So here’s what I did:
I took short essays the students had written about a specific subject. I reformulated them, fixed the errors and put a few higher level phrases in. I then took the reformulations, broke them into one or two sentences and gave each student one piece. They had to talk to the other students, read out their part of the essay and put themselves standing in a line in order of what they thought was the correct order.
The last part is inspired by a method of ordering a cut up text that I was reminded of when I watched Jeremy Harmer’s excellent lecture at the IH DOS conference (direct link here) this year.
So here’s why I did it:
The students are almost completely new, or so they seem to want me to believe, to the idea of writing an essay. They don’t really get that they need to expand their ideas, never mind how to expand their ideas. Their written production is minimal and they have yet to find motivation. Their pronunciation is poor and their listening skills are low. They can basically talk to me but never listen to each other.
With this shopping list of needs for FCE: active listening, essay writing, pronunciation, vocabulary; this appeared to be the perfect activity to do with them.
So where did it go wrong?
- The students were instantly bored by the idea and didn’t like the idea of having to stand up and listen to their classmates again and again to understand what each part was about.
- The volume of information they had to listen to, retain and then connect in their heads was too much.
- They were frustrated that they weren’t allowed to simply read the texts and put them together as texts.
- They were frustrated when I refused to immediately give them the answers as soon as the exercise became challenging.
- Their pronunciation and listening abilities made the task almost impossible to complete in a reasonable amount of time. (How do I measure “reasonable”? A period of time that is not so long it takes most of the class. A period of time not so long that the students lose interest in the goal.)
- The need for complete teamwork did not go down well with a bunch of teenagers who had already been at school for 7 or so hours.
And what was the silver lining?
The students did make some notes and got some pronunciation practice. They were exposed to a few new words in a context already familiar to them. With a little bit of help, they managed to get the orders of the essay pieces more or less correct.
So would I do this exercise again?
So what would I do differently next time?
- The physical ordering of people was a concept unfamiliar to them. They needed a warmer exercise with something VERY basic so they could feel more comfortable understanding what the physical objective of the task was.
- The attempt to work on so many weak skills at the same time meant that they were destined to fail at this exercise. It should have been designed to work on only one or two of their weaker skills. Already they are working on vocabulary and essay structure; asking for active listening and speaking as well was too much!
- I would probably show the completed reformulation first or perhaps just show the students’ original drafts. The students could then try to suggest improvements and corrections themselves first before having a corrected text imposed on them. It was also remind the students of the order of the ideas in the essays they wrote (which I did not change in my reformulations).
Click here to read about the follow up