- Key Words: Speaking
- Learner English Level: all
- Learner Maturity Level: all
- Preparation Time: none
- Activity Time: 5 to 30 minutes
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word gimmick as "an innovative stratagem or scheme employed to promote a project." After teaching in Japan for several years, I have realized that there are several reasons why students aren't able to more quickly improve their English. "Gimmicks" can help.
Below are three very successful, yet simple gimmicks I use in my classroom regularly. They help the students improve their English communication skills by tackling three of the students' biggest obstacles: perfectionism, shyness, and boredom. You may find these activities useful in your own classroom.
1. The Walk
One obstacle for many students is to become so concerned about grammar and making perfect sentences that they do not speak freely. The students think about what they are going to say so much that when they are ready to speak, the discussion has moved on to another point or the class is over. This activity practically forces the students to think about something else other than grammar while speaking-namely, where they are walking.
As always, you first need to teach the students the target language skill (TLS) so that they can use it without reading it. When you feel the students are ready, place your classroom chairs and desks in a maze-like pattern. Pair the students and have the pairs stand in different places in the classroom.
Instruct the students to walk through the maze being careful not to touch any chair or desk. As they walk, they must use the TLS. Stress eye contact between partners.
The idea is simple: The students will be thinking so much about not touching anything that they will not worry as much about, and certainly not focus on, their grammar. I have used this activity for over eight years, and I am amazed at how fluently the students speak English as they walk. Interestingly, even though they aren't focused on grammar and structure, sentences spoken by walking students contain very few errors.
Option 1: While maintaining the dialog, students can shake hands with other students as they pass them in the maze.
Option 2: The teacher can have the students change direction and walk backwards while continuing their dialog.
2. The Shout
Another obstacle is shyness and lack of confidence. Students lacking confidence in their English skills generally speak quietly even when asked to speak loudly. Getting the students to shout helps them realize that they are able to vocalize loudly, which in turn slowly builds confidence.
After you teach the TLS, pair the students and have them stand across from their partners in two lines. At this point, there will be about one meter between the partners.
Have both rows of students take two large steps backwards, opening up a gap of about four meters between the partners. Then simply have the students begin their TLS practice. Instruct the students to tell their partner to speak louder if they cannot hear. With a large class, this activity gets pretty loud, so make sure you don't bother others.
In the English classroom, the level of confidence seems to vary inversely to the level of inhibition: If my confidence increases 10 percent, inhibition decreases 10 percent. Shouting in a foreign language slowly drowns out the reservations one has toward talking in the foreign language. I have used this activity for several years and have seen shy students become more aggressive in their English use. This has made those students better equipped to speak voluntarily in discussions and aggressively debate simple problems.
3. The Puppet
The final obstacle is boredom. At the beginning of a new school year, I have seen freshman walk into class with the "Oh no, it's English class" attitude inherited from high school English classes that focused on entrance exams. This activity creates an enjoyable environment and dispels the myth that English is boring. It also helps with hearing and concentration.
After TLS instruction, pair the students and have one row of pairs face the other row of pairs, one partner standing behind the other. It will look like this:
|Row 1||(puppeteers)||X X X X|
|Row 1||(puppets)||O O O O|
|Row 2||(puppets)||O O O O|
|Row 2||(puppeteers)||X X X X|
The O student is the puppet, and the X student is the puppeteer. The dialog will take place between the X students.
X will whisper to O what to say and how to say it. X will also move the body of O to create desired gestures. O students must maintain eye contact with their facing O counterpart, which means no looking at their partner. After a set amount of time, the partners will switch places and start a new dialog.
The students will understand the need for concentration, cooperation, and teamwork to make the conversation a success. The first time I did this activity the students found it a bit difficult, but after grasping the process, they enjoyed it very much. This is one of the students' favorite activities and I like it because it injects a fun and enjoyable facet of language learning not too often found in schools today.