Thursday, August 2, 2012
Some Lessons are MORE DIFFICULT to Plan than Others
By Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
Maybe we all have the same problem: that one grammar point that has us pulling out our hair when it comes time to plan the lesson. For me, it’s the comparative and superlative. The actual teaching of it is not the difficult part, really. They are not hard concepts to understand and many other languages have similar structures. Students get them pretty quickly; they just need practice to be able to use the comparative and superlative effortlessly, lots and lots of practice. That’s where my hair pulling comes in.
Most grammar books provide gap fills and conversation and writing prompts. They are fine. But, let’s face it, comparing a student’s home country with the target language country again and again can get stale. So can describing the children in a family or even the students in the class. This problem is compounded by the fact that comparing and contrasting are key skills, and students encounter them repeatedly as they progress through grammar levels. So, they get to compare the weather in their country with the weather where they are studying multiple times. This repetition led me to search out some more interesting practice activities that help reinforce the comparative and superlative. Here are four of my favorites.
Which Animal Runs Faster?
Shenanigames: Grammar-Focused Interactive ESL/EFL Activities and Games, by James Kealey and Donna Inness (Prolingua) contains some great practice activities, one of which is perfect for practicing both comparative forms of adjectives and adverbs. This photocopiable resource has instructions for how to play the game, but I have adapted it to use in my classes a little differently. The book provides a sheet of little cards (which I don’t bother cutting out) each with a comparison. For example, which animal runs faster, a cheetah or an antelope? I put students into pairs and, after I read out the comparison, students have 1 minute (or more or less) to write a sentence, such as ‘A cheetah is faster than an antelope’. The groups all read their sentences and then I read the answer. Pairs get 1 point for every right answer, meaning the sentence has to be both factually accurate and grammatically correct. Many of the comparisons are really challenging, which adds to the excitement level. Admittedly, some of the comparisons are a bit dated, so I have also added some of my own, like which car is more expensive, the Bugatti Veyron or the Ferrari Enzo? Google it to find out!
Which City is the Most Populated?
A great warm up activity, both to review the comparative and superlative and to introduce a chapter theme is listing. For instance, when I was teaching with the Headway series, there used to be a chapter on megacities. To begin one of the classes, I listed 10 cities in alphabetical order on the board and students had to work in pairs to list them from most populated to least populated. (I had gotten the answers earlier from the internet, of course.) This activity always prompted a great deal of animated discussion, much more than I would have expected from a topic like megacities, to be honest. The students always paid attention when I revealed the results.
Who is he? Who is she?
Another activity from Shenanigames that I really like is a cartoonish picture of several people standing in a row. Rather than having students make sentences boring (and often inappropriate) sentences such as, “The man is fatter than the woman”, the students are given slips of paper to read which contain the names of and cryptic clues about each person, for example,” The shortest man is David.” The students, working in pairs or groups, have to trade the papers until they can figure out the names of all the people in the pictures. The clues are often difficult and it can be challenging to finish this activity, but, again, it generates a lot of animated discussion and use of the comparative and superlative. You can make this activity on your own, too. Just find a picture of a lot of people and write several ambiguous sentences. Don’t forget to test it out with a colleague before you use it in class, though!
My Car is More Expensive than your Book
Finally, an activity that I also rely on frequently comes from Intermediate Communication Games, by Jill Hadfield (Longman). This is another photocopiable resource jam-packed with great interactive games. The one I use for practice with comparatives is called “Yuppies”. It is a set of dominoes cards with two random pictures on each that I have photocopied and cut out. I put the students into small groups and give them each a set of cards. They deal out 5 cards per person and one card is turned up in the middle. Students take turns making sentences and joining one of their cards to one end of the string of other cards, like when playing dominoes, but instead of dots, they are joining pictures. The sentences have to be comparisons, they have to make sense (so a student couldn’t say that his/her cat was bigger than a car), and they have to be grammatically correct. If they can’t make a logical, accurate sentence, they have to pull a card from the deck. The first student to use all of his/her cards is the winner.
So, these are some of my ‘go-tos’ when I find I have to plan a lesson on the comparative or superlative. What do you do in your classes to engage your students and provide productive practice?