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Teaching Tips 162

Base it on the learners
Mind the Gap
Left Out

presentingBase it on the learners

An important ingredient of practice activities, if at all possible, is the inclusion of a degree of personalisation. When learners are using the new language to talk about themselves, their feelings, their experiences & their interests with the new language, there is greater depth & meaninfulness to
the activity that makes it much more memmorable.

A useful way to get to the personalised practice is through the personalised presentation

Here's an example of a learner-based presentation & practice:
The target language is 'likes & dislikes' & can be varied according to level.

1. Put the following columns on the board:
Elicit the varying degree of feeling from love >> hate but not the language - that comes later.

2. Dictate a series of nouns & verb-ing examples e.g. chocolate, learning English, studying, watching TV, playing football, computers, reading, driving etc.
Students put them under the columns for how they feel about them - I would put chocolate under Mmmmm! & watching TV under Ugh!
I should dictate about 15 different things - they should know the vocabulary already.

3. Presentation - elicit or give the language for each column:
I love/adore - I like/enjoy - I don't mind - I don't like/enjoy - I can't stand/hate
Elicit the form - each can be followed by + noun, + verb-ing, + pronoun
Elicit examples & drill when relevant.
Students copy down the new language.

4. Practice - students in pairs or small groups compare their dis/likes e.g. 'What have you got for chocolate? I like it. What about you?'
To make it more interesting I should get them to explain why they feel as they do about the things.
The object is to find three things in common - the communicative purpose to the activity.
As they do the activity go around & correct.

So here not only is the presentation completely learner-based but the practice also uses the same information about the students. They provide the content & you provide the language!

Above we had used the dictation in columns as the vehicle to get to the language & then the practice. Another vehicle is the graph. Have a look at the following page for ideas on this:

Hopefully the above ideas will lead you to coming up with your own learner-based presentations & practice tasks, making your lessons interesting & relevant.

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Mind the Gap

We all use written gap fill tasks for controlled practice to check that our students have a grasp on the form & meaning of language areas. These usually take the form of a series of sentences with a word taken out & usually given in brackets for the students to change the form of the word. And then there are passages with selective words taken out, a selective cloze, with the gap marked. A real cloze has every 'nth' word taken out, no matter what it is. This is a difficult task & needs consideration before using. For more on cloze testing:

In the excellent teachers' resource book 'Stories - Narrative activities in the language classroom' (CUP) Ruth Wajnryb gives an activity called 'Text Repair'. This is a variation on a gap fill but this time a text is given with a certain feature completely missing eg. the articles, the verbs etc - & there is no guide as to where the missing words are. The students have to read the text carefully & use their knowledge & intuition to insert the feature with the correct form in the appropriate place. Here's an example with the verbs missing:


Fate - A Folktale

King Solomon's servant breathlessly into the court, "Please! me your fastest horse!" he to the King. "I in a town ten miles south of here by nightfall!"

"Why?" King Solomon.

"Because," his shuddering servant, "I just Death in the garden! Death me in the face! I for certain I to and I to around when Death to me!"

"Very well," King Solomon. "My fastest horse hoofs like wings. HIM." Then Solomon into the garden. He Death there with a perplexed look on its face. "What' wrong?" King Solomon.

Death , "Tonight I to the life of your servant whom I just now in your garden. But I' to him in a town ten miles south of here! Unless he a horse with hooves like wings, I don't how he could get there by nightfall . . ."


Here's another story with the articles missing:

New Shoes - A Taoist Tale

A man needed new pair of shoes. Before he went to marketplace, he drew detailed picture of his feet on piece of paper, carefully measured them, and wrote down all their dimensions. Then, he set off on foot for shoe store. Arriving later that day at bazaar, he unhappily discovered that he had forgotten to bring paper with his measurements on it! He turned around and walked back home to get it. It was sunset by time he returned to market, and all shops were closed. He explained his situation to one of shopkeepers who had already packed away all his wares.

"Foolish man!" said merchant. "You could have trusted your feet and tried shoes on in store! Why did you go home to get your diagrams?"

man blushed, "I guess I trusted my measurements more . . ."


Clearly, to make it easier some guidance as to placement & verbs could be given, as in a more traditional gap fill.

Students discuss possibilities in pairs, 'repairing' the text, & then compare as a group, coming to a consensus, & finally comparing with the original version. Lots of speaking & language focus, drawing on their knowledge of the language & their intuition. The content of the texts could then be exploited in a follow up task. A useful variation on a very common task to review a language area.

And then there is the other extreme, the idea of a storyboard where students are given a blank text, with each word represented by a line. This is best done on the board together. As the students suggest words, you or a student writes them in the correct position. Slowly they build up the whole text, thinking hard about possibilities depending on the contextual clues. They would begin with frequent words - articles, auxiliaries etc.. You might give the general topic so that they can suggest content words to help the building. A fun whole class activity.

So instead of just pulling out a traditional task, play around & try out different variations. Your students are sure to appreciate it.

To get hold of 'Stories - Narrative activities in the language classroom' by Ruth Wajnryb (CUP):

Any more ideas on the above? Please post for all in the Forums at:

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left hand

Left out

What have Pat Bonny, Paul Klee, Marilyn Monroe, Oprah Winfrey, Jack the Ripper, Paul McCartney, Nicole Kidman, Bill Clinton got in common?

Yes, they were/are all lefthanded. Not particularly startling you might think but this week we are going to use lefthandedness in some lesson ideas to coincide with Lefthanded Day, which is celebrated on August 13th. Did you know that 10% of the general population is lefthanded, although this is reduced to 0% in Japan due to the cultural stigma that has been associated with lefthandedness.

Very recently, scientists claim to have found the lefthanded gene:
Might well make an interesting article to use in class in addtion to or in place of the article that follows.

Here is a procedure for part of a lesson you might like to use:

1. Put the famous people above on the board & get the students in pairs to come up with possible links.

2. Introduce the idea of Lefthanded Day. (Obviously find out if there are any lefthanded students in the class beforehand & explain there is lesson coming up on it.)
As a bit of fun, tell the students that they should write with the other hand for the remainder of the lesson.

3. Ask if the students do anything better with their left rather than with their right hands - if they are righthanded, of course. Give out the quiz to do individually & then discuss the answers.

From The Left-Handers Club:


We all, of course, know in which hand we hold a pen, but how far does this bias extend throughout your body? Are you left-eared? Left eyed? Here is a simple test you can apply to yourself.

1. Imagine the centre of your back is itching. Which hand do you scratch it with?
2. Interlock your fingers. Which thumb is uppermost?
3. Imagine you are applauding. Start clapping your hands. Which hand is uppermost?
4. Wink at an imaginary friend straight in front of you. Which eye does the winking?
5. Put your hands behind your back, one holding the other. Which hand is doing the holding?
6. Someone in front of you is shouting but you cannot hear the words. Cup your ear to hear better. Which ear do you cup?
7. Count to three on your fingers, using the forefinger of the other hand. Which forefinger do you use?
8. Tilt your head over on to one shoulder. Which shoulder does it touch?
9. Fixate a small distant object with your eyes and point directly at it with your forefinger. Now close one eye. Now change eyes. Which eye was open when the fingertip remained in line with the small object? (When the other eye, the non-dominant one, is open and the dominant eye is closed, the finger will appear to move to one side of the object.)
10. Fold your arms. Which forearm is uppermost?

If you have always considered yourself to be right or left-handed you will probably now have discovered that your body is less than total in its devotion to its favoured side. If you are right-handed the chances are that you were not able to be 'right' 10 times.

4. Tell the students some interesting facts about lefthanders:

From The Left-Handers Club:

Most left-handers draw figures facing to the right
There is a high tendency in twins for one to be left-handed
Stuttering and dyslexia occur more often in left-handers (particularly if they are forced to change their writing hand as a child, like King of England George VI).
Left-handers adjust more readily to seeing underwater.
Left-handers excel particularly in tennis, baseball, swimming and fencing
Left-handers usually reach puberty 4 to 5 months after right-handers
4 of the 5 original designers of the Macintosh computer were left-handed
1 in 4 Apollo astronauts were left-handed - 250% more than the normal level.
Left-handers are generally more intelligent, better looking, imaginative and multi-talented than right handers ( based on discussions among members of the Left-Handers Club! :)

5. Students in pairs brainstorm difficulties that lefthanded people might come up against in daily life eg. Desks, machines etc.. Get them to collate a list. Feedback with one list on the board - get a student up to the board to do this, reminding her/him to use the other hand to write with!

6. Reading - below is a rather old article, but still useful.
a) Put the title on the board & get the students to predict whylefthanders still feel left out - collate the ideas on the board.
b) Students skim the article to see if any of their ideas from the prediction or the problems mentioned earlier are mentioned. Alternatively, cut up the article into paragraphs & students sequence it as logically as they can, given the genre, & then discuss why they made their decissions, looking at the cohesive features of the text.
c) A more detailed comprehension task, for lower levels?

7. Language focus - pick up on some relevant language to your group in the text, a noticing task & then clarification & practiise. Don't forget the written record.

8. Response to the text - discussion - have they heard of lefthanders being discriminated against eg. in Spain I have heard in the past of school students having their left hand tied behind their backs so they had to use the right. This could lead on to a discussion of other discriminations in society & why they might exist.

Why left-handers still feel left out

Guardian, Thursday June 6, 2002

Over the centuries they have been beaten on the knuckles, locked up, ridiculed and prevented from reproducing in case they spawned freaks.

Now left-handers are facing another affront. A psychology professor told the Guardian Hay festival yesterday that society will never stop being biologically and culturally dominated by right-handers at the psychological expense of those who hold their pencil in their left hand.

Chris McManus, a professor of psychology and medical education at University College London, trawled thousands of years of the history of cells and culture - from "left-handed" amino acids, to stone age tool-making practices and Giotto frescos - and found that "right equals good and left equals bad" in common perception.

In his book Right Hand, Left Hand, he noted how expres sions for the word "left" had become terms of abuse in every culture - something that New Labour might already be aware of.

"Our society is organised according to right-handers. Left-handers are the last of the great neglected minorities," said Prof McManus, who is a right-hander with a left-handed mother and daughter.

In Britain around 13% of men and around 11% of women are left-handed, compared with 3% before 1910. Left-handedness coincides with high incidences of genius and creativity, and also autism and dyslexia.

"The one thing that will change the suffering of left-handers is to get engineers to see that for 10% of users, their designs are still back to front. Scissors, microwave doors, power saws and water gauges on the side of kettles are a constant reminder. Psychologically, left-handers still claim to have problems. The social consequences are immense."

Here are some links on lefthandedness to follow up for more material & classroom ideas:
A pro-lefty page
The Left-Handers Club
Wikipedia page on left-handedness, including a list of famous left-handed people.
The Lefthanded Universe.
Lefthanded Liberation Society

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