- Key words:Prepositions, giving instructions, problem solving, negotiating meaning
- Learner English level:Intermediate to advanced
- Learner maturity level:High school and above
- Preparation time:30 minutes
- Activity time:50 minutes
- Materials:One set of five interlocking blocks (Lego or similar) for each student, A3-size stiff cardboard screens (one for each pair).
The following article describes a lesson plan to help students think about communicative techniques. The activity may seem simple, but it is suitable for even the most advanced students as higher-level students will be able to describe more complex structures. The key to success for this activity lies not in knowing the right vocabulary, but in successful teamwork, that is, being able to give precise instructions on the one hand and being able to clarify information on the other. It is adapted from part of a British game show from the 1980s called The Krypton Factor.
Before class you will need to procure some building blocks (Lego blocks or the like work well). Each student will need one set of blocks. Each set should include 5 blocks of various sizes and colors and for each pair of students both sets should be identical. You should be able to find something suitable in 100 yen shops.
Step 1: Introduce the topic of prepositions by asking students to place some stationery on their desks. Explain that they must do exactly as you say. Give commands such as “Put your eraser in your dictionary”, or “Put your bag on the floor”.
Step 2:Put students in pairs. Ask students to give their partners similar instructions, the more challenging the better.
Step 3:Ask the class to tell you some of the prepositions they used. Write them up on the board. (See Appendix A for suggestions.)
Step 4: Explain to students that there are many prepositions in English and that they are going to explore some of them.
Step 5:Place a screen between each pair. Students should not be able to see their partner’s desk. (An A3 card sandwiched between 2 tables makes a good screen.) Give each student a Lego set.
Step 6:Model the activity with a volunteer:
1. Get your volunteer to make a simple structure with the blocks. Any shape is okay but something easy will be best (see Appendix B).
2. Ask your volunteer to give you instructions so that you can recreate the structure; you must not look at your partner’s structure.
3. Ask questions to clarify meaning.
Step 7:Once the class has understood the activity, stop the demonstration and instruct the class to start the activity. Walk around and help students who are slipping back into Japanese, but do not stop the activity. It is important that students try their own ways of negotiating meaning.
Since the point of this activity is communication, the use of dictionaries may slow the activity down. To assist lower-level students you might want to provide them with vocabulary flashcards (see Appendix A). There will be opportunities to focus on form in Step 9.
Step 8:When students have finished making the structures, get the pairs to check how successful they were, and to consider how they might improve. Instruct students to change roles and repeat the activity.
Step 9:When finished, ask the students to check their dictionaries for any prepositions they wanted to say but didn’t know the English for. Write them up on the board for students to copy. (See Appendix A for preposition list.)
Step 10:In pairs, get the students to discuss what factors made it easy and difficult to complete the task. Use this to start a class discussion on how to give information precisely and clearly. Issues raised can be used to create a point list which can be displayed in the classroom and which will come in useful when students are working on other tasks.
The objective of this lesson is not for the students to recreate their partners’ structures; it is to encourage them to become better communicators and to develop teamwork within the class. The targets are to review (or introduce) prepositions, to develop communication strategies, and to practice giving clear instructions. These are skills which are essential to becoming an effective speaker of English.
Appendices: Available below