The suggestions below are just a few of many, many possibilities.
The quest of every good teacher involves a constant search for new techniques,
and interesting variations on old ones. Note that most of the techniques
listed here require active student performance or response. However,
much language learning comes from active listening and observation.
It is often a mistake to push students into active responses before
they are mentally prepared (and mental preparation may take a long time,
even years). Finding ways to help students listen or read with understanding,
but without "responding" publicly is a challenge for teachers,
who may feel that they are not teaching successfully when "nothing
seems to happen".
1) In ESL/EFL contexts, rapid, high pressure language
exchanges are typically teacher-driven, except in some games. This sort
of interaction can be effective if fairly brief, but done as part of
a regular daily routine.
2) Slower paced, more inventive language exchanges are
best if student centered. This includes most written and some oral/aural
work. Diagramming and drawing might also be involved. The teacher in
this situation acts more as a consultant.
Examples of Activity Types
Attention training exercises
- teacher centered; requires high student concentration; works best
with a familiar pattern of activity done regularly but briefly. e.g.
The teacher tells a very short story (one paragraph), then asks several
oral questions requiring a syntactically precise response. The paragraph
will have interest content, but be designed to elicit a particular grammatical
pattern. [e.g. exercises from R. O'Neil, English in Situations].
In this special oral context syntactic errors are rejected in a friendly
way immediately, prompting students to seek a better alternative; (in
the context of most language teaching the teacher would let many errors
pass without comment so as not to undermine fluency and confidence).
2) Short practice
in rhythm & intonation - teacher
centered; most effective if done for, say five minutes on a daily basis;
requires choral work and also individual oral responses by selected
students to a teacher-modeled utterance; must be done with good humour,
laughter if possible; may also involve humming, tapping, clapping or
physical miming; this is a good way to focus on particular musical patterns
and other pronunciation problems in the language; [e.g. W. Stannard-Allen,
Living English Speech ].
3) Development of
questioning technique & logical thinking by students
- ultimately student centered, but requires careful modifications of
student ideas about 'what happens in a classroom'. This change in outlook
will take time, and need persistent teacher encouragement. The teacher
must also be prepared to modify traditional teacher behaviour.
: The If-Then-WH Game [WH = how, when, what, why, which, where,
Student 1 : If sweets are bad for you, then why do people
Student 2 : Because they like sugar.
Student 3 (or Student 1 if partners): Well, if sugar is
bad for you, then why do we like it?
Each response must logically follow from the one before
or it loses a point. Bright, intermediate level students
might do this game orally. However, it can also be done as a
written exchange with two or more simultaneous themes, so that
all students are busy preparing a response to something at all times.
In some variations of this game, students can even prepare a (longer)
response for homework. With students who have an interest in natural
or man-made systems (e.g. weather cycles, car mechanics) this is
also an excellent way to develop and test their knowledge. A diagram
or chart of decision points can be used to cue the questions too
(e.g. a problem tracing chart from medicine or mechanics).
4. Continuity Exchanges
- the best continuity exchanges are student
centered, but probably need some teacher intervention to keep the momentum
a) Exercises like the If-Then-WH Game above are also continuity
The simplest type of continuity exchange is oral sentence completion:
the teacher writes a beginning word on the board, then asks students
(maybe in competition) to call out another word which collocates (goes
with the preceding word OK) until a sentence is completed. This is quite
a fun thing to fill in five minutes at the end of a class.
c) Partner writing exchanges (fast or slow motion)
can be used for words, phrases, sentences paragraphs or diagrams. Each
partner can work on a different topic simultaneously, then swap, so
that both are occupied all the time. If the procedure has a known
completion point, then pairs of students can compete to finish first.
e.g. completing a set of directions for a tourist, or instructions to
assemble some furniture kit would be exercises with a known completion
d) Trails - these are "maps" of some
kind which show the students where to take their language creations.
Trails may not have a known completion point. They are often visual,
but may have other forms, even musical. Here are some examples :
i) diagram and picture development exchanges + explanations,
discussion, captions, labels, descriptions etc.
ii) memory map or flow chart exchange development.
iii) fantasy island fantasy hotel / fantasy school etc.
iv) river / forest path / highway etc. exchange development
v) formula story (e.g. romance, comic hero..) exchange
vi) monster mountain / deadly cave / alien planet etc
vii) country next door / strange neighbours / strange
foreigner .. exchange development.
viii) holiday trip / shopping trip / dentist visit ...
ix) general's battle plan / warships battle / enemy invasion
etc .. exchange development
x) use your imagination ! You can develop many more formula
situations like the above !
5. Repetition - some repetition
is a normal part of human communication, and also an important part
of most learning. Drills are based on repetition. The risk in repetition
is boredom, because when people are bored they don't learn. Some students
are more quickly bored than others. Even passive repetition may not
lead to learning. Repetition + high interest is a much better formula
a) Daily occurrence - this often a welcome kind
of repetition if done briefly in a friendly way. The routine gives most
students security and confidence. For example, the first day you teach
a song children probably won't really 'get it'. When you play it again
on day two, they will begin to enjoy it, and by day three they will
'get in the mood' immediately. Other routines for intonation and intensive
listening are mentioned above.
b) Creative revision - a lesson should not be 'finished'
on one day, then never heard of again. On the following day, and occasionally
thereafter the core of the lesson must be revisited. It is important
to do this with enough repetition to spark remembering, but also with
a little originality so that students don't moan "we've done that
c) Chorus line - some kinds language are designed
to have a repeating part. The chorus in songs is a good example. Funny
stories can also be made up with a repeating section. e.g. "Oh
dear, it was morning again and something bad was going to happen".
In this case, the 'chorus' makes a frame, and clever students can even
make up a paragraph to tell what happens between each chorus repetition.
They can do this in pairs or groups, then compete for the best performance.
d) 'Catch and throw' exchanges - these may be teacher/student,
or with preparation and rehearsal, student/student. e.g. T: The little
pig cried / S: because he had no friends // T: The little
pig ran away / S: because he saw the wolf // T: The little
pig ran very fast / S: because he was very, very afraid ....
6. Three's a Team - pair work is often
effective, but can easily lose direction. Large groups often carry lazy
members. In a group of three, one can have the job of organizing, directing,
slave-driving, cueing, looking up words, being secretary, making sure
that only English is spoken etc., depending on the task. That is, the
third member is the 'teacher'. This 'teacher' role should rotate regularly.
Teenagers in groups can sometimes be undisciplined, so in extended tasks
a little structure can help. For example, give them a 'job sheet', so
that each time the 'teacher role' rotates the 'old teacher' must write
sentence about what he/she did, and sign it. Very young children are
usually not interested in pair or team work.
a) Learning a dialogue - three students read and/or
listen to a tape recording of a dialogue. Next, they take a few minutes
to memorize the dialogue. Then two students try to perform it. When
they forget, the third student cues them. The cueing job is rotated.
When everyone remembers the dialogue, the third student listens, checks
and advises for rhythm, intonation and speed.
b) Dialogue extension or dialogue interruption
- once a simple dialogue is learned, the team work together either i)
to make what each person says more complicated, or ii) the invent a
third speaking part for someone who constantly interrupts the other
c) Interrogation - give students a role card describing
a crime, or a spy's activities, or a school prank. Next, have two of
the students be policemen who interrogate the suspect. With advanced
students, the interrogation may be spontaneous. Elementary students
might be given a basket of questions and answers to choose from. They
could also make these up in writing beforehand. Everyone has a turn
at being the suspect. It is important to practice body language and
voice expression in an exercise like this, (or even make it into a melodrama