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Teaching Tips 11

Meaningful & meaningless drills
Quick-thinking group roleplay
Shadow reading

Meaningful & meaningless drills
I'm sure that most teachers get their students to repeat examples of the new language introduced i.e. a repetition drill. It is certainly useful as students need to get their mouths round the new language & practise the pronunciation. But what might they actually be saying?

Look at this exchange:

T: 'I get up at seven o'clock.' - everybody!
Stds chorally: 'I get up at seven o'clock.'

But do they all get up at seven o'clock? I doubt it. This is an example of a 'meaningless drill'.

Here's a question & answer drill to practise 'Do you like...?' The teacher is giving prompts & the students are asking questions across the class - open pairs.

T: 'visiting London'
Std 1: 'Do you like visiting London?'
T:'Say 'yes''
Std 2: 'Yes, I do.'

Maybe student 2 has never been out of the country let alone abroad to London. Another 'meaningless drill'.

So how about making it more 'meaningful' - the students give examples & give answers truthfully. In the first example let the student say what time they get up & in the second provide the negative so the student can choose. It can be tricky to organise but clearly the more 'meaningful' the utterence, the more interesting, motivating, personalised, memorable ..... meaningful it all is.
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Quick-thinking group roleplay
You need a situation where there are a group of people & a degree of conflict between the people. 'Conflict' is a great ingredient of roleplay. The group could be workers, a parents' association, a housing association, a group of friends, etc. The idea is that you explain the situation & the students start talking when you stop - there's no time for preparation, it's fairly spontaneous & provides oral fluency practice.

This is the situation I use on training courses:
'You all work for me at the OK School of English. I'm having economic difficulties & need to make one teacher redundant. As I'm a fairly democratic chap I've decided to let you decide who should go. I cannot have any part-time teachers & it is clear you all want to stay on for one reason or another; you might have seven children to feed, an elderly relative to look after, etc. I'll come back later for your decision. Thank you.'

Clearly this has to be done in a fun, light-hearted way so that it does not become personal. The maximum number in the groups would be six to give all a chance to speak & argue their case. In the situation above there is conflict but this is not a necessary condition of the roleplay. It does make it interesting though.

While the activity is going on, take notes for linguistic feedback afterwards. There's no reason why this spontaneity cannot be used in a pairwork roleplay - you give the situation & they begin straightaway.

This roleplay contrasts with Tip 4 that looks at promoting specific language use in freer speaking activities.

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Shadow Reading
This activity can be used with an audio or video tape - the latter is better as the students can see the lip movements & there are the paralinguistics - the body language - to view.

Choose a short part of the text, eg. 8-10 lines of the dialogue, & give the script out for the students to read & listen at the same time. At this stage they could analyse the script & mark the sense groups - words which are said together between pauses.

Play it again but this time the students talk along with it in exactly the same way as the speakers, taking on their accents. If it is a dialogue, you could have each speaker being imitated by different halves of the class. Play the tape a few times & as the students become more confident & accurate, slowly turn the volume down so that you can't hear the original, only the students. So in effect they are dubbing the text.

Tape the students' version & use it for a comparison with the original & an analysis of different phonological aspects.

Your students will be trying really hard to sound as natural as the speakers on the tape, gaining confidence as they realise how good they sound & the ensuing discussions can be very productive.

Needless to say, it's a lot of fun.

A variation of this is to actually re-dub a small part of a film that has already been dubbed into a different language. The students translate the section into English & then, with the video, dub over it. And if you have the original in English to compare....

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