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5 activities to develop anticipation skills

Have you been watching the tennis at Wimbledon? Thinking about tennis for a moment, can you complete these sentences?

She hit a great first ________.
That was a great back-hand ________.
Federer won in three _______.

Now try these. You are in the classroom:

Open your _______.
Put up your _______.
Do you know your target _______? (yuk)

We have a great store of linguistic and whole world knowledge which helps us to understand and produce appropriate and correct language by predicting or anticipating what comes next in a sentence or utterance. As well as being able to decode sounds, spot words and parse sentences grammatically, being able to sub-consciously anticipate what comes next is a great aid to fluency and comprehension. We cannot be fluent one word at a time - we have to be constantly scanning ahead, as it were, to keep going or understand messages. Are there activities we can do which help develop this ability?

Perhaps the first thing to say is that the ability to anticipate the next sound, syllable, word or chunk primarily stems from having a good knowledge of the sound system, vocabulary and syntax of the language (as well as the "top-down" world knowledge you used in the gap-fills above). So there's not much point in trying to do exercises to build up predictive power unless students have enough knowledge to apply it. Even so, it's reasonable to suggest that, once students have some language to work with, it should be valuable to get students to be flexible and creative by thinking ahead in words and longer utterances.

Here are five activities you could easily do to help students build their anticipatory powers and, therefore, listening skill and spontaneous use of spoken language.

1.  Aural gap-fill

I have blogged about this before, but it's worth mentioning it again because it is such an easy activity to build into a lesson. Once you have spent time working on a text at any level, tell students to hide it. Read aloud the text from the start pausing to leave a gap to be filled (probably orally, possibly in writing). Students can add the next single word or phrase before you continue to read. You can tailor this to your class, supplying them with just the right amount of language and making the gaps as easy or as hard as you like. You can vary the difficulty level to allow students of varying abilities to respond. Some students may be able to supply whole sentences.

Other advantages of this task is that students enjoy short-term memory tasks, you can make the exercise as long or short as you like (flexible filler) and it enables you to give a twist to the lesson, recycling language you have previously used. I always found students enjoyed the challenge of this activity.

2. Complete the sentence

This makes for an easy starter, filler or plenary. Just write up or get pupils to transcribe (an added listening task) short verb sentence starters, e.g. I played..., I went to..., last weekend I bought...., this evening I am going to... If I won the lottery, I... You can make your starters fit the most recent recent area of language or topic you have been doing. Or else you can revisit a topic done some weeks ago (we know that spaced retrieval practice helps embed memories).

Students put up their hands and offer alternative sentence ends. An alternative is to supply the end of a sentence and get students to supply a possible start, e.g. ... tennis, ... with my parents, ... in the supermarket, ... blue.

3. Multiple choice

This needs more preparation. Suppose you have been working on an audio or video listening text. Replay the text, pausing in the middle of a sentence and asking pupils to choose from three option displayed on the board or on a worksheet. You can make these options as obvious or as subtle as you like, depending on the class or the content.

The different options could be the basis of some lexical or grammatical discussion.

4. One word at a time

This is the game where you go around the class (or do random/part random "cold calling") getting students to add the next word in a story. Explain how the activity will work, ten give an example, e.g.

One - day - I - went - to - the - cinema - where - I -saw.....

This task can be done at various levels and can fit with your latest topic or grammar. However, the unpredictability of where students will go with the account means you cannot necessarily stay on topic. It works well, for example, if you want to revise verbs.

To do this quite high-level task students need to show knowledge of morphology,  syntax and gender (where relevant). You can let them come up with bizarre twists in the story as long as they remain grammatically correct. You must also allow them to say "full stop" when appropriate.

You don't just have to do one story. In a ten minute session  you might cover half a dozen short accounts. Stop them when they get repetitive or too silly. Students enjoy this game and it gives them scope for their sense of the absurd as well as linguistic creativity.

5. Word completion

Tell students you are going to tell them a story about something you did recently. Tell them that at certain points you are going to pause in the middle of a word and they have to guess the next phoneme(s) or syllable(s). Here's an example for French with the gaps indicated:

Le weekend der___ je suis allé au cin___ avec mes en____. Nous avons v_ le nouv___ film de James Bond. Avant le film nous avons ach____ du pop___ et du co___. Le film était su___. J'ai ad___ le nouvel act___ qui joue le r___ de Bond. Après le film, nous sommes all___ au rest______. C'était un rest______ ita______. J'ai ma_____ de la pi____ et mes par____ ont pr___ des spa______.

Once again, this is an adaptable task depending on the class in front of you. In this case the anticipation is at the phonological morphological level. With higher-attaining classes this could then be done as a paired activity after you have modelled it yourself.

All the above tasks aim, therefore, to help develop students' anticipatory skills at the same time as their lexical and grammatical knowledge. When teachers ask "how do we get pupils to speak spontaneously", I tend to reply that there are no short-cuts to this - it takes years of comprehensible input and practice - but that there are tasks which can help develop the type of skills you need for spontaneous speech and good listening comprehension. You might like one or more of the above which are adaptable to all levels.


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