dictation 3

This is the third post on the series of dictation. I will be using the same list of fifteen words and expressions that I included in the previous posts as an example. You will be using your own. I find that ten to fifteen items is an adequate number for this type of activity. Dictate this list of words and expressions at normal speed just once and wait about four or five seconds in between items. This time, unlike in the previous posts, the students will be taking the words down as they hear them. Here is the list:

-raw

-a fancy restaurant

-it threw me off

-to carpool

-from scratch

-topping

-to commute

-to turn down a job

-steamed

-it slipped my mind

-side effects

– it’s worth watching

-to get a refill

-to pull a sickie

-to have a whale of a time

Before you dictate the words tell the students to draw three columns in their notebooks on on their pieces of paper headed this way:

IMG_20171117_101258

Explain that you will be dictating 15 words and expressions that they have seen in class recently. They should be taking them down as they hear them under the relevant heading according to whether they are sure they know them, not sure or they don’t. If they can identify the language item in terms of meaning but they are not sure about the spelling, they should write it under “Not Sure”. If they can’t identify the language item but they can spell it, it should go under “I don’t know”. If they can’t identify the language item and they can’t spell it either, they should still make an educated guess towards spelling it according to the sounds they hear and it should go under “I don’t know” as well.

Here’s a possible outcome.

IMG_20171117_103938

Students can check lists with their peers and ask about the words and expressions they don’t know or couldn’t identify or spell correctly.

Then have a student read out the complete list of words and write the tricky ones on the board to make sure everyone has it. Review these words and expressions focusing on possible word combinations (to cook from scratch, to learn how to play an instrument from scratch, to learn a language from scratch, to start from scratch, etc.).

There are many other ways in which you can ask the students to write words under headings in terms of dichotomies. For instance: useful vs not useful or easy to remember vs difficult to remember or I like the sound of it vs I don’t like the sound of it.

Here is a variation of this type of dictation (in fact, my favorite). Dictate the words (no table with headings at this point yet) and then have the students decide how they would group these words under categories. It’s OK to leave out some words (but not too many) uncategorized. This is a possible arrangement.

IMG_20171117_102123

Give the students time to decide how they would group the language items and then encourage them to compare lists with peers and justify their choices. They may include a language item under more than one category if they wish. For instance, “to get a refill” might make reference to an extra drink at a restaurant or to get more of the same medication. “It threw me off” might indicate someone didn’t like the smell of a certain meal and was discouraged to eat it or it could simply go under the category of informal expressions.

The whole idea is to make the language memorable and come alive  by allowing the students to make choices and use their creativity with a critical mind.

 

dictation 2

This is the second post on the series of dictation. I will be using the same list of words and expressions as the one from the first post as an example. You can make your own. The basic aim here is to review vocabulary and do something with it for consolidation purposes. Here is the list of 15 off-the-cuff words and expressions that a group of advanced students saw over the span of a couple of weeks. Once again, dictate these words at natural speed and tell the students to listen carefully but they can’t write anything down at this stage. They should listen and try to remember as many items as they can:

-raw

-a fancy restaurant

-it threw me off

-to carpool

-from scratch

-topping

-to commute

-to turn down a job

-steamed

-it slipped my mind

-side effects

– it’s worth watching

-to get a refill

-to pull a sickie

-to have a whale of a time

Now it is time for the students to write down as many of these language items as they remember. In most likelihood they will remember about a third of them. Next it is time for them to compare lists and add missing items in order to come up with as many words and expressions as possible. Check answers with the whole class and write them on the board (or have a student do so).

Now comes the task attached to it. If your students have internet connecting devices, they will be doing this in class. Otherwise, step 1 will take place at home and they will be retaking step 2 next day in class.

Step 1

Tell the students to choose any three items from the list. Then tell them to go on Twitter and look for them as part of a phrase or a language chunk or word combination with inverted commas. For instance, if they pick the first word, “raw”, then their query may be something like “raw fish”, “having raw fish”, “ate raw fish”, “raw vegetables”, “raw whisky”, “sleeping in the raw”. If the expression is “to pull a sickie”, the phrase search query may be something along these lines: “pulling a sickie”, “was pulling a sickie”, “pulled a sickie”.

These are some selected tweets from “having raw fish” query.

raw fish

And here are some selected tweets from “pulled a sickie”.

sickie

Give each student three slips of paper (or ask them to make cards out of sheet of paper). I always keep a stack of spare photocopies in the classroom for activities like this. They will be doing this for each of the three cards. On one side they must copy down a clear example of a tweet with their chosen word or expression and leave a gap with three dotted lines with the target vocabulary. For instance:

  • I’m thinking on having … marinated in lime juice.
  • I … in year 8 so I didn’t have to go to camp for a week. Also in year 9 so I didn’t have to do some silly exams that don’t count.

On the back of each card or slip of paper they write the missing words (“raw fish”, “pulled a sickie”).

Step 2

Collect the cards from all the students and make groups of 4-5 students. If you have a group of 4 students, give them 12 cards. Groups of 5 get 15 cards. Cards are placed in a stack on top of each other. They have a look at the card on top and have about 30 seconds to figure out the missing words. Even if there are people in the group who can tell right away, they will have to wait to give everyone a chance. When the time is up they can tell and check by turning the card over. They follow this procedure with the remaining cards. When they run out of cards, they can swap cards with another group. Give them 10-15 minutes.

There are many benefits from doing this kind of dictation and the sequence of activities tied into it because it really pushes the students into trying to do things with the language in different ways and therefore it stimulates consolidation and automatisation. There is listening, remembering, comparing lists, sieving through tweets, copying down the tweets and then retrieving the expressions again. It all boils down to repetition and practice but hopefully this is done in engaging and not mind numbing  ways.

A final consideration. You can also ask the students to choose a tweet and try to build a conversation of three interventions in which that tweet can fit it in any of the three lines. Let’s retake the previous examples:

  • I’m thinking on having raw fish marinated in lime juice.
  • Right now?
  • Yeah, I am that hungry.

 

  • I pulled a sickie in year 8 so I didn’t have to go to camp for a week. Also in year 9 so I didn’t have to do some silly exams that don’t count.
  • That’s nothing to boast about, you know.
  • Well, I just didn’t see the point, that’s all.

All you have to do is select the focal language and dictate it. Short and sweet.

 

dictation 1

This is the first post of a series of three on dictations. There are many reasons not to do dictations in the language classroom and there are also many other reasons to engage learners in dictation activities. I believe that if the dictation is an end in itself, even though it may still have its benefits, we might as well use our time more wisely by bringing more cognitively rich activities. A traditional dictation, that is, a “teacher centered” teacher dictating words or sentences at an unnatural speed for the students to write them down is basically a non communicative boring learning experience. It is not really effective towards helping students with their listening skills -if this is our aim- as it does not really reflect the mental processes involved in decoding the stream of sound.

But what if we turn the dictation into something else by attaching another task to it?

The following list of words is a selection of off-the-cuff vocabulary that my advanced students encountered over the span of a couple of weeks. The students, therefore, are familiar with these words and expressions (or at least with a substantial number of these language items). I will use this list as an example. You will be compiling your list with your own words. First, dictate these words at natural speed and tell the students to listen carefully but they can’t write anything down at this stage. They should listen and try to remember as many items as they can. There are 15 in total.

-raw

-a fancy restaurant

-it threw me off

-to carpool

-from scratch

-topping

-to commute

-to turn down a job

-steamed

-it slipped my mind

-side effects

– it’s worth watching

-to get a refill

-to pull a sickie

-to have a whale of a time

Once you have read out all the words, they can start writing them down. They should work individually at this stage. Give them a couple of minutes. Next they are free to get out of their seats, talk to their peers and help each other by comparing lists in order to come up with the whole list if they can (in any order). After a few minutes, check how many items the whole class could come up with. By asking the students to write down the words later we are still making them think about spelling but we are also bringing deeper processing into the picture by introducing  a challenge. They have to think harder to retrieve them from memory, which helps vocabulary consolidation. These “hurdles” along the way are also known as cognitive disfluency. In other words, making things harder for the learners seems to help long term learning and retention.

And here’s the task attached to it. Show this on a a screen or write on the board.

expresss

Ask the students to hold conversations asking each other about the words they don’t know. Even if they do know the words, they can still ask. Model one conversation with a student.

  • Excuse me, can I just ask you something?
  • Sure, go ahead.
  • I wonder what “to pull a sickie” means.
  • I think it means pretending to be sick when you don’t feel like going to work.
  • Cheers.
  • No bother.

Focus on pronunciation and connected speech at natural speed by asking the students to say the sentences with you. Give the students between 5 and 10 minutes to have as many conversations with as many different students as they can. We are killing three birds with one stone here because, in addition to reviewing vocabulary, we are also working with features of connected speech and with useful functional language. Great activity that you can try over and over with new sets of words and with minor modifications to the functional language.

 

now in theaters

This is mostly a pronunciation activity but it also deals with skimming for information in written texts and there are also elements of writing and group work with discussions conducted in English.

Say you are halfway through your textbook. Divide your class into groups of 3-4 and tell the groups to choose a reading passage from the ones that they have read so far (or a portion of it). Give them about a couple of minutes.

Next tell them that they are going to produce a movie trailer (just the audio part, that is, the background music and the narrator) for the reading passage that they have just chosen or a portion of it). This is a fantastic resource that lists many common phrases used in movie trailers. Here is a sample of phrases from it (click here for the webpage).

  • In a world where…/In a land where…/In a time when…
  • One man/woman must…
  • Meet…
  • Will change the world/will embark on a journey
  • Until one day…
  • Things are about to get…
  • A hero will rise
  • If you liked…, you’ll love…*
  • Coming soon
  • Now in theaters

*an interesting common example of a mixed conditional

In a nutshell, they will have to combine text from the reading passage and some common phrases from movie trailers. In addition, they must think of the main theme of a movie soundtrack to play in the background. To abide with copyright laws, I just used free domain classical music for my sample below but it will be fine to play a portion of the music of their choice in class. They may also introduce dialogues to engage more than one person while the trailer is being read. In the sample I just used text-to-speech from the Internet to introduce a character. At any rate, even if they decide to have one person in the group to read the text as a narrator, everyone must be involved in the making of the trailer and discussions must be conducted in English. The total length of the trailer will be around 1 to 2 minutes (my audio sample below is 1 minute 33 seconds).

You will need at least a phone or a computer that can connect to the Internet to look for the music (easily available on YouTube) and stream it. As for the expressions, if the students are allowed to use Internet connecting devices, give them the link for the resource with the common phrases (this is the full link: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/InAWorld) or else print a handout with selected phrases or write them on the board. They can also look for the background music of their choice and pause the video or audio and play it from their device.

Here’s a sample portion from a reading passage taken from Outcomes Second Edition Intermediate, Cengage-National Geographic. Free unit sample from the publisher here.

a friday night text

And here is the movie trailer for this short text. The background music is an extract of Le Carnaval des Animaux: Aquarium, by Camille Saint-Saëns.

This is a suggested time framework for groups to move at the same pace.

  • choosing the text: 2 minutes
  • instructions and reviewing the movie trailers phrases: 5-10 minutes
  • choosing the background music: 5 minutes
  • writing the trailer and distributing roles if they include dialogues: 10-15 minutes

Check out work from early finishers and make any necessary corrections. Model pronunciation with them.

Finally, have the groups present their movie trailers to their peers. Hopefully it should be fun!

As a possible extension of this activity, ask the students to choose a different text at home and write and record a movie trailer (no dialogues this time). They could share the recordings with you via email/whatsapp/wiki/blog/online noticeboard/learning platform.

gating

Listening, far from being a receptive skill, is very much an active skill, an online activity. Among many other things, such as decoding the stream of sound as it happens (to be accurate and according to research in the field, at a delay of a quarter of a second behind the speaker), listening entails predicting. Say the listener hears the noun phrase “the petty criminal” and makes the assumption that this phrase is the initiator of an action, which can be confirmed by the next word, the verb form “was”. However, instead of “the petty criminal was trying to sell the stolen computers from his home”, she hears “the petty criminal was found”. Then she will have to revise the first hypotheses and try to make sense out of what has been uttered so far (to something like “the petty criminal was found dead in his home”).

In “gating” the students hear the first word of a sentence and have to guess the following word. Then they are given the first two words and they try to predict again. Next they are given the next three words. Let’s assume that the students have been working on this grammar exercise from the textbook.

the secrets of sleep

From Life Pre-Intermediate Unit 1, Cengage-National Geographic (free sample available on the Internet http://www.ngllife.com/sites/default/files/Pre-Intermediate_Unit_1.pdf).

Then you can get the students into groups (3-6 to a group) and designate one student in each group to read the first word of the first paragraph (“Why”). Then the remaining students in each group, with their books closed, will try to guess (or remember and retrieve) the next word (“do”). The designated student can give them about four or five seconds and, if no one has come up with the right word at this point, then give away the next word (“do”), and so on. Then the students can switch roles for the next paragraph.

This is a very interesting listening/grammar/vocabulary activity that involves not only “grammar doing” but also making hypotheses based on what we hear, which is, as we have seen, at the very core of listening. In other words, it is a gap-filling-in-the-mind exercise, which derives a bit from the classical fill in the gap and it’s probably a bit more useful and fun.

Last but not least: a zero-preparation activity.

 

 

 

bingo

Here’s a minimal preparation activity that focuses on identifying language chunks in songs. The only thing that is required from you is to choose a song that you want to play in class and select a few key words from the song (about 15 is a good number) that you will be writing on the board or dictating to the students. Here’s an example from a song that works really well with this type of exploitation, Bruno Mars’ Count on Me. I created a poster containing most words from the song (but if you want to spare yourself from the trouble of creating a word poster on the Internet, you may as well write the words on the board or dictate them).

count on me 1

In class, ask students to pick any five words from the poster (except the words in the title) and list them on a piece of paper with dotted lines right before and after. For instance:

– …………………….. know ……………………..

– …………………….. friends ……………………..

– …………………….. find ……………………..

– …………………….. never ……………………..

– …………………….. world ……………………..

Now they listen to the song. When they hear any of the words they have chosen, they must write at least the word before or the word after in the gaps. The first student to do so for all the words can claim Bingo. If you feel this is too challenging, then the first student who can manage three of the listed words can be a Bingo winner.

A possible variation to ease things up another notch for the students could be just choosing a portion of the song. For the poster below I focused on the first verse and the refrain of the song (roughly the first minute of the song).

count on me 2

It is quite a challenging -but fun- exercise and the payoff is huge. It pushes the students to go beyond the world level and try to look for strings of words and notice how they bump into each other in connected speech.

And here’s the videoclip. Enjoy!