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Teaching Tips 117

Student materials

Yawning may keep us 'on the ball'
Strangers on a train


Student materials

We talked about 'negotiating' the syllabus with the students in a past Tip. This is about talking to them about what they want to do & combining it with what you think they need. And we've mentioned both Task-Based Learning & also involving the students' experiences & ideas in presentation & practice activities. Here we're looking at bringing them all together with a materials design experiment.

You would need to try this with an enthusiastic group, & probably at an advanced level as well. The idea is that they 'design' a unit, they provide their own materials & write their own tasks to go with them. At first they will think you're crazy, but with careful explanation they will come round to the idea. Here's the procedure:

1. Together have a look at the units you have covered on the course & point out how the texts are used & how the language is drawn from the texts, introduced & practised.

2. Ask them to agree on a topic that all would like to look at.

3. In their own time, the students find materials that they think would have appeal to most in the group. These would be mainly reading texts from newspapers, magazines & the internet but could also be listening texts from the internet & songs.

4. The students briefly introduce the materials they have found & they all decide on which materials to use.

5. Share out the materials so that individuals or small groups have the responsibility for designing tasks to go with the materials. Point them to extensive & intensive tasks with questions, multiple choice & true/false sentences, charts to fill in etc...

6. As well as tasks, you can help them decide which language areas to look at either before or after the text exploitation. At both of these last stages refer back to examples in the coursebook & give them lots of direction with this. Ask them to research the language areas in their preparation for designing the presentation & practice. The presentation could be a couple questions about the meaning followed by the form & then on to a gap fill task to consolidate - nothing too complex.

7. When all are ready they can swap round the materials, with small groups working together on the texts that others have designed tasks for. When they have finished working with a text, they move to the next & so on until they have covered the material. You could intervene & provide small tasks with the different groups along the way. There would also be lots of opportunities for some micro-teaching from you.

8. At the end tie everything together with some classroom discussion on the topic.

9. And although you have been monitoring the process closely throughout, get some individual & group feedback on the project.

Keep the materials for use again & pass them onto colleagues to use with their classes.

There are clearly stages when you can vary & there are stages that you can introduce language areas for them to be able to carry out the stage better. This could be before stages 2, 4, 5/6, & 8. And don't forget to give them +/- feedback on their language use throughout. It is several small tasks that make up the one task. The students are being very autonomous in their learning, the choosing of the materials, thinking of ways to exploit them & the research on language areas all go to help them to become even more independent. And they will also be more aware of what they are doing in class from then on & the usefulness of what you ask them to do.

It's ambitious & it does need a certain kind of student & group for it to work but if it does work it will be very rewarding for all.

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Yawning may
keep us 'on the

We have had the theme of 'sleep' in a couple of plans on the site:
No sleep:
High snoozing:

Here's another interesting article for classroom use. Have a read:

Yawning may keep us 'on the ball'

Yawning may appear the height of rudeness, but in fact your body is desperately trying to keep you awake, according to research from the US.

Psychologists who studied 44 students concluded that yawning sent cooler air to the brain, helping it to stay alert.

Yawning therefore delays sleep rather than promotes it, the study in Evolutionary Psychology suggested.

The desire to yawn when others do so may also be a mechanism to help a group stay alert in the face of danger.

Chill out

The common wisdom is that people yawn because they need oxygen, but the researchers at the University of Albany in New York said their experiments showed that raising or lowering oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood did not produce that reaction.

Their evidence suggested instead that drawing in air helps cool the brain and helps it work more effectively.

In a study of the 44 students, researchers found that those who breathed through the nose rather than the mouth were less likely to yawn when watching a video of other people yawning.

This was because vessels in the nasal cavity sent cool blood to the brain, they said.

The same effect was found among those who held a cool pack to their forehead, while those who held a warm or room-temperature pack yawned when watching the video.

"Since yawning occurs when brain temperature rises, sending cool blood to the brain serves to maintain optimal levels of mental efficiency," the authors wrote.

"So the next time you are telling a story and a listener yawns there is no need to be offended - yawning, a physiological mechanism designed to maintain attention, turns out to be a compliment."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Here are a few ideas for exploiting the text:

1. Introduction to the theme - through brainstorming all the vocab the students can think of connected to the theme of 'sleep' & a short questionnaire - pairwork.

Yawning - a few questions

1. Do you yawn a lot?
2. Do you find it difficult not to yawn when you see someone else yawning?
3. How do you feel when someone you are talking to yawns?
4. What do you do to disguise a yawn?
5. Do you think it is rude to yawn?

2. Intro to the text - use the headline ' Yawning may keep us 'on the ball' - put it on the board & students predict what the article is about. Focus on 'on the ball' as well. Put up three or four of their ideas in note form on the board.

3. Extensive reading - either use their prediction ideas - students read to see which idea is closest to the article or the task below

4. More intensive task - if necessary, depending on the level, see below.

Extensive task: read the article quickly - 1 minute & answer the following question:
What is the general message of the article?

Now compare your ideas with your partner.


More intensive task: read more carefully & answer the following questions:

1. What are the factual details of the study - numbers & experiments?
2. What have people thought about the reasons for yawning in the past?
3. How has this idea changed?

Now compare your ideas with your partner.

5. Language focus - areas to pick up on could be:
- the overall discourse organisation - looking at how the ideas are developed in the text.
- the choice of using in/direct speech & the verbs 'concluded', 'said', 'suggested' & ' found'.
- discourse markers - 'therefore', 'so', 'because', 'rather than', 'but', 'while'.
- the use of the different tenses in the text.

6. Follow up - this could all move into the area of annoying habits with discussions on what habits the students find annoying & roleplays, for example:

You are very tired with your friends bad habits. She is always yawning when you start talking & she picks her nose. Talk to her about these habits. Try to be diplomatic.

Your friend wants to talk to you. You are good friends but sometimes you find her/him a bit nosey & interfering. Don't be pushed around.

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Strangers on a train

This week looks at an excellent activity to promote oral fluency practice & specific oral language practice at the same time.

Get the students to imagine they are strangers in a train compartment - get them sitting opposite each other in groups of four. Elicit what people usually talk about on the train - the weather, where they are going/coming from etc. Tell them you are going to give them a line to memorise & that it's secret - give them out, students memorise & you take them back in.

Then explain what they have to do - to say their lines as naturally as they can in the conversation without the others guessing it is their line. So they have to direct the conversation so that they can say their line naturally, without the others noticing. They must have one conversation & not split into two as the others will miss their lines when they come to say them.

The lines you give them could contain a language item that you have recently been looking at or off-the-wall sentences (eg. My girlfriend sleeps in the garden). when i first strated learning Spanish, I had to do this activity & my line was 'Yo tampoco' (Me neither) - so I had to wait for a negative to say my line. I managed it & felt good about getting my sentence in naturally.

At the end of the activity the students then tell each other what they thought were each others' lines. It's an activity that you can use again & again & it's lots of fun!

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