technique

Whenever our students are working in pairs or groups, we always notice their mistakes. Then we are faced with the dilemma: Should I correct now or not? The advice is to delay the correction, it is best not to interrupt because we shouldn´t cut a student´s stream of language. And it makes sense. Imagine yourself interrupting with a correction every time the student has made a mistake, it may be too often and may become boring, annoying, and demotivating.
Some years ago, I read an article that suggested a simple technique called “Hot slips”. It consists in noting down mistakes on pieces of paper that the teacher would give to the students after they have finished their activity. In this way, the corrections are personalized and non-intrusive. I tried the technique and it worked fine; however, I found it could be improved. For example, what kind of mistakes should the teacher note down? When exactly should the slips be given: right after the student´s intervention, at the end of the class, while other students are talking? I then modified it a little bit and this is what came up.
1.       Prepare slips of paper to note down mistakes. I am now using a notepad that lets me rip off pages easily.
2.       Decide what kind of mistakes you are going to concentrate on: Grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, or more than one category. In any case, define an area in the piece of paper to note down the type of mistake. Also, and I suggest this is done too, try and note down good sentences, uses of grammar and/ or vocabulary that exemplify advancement in the student´s performance.
3.       Keep another normal sized piece of paper. This is not to be given to the students. You will note down the most common mistakes here so that you can show them to your students at the end of the activity and/ or plan remedial work based on this information.
4.       Stay with one group/ pair for as long as necessary to get information.
5.       When the activity is finished, pick some mistakes from your own notes and do some remedial work. It is important not to mention who made the mistakes but treat them in general.
6.       Alternatively or additionally, plan remedial work based on the information you collected during the activity.
The advantages of the modified Hot Slips technique add to the two mentioned before, personalization and non-intrusiveness, the element of closure. The activity has an output when the teacher shows the students their mistakes.  The fact that good examples of language use are included in the teacher´s notes, gives the activity a motivating edge: Not everything is criticism.
When giving corrections on the board, I usually prefer an inductive method. I write an example sentence or more with the identified mistakes in them and ask the students to point out what is wrong and why. I also write pairs of sentences which are different only because one has the mistake I am concentrating on and the other doesn´t.
For example:
I have 20 years old. VS I am 20 years old.
The students didn´t went to class.  VS  The students didn´t go to class.

The modified version of Hot Slips has proved to be really effective in error correction and, what is more important, extremely useful for me as a teacher. The best is to try it out and see how it works for you, and even think of some modifications to suit your needs and situation.

lunes, 7 de abril de 2014

Yet another post-it notes activity

A cloze text is an activity where several words have been deleted from a reading text. The hard-core cloze requires the deletion of every nth word, regardless of what part of speech it is. That is, you delete every 8th word in the text, or every 10th, etc. A variation, very useful for directing the focus of the lesson, is to delete only verbs, or nouns or adjectives, etc. Also, the teacher may decide to delete any words s/he thinks relevant. The students then have to provide the missing word(s) according to context and grammar.
A challenging way to tackle a reading text is to copy it and create a cloze exercise. You may, if the text is too long, choose to create a cloze for the first paragraph(s) of the reading as an introduction.
In any case, the suggestion in this article has to do with a creative way to get students to do the cloze exercise using post-it notes.
Preparation: Apart from the cloze-text, prepare post-it notes with one answer in each. Produce two or three sets of answers and include three to five “distractors”, that is, words that do not belong in the text, for each set.
Procedure: Once your students have worked out the missing words in the text, get them to form pairs or groups of three to check each other´s answers. While they are at it, stick the post-it notes on the walls. When the students have finished checking their answers, ask them to stand up and look for the missing words in their texts among the post-it notes on the walls. They must work as teams in order to collect the right answers. They must not have their texts at hand while searching for the answers, but they can go back to their seats to consult their texts. You may want to give a time limit for this activity so as to make it more competitive and fun or just let them work at their own pace. This will depend on your class style and other factors you know better than anybody.
Check answers: Once the answers collection has finished, check answers with the whole class, and if you like, assign points to the teams for correct answers. Remember to ask for reasons why they gave such and such answer.
The activity may be adapted by copying the text on a large piece of paper, such as a flipchart or series of flipcharts that you will stick on the board. In this variation, the students will work individually: they fetch post-it notes from the walls and go to the enlarged text and place words in their corresponding space.

Reflection: As a final stage, it is advisable for this type of exercise to get students to work in their teams and reflect on how they arrived at the answers they had and why they were right or wrong. This stage will promote metacognition, which means, they will analyse how they know what they know and understand the process of producing language.