I am a big fan of lists and ordering things. I think they offer lots of opportunities for discussion, interaction and critical thinking in the language classroom. Today I would like to focus on ranking sets of items. The ideal platform for this procedure is an interactive whiteboard, if you have one, but there are other round around ways in which you can engage your learners in physically ranking words and expressions or images.
The best fruit. I learned this activity from Andrew Wright’s Pictures for Language Learning, Cambridge University Press, 1989. Moving with the -digital- times and far from being an accomplished artist, I just resort to copying and pasting images from the Internet.
After reviewing these words with the students and working on accurate pronunciation, open a blank page on the board and ask them to write down as many fruits that they saw on the board as they remember.
And now comes the ranking bit. Show the fruits again. If you are using interactive whiteboard software and you have copied and pasted the images as separate items, you should be able to drag them separately. Tell the students to arrange the fruits:
by roundness / the five most expensive fruits / the five cheapest fruits / the five biggest fruits / the five smallest fruits / the five heaviest fruits / the five sweetest fruits / five fruits that grow in your region / the five most exotic fruits / the most difficult to spell / the most difficult to pronounce / the most difficult to learn / five fruits you like the best / the ones you would take on a school trip
You don’t have to cover all these criteria, just choose four or five. Invite the students to come up to the board and drag the images in order.
You may simply decide to type the words for the fruits on the board instead of using images if you want to set up the activity in about a minute.
You may want to set up groups of students and distribute blank cards or pieces of papers for them to write the words on them and then shift the cards around on the desks as they rank them. Dictate the words prior to that. It makes a perfect dictation.
Other possible lexical sets that present themselves well for this type of ranking might be: jobs, school subjects, food, sports, body parts, hobbies, types of TV programmes, films, books, music, colours, clothes, new technologies, furniture, places in town, social networking sites, things to spend money on. What kind of criteria would you establish for them? Better still, once the students get acquainted with this way of drilling vocabulary, supply a couple of criteria and let them figure out other ways in which those words might be ranked. It all boils down to drilling vocabulary when you think about it. However, that’s not the message we want to send the students. They don’t need to know. Drilling might be done in mind-numbing ways or in “invisible” engaging ways.
In addition to providing vocabulary consolidation, ranking can also be used to prompt interesting discussions.
Possible criteria: your favourite type of holiday / the most relaxing / the most tiring / the most expensive / the ones you have never experienced / the ones you have experienced / the ones with lesser ecological footprint / the most popular in your country / the most romantic.
In addition to providing criteria, use the photos as a springboard for conversation by asking relevant questions, such as: Why do you think staying in a caravan is more romantic than staying at a bed and breakfast? So you went camping last summer, how did it go? Did you have a good time? Was there anything that you didn’t like about sleeping in a tent? etc.
This last idea is an adaptation from my book From Whiteboards to Web 2.0, Helbling Languages, 2015.