Monday, February 23, 2009

Sentence Auction

If you don't know this activity, you really should give it a try. It can be great fun and it has quite a lot of pedagogical value because your students are more likely to remember grammmatical pitfalls to avoid after having invested time and (make-believe) money in them. "Once bitten, twice shy" might be an appropriate idiom to explain the learning process.

How to do a sentence auction in your ESL class.

Prepare a handout, or write up on the board twelve sentences. These sentences should have some connection with something that you've been studying recently. In half the sentences, slip in some of the mistakes that your students often make.

If you have done much, many, some, any recently, mix in some sentences like:

*I don't have some money
I have no idea
*I have much baggage

You can lead in to this activity by asking your students if they know what an auction is and if they have ever bought anything at an auction. One easy way to explain what an auction is is to mention the online auction site, ebay. Someone is sure to have an anecdote about buying or selling something on ebay.

Tell your students that you're going to hold an auction, not for works of art or vintage cars, but for English sentences. Explain that some of the sentences are 'genuine', that is, are grammatically correct, and that others are 'fakes'.

Give them a budget, say, 4000€, and tell them that there is a reserve price of 100 and bidding must go up by at least 100€. By the way, you'll probably need to pre-teach this vocabulary.

Put them into pairs and give them ten minutes to decide which sentences they would like to buy. You will then play the role of the auctioneer, reading out each sentence and taking bids. If you are convincing enough when you read them out, some of your students who weren't going to bid will suddenly start having doubts and offering large amounts of money.

Keep a record on the board of which pair buys which sentences and how much was paid.
Only at the end of the auction should you tell them which ones were right and which ones were wrong. The winners are the pair who have bought the most correct sentences without losing money on incorrect sentences. Money lost on unwise purchases could be used as a tie-break.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Play 'number tennis'!

Here is an exercise in using numbers in English that I learned from a book on improving your mental skills. It's pretty hard for native speakers, so it's a real challenge for your learners. I've seen people with a good level in English and an even better level in mathematics struggle with this exercise.

To introduce the game of number tennis I write an incredibly easy equation on the board:

23 + X = 100

At this point the members of my group normally roll their eyes and look at me in a way that suggests that they think I think they're idiots.

Sometimes I ask them if they did the sum in their own language first and then translated the result. Most people do, and I have to admit that I do the same in French!

When you have the correct answer (77, as if you didn't know) give another number between one and ninety-nine and ask them what number they need to make a total of one hundred.

Playing 'tennis' then, involves putting your learners into pairs and getting one of them to 'serve' numbers to the other person who after giving the right (hopefully) answer returns another number. I referee the game by deciding that a player has taken too long - I shout "out" (how long is too long depends on the level) or if the answer is wrong I just shout no and give the score "15 - love" etc.

You'd be surprised just how hard this is for a learner of English - if the level is low you could start with a total of twenty and then move up by tens. On the other hand, if this exercise doesn't present too much of a challenge, try a more difficult total, say, 250, or if you want to be really sadistic, 573! Mind you, you'll have to be really good yourself in order to referee (umpire?) the matches...