Skip to main content

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own true/false statements. This can be further extended by getting students in pairs to recount your weekend from their notes and/or their own weekend.

2. Just a minute

Pupils work in small groups. Individuals try to talk for a minute without hesitating (i.e. drying up), repeating or deviating from the topic. This works well with good intermediate and advanced level students. You can give easy topics to intermediates and harder ones to advanced level students. This can be great preparation for an oral exam. I'd begin by improvising an example of your own to demonstrate as a model.

This is definitely an "output" task but one which can encourage students to speak fearlessly with an ear on fluency rather than accuracy.

3. Would I lie?

For intermediate to advanced level. Students try to work out which three of six statements are not true by asking you questions. You prepare five statements about yourself, three true and two false, and write them on the board. For example:

• My brother has twin sons.
• I have three cats.
• If I’d been a boy, I would’ve been called George.
• My family was brought up in Spain.
• My favourite movie is The Sound of Music.
• My father was an extra in Star Wars.

You can ask the class how many of the statements they think are false. Then tell them there are three. Tell them they have to work out which by asking you questions, listening to your answers and watching your reaction. You can embroider your answers as much as possible, giving the right number of hints depending on how fast you think your class is.

Let the students ask questions until they have decided which ones they believe (by a show of hands). Give them the real answer. You could add an element of competition by putting the class into pairs or small groups, with each grouping coming up with their chosen two false statements.

An extension to this task is to ask students to write down similar statements for themselves – three true and three false. Divide them into groups and repeat as above with one person from the group being questioned by the others.

4. Exploiting a simple picture

This is an extremely simple, zero preparation and fun idea for creating conversation lessons with high intermediate or advanced level classes. You take a simple picture featuring a couple of people and use it as the basis for some imaginative storytelling.

What's her name?
What's his name?
Where are they? What country? What town?
What's their relationship?
Did they meet recently?
Are they work colleagues?
How old are they?
What are they eating?
What are they talking about?
What is she like as a person? What's he like?
What are their interests?
Why do they look so happy?
How did they meet? When? Long ago?
If they are married, have they been married before?
What were they doing before they met at the restaurant?
What are they going to do next?
What do they do for a living?
What do they think of their jobs?
Have they always done that?
What did they used to do?

Now, how the conversation develops depends on just how imaginative your students are. You would do well to tell the students at the outset to be as daring as possible. They may take you in some interesting directions; or you may need to prompt them to use their imaginations a bit more by suggesting some more outrageous ideas, e.g. he has two wives, she is a spy, he is an ex convict, they are having an affair, and so on.

I would probably do this a teacher-led task, but with some classes you hand out a list of suggested questions and get the students to work in pairs or small groups. This would lead to a variety of stories which can be compared later on.

When you do this type of activity students come up with different scenarios. This can generate further debate. If you are leading the lesson, you may have to lead them along what seems like the most fruitful linguistic and creative path.

It's easy to encourage the use of different time frames - past, present and future - and to go on from speaking to writing or more listening. For example, you could make up your own back story to the couple, describe it in TL to the class, whilst they take notes, then feed back the account to a partner or the whole class.

How about getting them to write an imagined dialogue between the couple, once their story is established? Or how about getting the students to find their own picture and build an imaginative story around it, either spoken, written or both.

5. Word association

Give an example of how it works, then do it as a whole class activity, either working round in order or moving randomly from pupil to pupil. Stress that students should not plan words in advance and that they are allowed to pass. With the right class they can do it in small groups or pairs. This works at all levels.

You can use the game to develop quick vocabulary retrieval reflexes and to illustrate how humans organise words in the brain.

A similar and effective alternative is to build silly stories one word at a time, moving around the class. Sentences need to be grammatical, so in this case the task develops both meaning and syntactic and morphological skills. Tell students they can say "full stop" (period) if the sentence comes to a natural end.





- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Comments

  1. Great ideas ! thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Steve,
    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be putting up a post about it on tomorrow’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil, if you’d like to check there for comments.

    Best,
    Ann

    ReplyDelete
  3. Number 4, especially, is a great activity, students would definitely love it! Thank you.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What is the natural order hypothesis?

The natural order hypothesis states that all learners acquire the grammatical structures of a language in roughly the same order. This applies to both first and second language acquisition. This order is not dependent on the ease with which a particular language feature can be taught; in English, some features, such as third-person "-s" ("he runs") are easy to teach in a classroom setting, but are not typically fully acquired until the later stages of language acquisition. The hypothesis was based on morpheme studies by Heidi Dulay and Marina Burt, which found that certain morphemes were predictably learned before others during the course of second language acquisition. The hypothesis was picked up by Stephen Krashen who incorporated it in his very well known input model of second language learning. Furthermore, according to the natural order hypothesis, the order of acquisition remains the same regardless of the teacher's explicit instruction; in other words,

Second language learning and acquisition

This is a long, referenced blog which combines all the posts in my earlier series entitled Conscious and Unconscious Language Learning. If you have already read those posts, you should look away now. Part 1 Throughout the history of the study of language learning and teaching reference has been made to two distinct types of language learning. The first could be characterised as "picking up" a language and normally involves the apparently unconscious acquisition of a language in an informal or natural setting. One thinks of the child who learns their native tongue, or the immigrant who learns the new language without recourse to formal study. The second type of language learning involves the practice of a language in a formal, systematic way, often in a classroom setting. This has frequently been termed conscious learning. Such a clear distinction may be controversial and you may already be thinking, quite reasonably, that both types of learning have a role. However, when

What is "Input Processing"?

Input Processing (IP) was proposed by Bill VanPatten, Professor of Spanish and Second Language Acquisition from Michigan State University. Bill may be known to some of you from his podcast show Tea with BVP. He is one of those rare university academics who makes a specific effort to engage with practising teachers. IP was first proposed in a 1993 article (published with T. Cadierno in the Modern Language Journal) entitled "Input processing and second language acquisition: A role for instruction." My summary of it is based on an article "Input Processing and Processing Instruction: Definitions and Issues" (2013) by Hossein Hashemnezhad. IP is a little complicated to explain, but I'll do my best to summarise the key points before suggesting how it relates to other ways of looking at classroom language teaching. Is this actually any use to teachers? I apologise in advance for over-simplifying or misunderstanding. To paraphrase Dr Leonard McCoy from Star Trek &q

New MFL GCSE consultation

Updated on 7th April, with a few modifications to the original post written about a month earlier. ........................................................................... The DfE in England has recently published information about the proposed new GCSE exams, first teaching September 2023, first exams June 2025. There are two consultations going on, one regarding the subject content, and the other (much shorter) with respect to the assessment arrangements such as tiering.  The context is important here. DfE are worried about uptake in GCSE MFL, especially with their EBacc target of 90% uptake in mind. (This is highly unlikely to be achieved.) Therefore they would like an exam which makes the subject more attractive, both in terms of interesting content and accessibility (how easy it is thought to be). They are aware also of criticisms levelled at current papers that the exam is elitist, featuring too much subject matter which appeals to middle class students. Recall that MFL has be

Pros and cons of pair and group work

Most teachers have made frequent use of pair and group work for many years, notably since the rise of communicative language teaching in the 1980s. Even before then it would have been common for pupils to work in pairs on simple role-play and dialogue tasks. So pair and group work is standard practice, if not universally supported by language teachers. It’s always worth evaluating, however, whether a practice works - whether, in this case, it helps students develop their proficiency. Pros Rod Ellis (2005) summarises the advantages of pair/group work (based on Jacobs, 1998) “1. The quantity of learner speech can increase. In teacher-fronted classrooms, the teacher typically speaks 80% of the time; in groupwork more students talk for more of the time. 2. The variety of speech acts can increase. In teacher-fronted classrooms, students are cast in a responsive role, but in groupwork they can perform a wide range of roles, including those involved in the negotiation of meaning. 3. There can