Sharing Thoughts in the Language Classroom
by Hall Houston


One important resource in the language classroom resides in our students’ heads. Students fantasize, scheme, imagine, and reflect, all out of the range of everyone else’s awareness. In this brief article, I’d like to suggest a few activities for helping students to share their thoughts and focus on the nature of thinking.

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You can use the following activities as warmers or as fluency exercises at the end of a lesson. Feel free to alter them to fit your lesson plans.

Inner and Outer Worlds

Before class, make a few sets of 4 cards with the following sentences on them:

IMAGINE A PERFECT DAY.
IMAGINE YOU’RE IN AN EXCITING MOVIE.
IMAGINE YOU’RE IN A DIFFERENT HISTORICAL ERA.
IMAGINE YOU’RE TAKING A GREAT VACATION.

Make enough copies of the cards so that each student will have a card.

At the beginning of class, tell students they’re going to do a visualization exercise. You’re going to give them a card with instructions on what to imagine. In a few seconds, you want them to sit comfortably and close their eyes. They should try to imagine the situation in as much detail as possible. After 5 minutes, tell them to open their eyes. Ask them to look around the room for 1 minute and observe their surroundings without speaking.

Put students into groups of 4, where each group member has a different card. Tell them to discuss their visualization experience.

Next, put students into new groups of 3 to discuss these questions:

How did you feel about the visualization exercise?
What was the best thing about it? What was the worst thing?
Is visualization a good way to learn English?
Do you like to daydream?
What do you like to daydream about?
What is the best place to daydream?
Do you daydream during class?
What job is most ideal for someone who likes to fantasize?

What’s She Thinking?

Before class, select a short film clip (one or two minutes) that features an actor or actress not speaking or moving around, but just sitting or standing. (Alternatively, you can use a photo.)

In class, tell your students that you are going to show them a short film clip. You want them to observe the person in the clip, and imagine what they’re thinking.

Play the clip a couple of times. Give students a few minutes to take notes, and then play the clip once again. Ask students to write a short paragraph of the person’s thoughts, written in the first person, from that person’s point of view.

When students have finished writing, collect the students’ papers and put them on the walls for everyone to read.

Three Thoughts

Before class, write down three thoughts you had today. These might be about today’s lesson, or on a completely different subject.

In class, read out your list. Encourage students to ask you questions about your thoughts.

Next, ask students to create their own lists individually. Then ask them to share in pairs. Call on several students to tell the class one of their partner’s thoughts. Ask them some follow-up questions and give students an opportunity to do the same.

Variation: you can provide specific topics for this activity, such as Three Thoughts I Often Have In This Class, or Three Thoughts I Haven’t Expressed Up To This Point.

Variation 2: to transform this into a game, you can ask students to create one fictional thought. Students can read out their lists and get the class to guess which thought was made up.

Positive/Negative Thoughts

Before class, prepare several pictures of a classroom filled with rows of students. Also, bring plenty of post-its.

In class, put students into groups of 3. Give each group a copy of a picture, and give them a few post-its. Tell them to imagine this is a classroom in another country. It’s the first week of class and students are filled with fear and anxiety. Ask each group to think of a few thoughts that might occur in some students’ heads (“I hope we don’t have a lot of homework.” or “This teacher looks strict.”) and write them on post-its. Next they should place the post-its above the students’ heads in the pictures. Ask each group to pass their picture to the next group.

Now ask students to imagine it is later in the school year, and these students are filled with hope and inspiration about their classes. As in the previous step, get students to write down thoughts on post-its, but this time they will write positive thoughts (“I’ve learned so much this semester.” or “I love this class!”) and place them on top of the other groups’ post-its. When they’re finished, they will pass their picture again to another group.

Call on students to read out some of the positive thoughts they wrote or read. Write these up on the board, correcting any errors. Stop when you have about ten. Do a brief drill of these sentences with the class.

Now put students in new groups of 5 or 6. Ask them to place one chair in an open area of the classroom with enough room for students to walk around the chair. Have one student in each group sit in the chair, eyes closed and listening, while the other group members walk slowly around the chair, reading out some of the phrases from the board. After a couple of minutes, another student sits in the center. Ask each group to repeat the activity several times, until each student has had the opportunity to sit in the middle of the circle. End the activity by asking a few students how they felt sitting in the chair and listening to the positive thoughts.

Acknowledgements: I adapted the second part of this exercise from an activity titled “Positive voices in your head” which appeared in Marc Helgesen’s article “Let’s Get Physical.” (This article is available here: http://www.mgu.ac.jp/~ic/helgesen/physical/physical_-prehtml.htm)

The Book of Thoughts

Tell the class to imagine they have each completed writing a book about their most common thoughts. Each chapter describes a different topic. In order to finish the book, they need to create a table of contents that lists the different chapters of the book. For example, Chapter One might be Food, Chapter Two might be Studying, and Chapter Three might be Planning for the future. Give students a few minutes to write up their own personal table of contents, then put students into pairs. They must trade papers, and ask questions about each others’ table of contents. (For example, “I noticed Chapter Five is about Travelling. How many countries have you been to?”) After a few minutes, get students to change partners and exchange table of contents with another student. Repeat 3 or 4 times. Round off the activity by inviting everyone up on the board to write a sentence about one of their classmates using reported language.

Variation: You can ask students to come to the front of the class, read out their table of contents, and then answer questions from their classmates.

Who thought that?

Create a list of short sentences that could be the thoughts of a famous person. Make them somewhat enigmatic, as you will invite your students to guess whose thoughts they are. For example, see if you can guess who this is:

I’ve got a difficult job.
I’d sure like to go back to Chicago for a few weeks.
I wonder if Malia and Natasha did their homework.
Now what did they say about me in the newspaper today?

The answer is U.S. President Barack Obama.

You might want to make your own list about someone you think your students will be familiar with. Put sentences that are more difficult to guess earlier in the list.

Read the list to your class, and pause between each sentence, encouraging students to guess.

Next, after they’ve guessed the answer, ask students to create their own list. Then call on several students to read out their lists, and invite classmates to guess the answer.

Biodata

Hall Houston has taught EFL for over a decade in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He is currently a full-time English Instructor at Kainan University in Luzhu, Taiwan. His first book, The Creative Classroom, was published in 2007. His second book, Provoking Thought, was published in 2009.His professional interests include task-based teaching, group dynamics, discourse analysis, creativity and critical thinking.

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