DIFFERENCES AMONG INTERMEDIATE STUDENTS
In Chapter 5 we considered the value of assigning to a few of the better students a task which might not be suitable for slower learners in the class. We also noted the value of dividing the class into teams.
Dividing a class into smaller work groups is an important technique at the Intermediate and Advanced levels of English instruction. It is less possible at the Elementary level, because begginers do not yet have enough English to enable them to work together in groups without the constant presence of a teacher. Besides, in a class for beginners all students are likely to need the same kind of work. In the Intermediate class,however, there are usually a few students who know more than their classmates ─ and sometimes a few others who know much less than most members of the class. For that reason, Intermediate classes benefit from small – group work. Some groups can then be given simpler tasks, while others do tasks that move them ahead as quickly as possible.
Many teachers who agree that group work is desirable have very little time for preparing material to be used by groups. Such teachers may wish to try some of the following activities, which require no preparation (except to give a copy of the directions to the leader of the group ─ a group usually consisting of three or four students).
TASKS FOR SMALL GROUPS
(OR FOR INDIVIDUAL STUDENTS)
Using the category sections of your notebooks, make a list of 20 pairs of words that belong together. Each member of the pair should be from a different category. For instance, one pair might be hat ( from the Clothing category) and head ( from your list of parts of the body). When your list is complete, show it to the teacher.
Using the category sections of your notebooks, meke lists of
4 farm animals
4 zoo animals
4 things that have four legs
4 things that are made of glass
4 things that are made of wood
Here are ten sets of words. In each set there is one word that does not belong in that set. Find it and write a sentence that tells why it is different. (After each member of your group has done this, compare your answers with those of the other members of your group.)
(Lettuce is different, because people don’t read it.)
(____ is different, because people don’t ____ it.)
Here are eight English words for things. Write a sentence about the most common or ordinary use of each thing. Then list three other possible uses.
1. spoon We use a spoon for eating. Other possible uses for a spoon are (1) digging a hole, (2) carrying an egg from the stove to the sink, and (3) taking a fly out of a bowl of soap.
2. pencil 5. pillow 7. coat hanger
3. nail file 6. toothbrush 8. clothesline
During the first five minutes of this activity, each member of your group should write answers (in English) to the following questions, expressing his or her own opinion,
(What do they do? What don’t they do?)
After some minutes, exchange papers with other members of your group. How many of the answers are similar? How many are different?
It can be seen that some of these tasks are easier than others. (For example, 4 and 5 require more English than 1 and 2.) Thus the quicker students may be working on more difficult exercises while the slower ones are engaged in simpler tasks.
Teachers who have used these activities for group work have made the following suggestion: After each task has been completed, and the teacher has seen the group’s papers, some of the result should be shared with rest of the class. For instance, the group that worked on Task 5 might report which answers were given by most members of the group. Some of the sentences which were prepared for Task 4 should be copied on the board, or on a large sheet of paper, to be displayed to the class.
GROUP ACTIVITIES USING PICTURES
Several activities involving the use of pictures have already been described. Most of them are suitable for small- group work as well as for use with the entire class. Two additional uses of pictures with small groups will now be suggested.
When available, a copy of the Oxford Picture Dictionary of American English can be used by three students, working together as follows:
1. The three students choose a page that looks interesting. (Let’s say they have chosen page 36, which shows a scene on a farm. On the dictionary page, various parts of the scene are numbered; each number refers to an English word at the bottom of the page.)
2. After looking together at the scene, the group chooses twelve of the pictured animals, persons, and things that especially interest them. Each member of the group takes responsibility for learning the English names for four of those selected parts of the scene.( One student may choose to learn the English names for the pictured fence, bull, saddle, and tractor. Each of the other group members will learn four other English names for other parts scene.)
3. At the end of five minutes, each group member teaches “his“ English words to the other two members of the group.
4. All twelve English words are then listed by the group, and the list is given to the teacher.
If a picture dictionary is not available, pictures from magazines may be used, as follows:
1. Before class, the teacher selects three or four pictures, each showing a different scene. One, for example, may be an office scene with a typewriter, photocopier, telephone, file, wastepaper basket, and so on.
2. After mounting each pictured scene on a sheet of cardboard, the teacher prints a number on every object for which an English name should be learned, then lists all those names below the picture, each with each number.
3. During the group work period, all the pictures are given to a group of three students. Each member of group chooses a different picture, learns the English names for the objects which are pictured in that scene, then teaches those words to the other members of the group.
One advantage of having students teach words to other students is that it gives the individual learner a personal interest in certain English words. Another advantage is that weaker students are induced to participate, because each student is the sole possessor of needed pieces of information. It is well known that we learn something best when we have to teach it. For that reason, language students need opportunities to teach others, even when a few words are all that can be taught.
USING EXERCISES FROM THE TEXTBOOK FOR GROUP WORK For many group activities, no set of “correct” answers can be provided in advance. However, there are other tasks for which a set of expected in advance. However, there are other tasks for which a set of expected answers can be supplied. A card that shows the expected answers can be given to the group leader, who is responsible for making sure that members of the group know the answers are.
It is often possible to divide a class into teams of three or four students for work on certain vocabulary exercises that are found in the textbook lessons. Here is such an exercise, from A Reading Spectrum, Book 5 of the Progressive Reading Series.
Give the noun form of each of the following adjectives:
Example: different ─ difference
1. deep 3. hot 5. long
2. high 4. wide 6. strong
When such an exercise is used for group work, the teacher asks one member of the small group to serve as leader. The leader’s job is to make sure that each member takes a turn at giving an answer; and if that each member takes a turn at giving an answer; and if that member’s answer is wrong, the leader corrects it, reading from the card of answers which the teacher has prepared. For Exercise D, the leader’s card would read:
The experience of “teaching” the group is helpful to the leader. Another advantage is that each of the two or three others in the group has more than one chance to answer. That is not possible when the exercise is used with the entire class.
In many textbooks there are scrambled sentence exercises. Although these are generally intended for practice in reading or writing, they also contribute to vocabulary expansion because students must know (or learn) the meanings of words in the sentence before they can put the sentences in proper order. For instance, a student has not already learned the word towel will learn it while rearranging the following scrambled sentences:
He used warm water and soap.
Anwar washed his hair last night.
Then he dried his hair with a big white towel.
Scrambled sentence exercises can be done by a group of three students, working together, while other members of the class are engaged in other tasks. The group receives a large card with instructions, as follows:
In each of the following sets, there are three sentences that tell what William did yesterday. Each sentence is correct, but the sentences are not in the right order. In Set 1, for example, Sentence (b) should come first, because William got up before he ate breakfast; and after that, he went to school. Put the sentence of each set in the right order, and then copy them.
(a) He went to school.
(b) He got up.
(c) He ate breakfast.
(a) He said goodbye to his friend.
(b) He had a conversation with his friend.
(c) He said hello to his friend.
(a) He bought film for his camera.
(b) He took a picture of the football team.
(c) He put film into his camera.
(a) He ran to the river.
(b) He swam to the other side of the river.
(c) He jumped into the river.
(a) He went to bed.
(b) He took a shower.
(c) He took off his clothes.
When such an exercise is used by a small group (instead of by the entire class) the three members of the group must agree on the correct order. Then one of the three writes the sentences (as dictated by the others). When the task is completed, the group members take the paper to the teacher, who checks the sentences.
Many of the exercises which are found in textbooks have certain expected answers, which can be put on cards for the use of the group leader. The following show two common types of textbook exercises, with the answers that should be provided on cards for the group leaders:
True ─ False Exercises
Multiple Choice Exercises
Usually, in most language programs, such an exercise in the textbook is done by the entire class. The teacher asks a student to answer the first question, another student is chosen to answer the second, and so on ─ until each member of the class has taken a turn. Occasionally, however, it is a good idea to vary this procedure by assigning the exercise to small groups. When the teacher gives clear directions, and moves from group to group for supervision of the activities, the small- group use of textbook exercises is valuable in at least three ways.
1. Each student has more opportunities to use the new vocabulary than in the conventional use of the same exercise by the entire class.
2. The student who serves as leader will benefit from the experience of correcting his classmates’ answers through the use of the answer card which the teacher has prepared. (In effect, he has to pay attention to all the questions and to know all the answers ─ not just one.)
3. The occasional use of such group work increases the students’ interest in English and keeps their minds alert
KEEPING THE INTERMEDIATE STUDENT INTERESTED AND ENCOURAGED
Keeping the students’ minds alert is a particular problem in many Intermediate classes. Teachers often mention the need to increase the Intermediate students’ interest. A beginning student is usually somewhat interested; the experience of learning the language is new enough so that he is pleased to be able to say and understand a few foreign words. When students reach the Intermediate level, however, the experience is no longer new. Furthermore, the students have become aware of the difficulties. Their efforts may bring less satisfaction, fewer rewards.
When students come to the Intermediate class in a discouraged state of mind, they need activities which offer immediate rewards for making an effort to learn. One of the best rewards is the satisfaction of being able to do something by means of the English words that one knows. That is one of the principal reasons for using simplified readings at the Intermediate level of instruction.
Simplified readings create a helpful sense of achievement. The student feels encouraged by being able to read a story or essay in English without great difficulty.
There are several other things that an Intermediate student can do as a result of having learned certain English words. One of the most rewarding is the crossword puzzle which has been specially prepared for learners of ESL. (Those intended for native speakers are generally too difficult for Intermediate students. They require a knowledge of many words that students rarely learn in school.) When a student succeeds in completing a puzzle, his success shows him that he is making progress after all: he is able to use the vocabulary he has learned. (“An Introductory Crossword Puzzle” appears in Appendix E.)
As earlier chapters have pointed out, there is another helpful way to give students experience in the use of English words. Students may be asked to respond to commands which are given in English. At the Intermediate level, the commands can (and should) make use of more complex grammatical structure, as well as more advanced vocabulary. For instance, after easy commands like stand up and sit down have been reviewed, students may be asked to perform actions in response to such commands as the following:
● When I stop clapping my hands, turn your head to the right.
● Put both hands on your shoulders without turning your head.
● Raise your right hand if Europe is a country, but touch your shoulder if it’s a continent.
Each command may be spoken by the teacher; or a student who reads well may be asked to read the command aloud from a card which the teacher has prepared. Before the class as a whole responds, the action may be demonstrated by one or two of the better students, seated at the front of the classroom with their backs to the class.
When such an exercise is used during the first five minutes of the class period, it can help to focus students’ attention on English. But it may be even more helpful in the middle of the class hour, or toward the end of a lesson which some students have found discouragingly difficult. Discouragement can be reduced when the students find themselves able to use English for responding to ( or giving) complex commands.
English for the Outside World
At the Intermediate level, students also need to see how their growing knowledge of English is preparing them for situations beyond the classroom. The following technique is intended to have that effect, in classes where English is a foreign language ─ where some language other than English is the community’s chief means of communication. In such a class, there is value in class discussions related to practical situations which are described to the students as follows:
Imagine that we have some English – speaking friends, a family from the United States. We’ll call them the Halls. The Halls are visiting our town, but they don’t know the language that is used here. They have asked our help with several problems. Where shall we take them for help with each problem?
After these and other problems have been discussed, selected students may be asked to construct dialogs. In each dialog, someone in the class is talking with a member of the Hall family about arrangements ─ when and where they will meet to obtain the desired object or service.
If English is being learned in the United States, the exercise will take a different form, but the purpose will be the same: to put the students’ growing vocabulary to practical use. The class may be told:
Imagine that a family (we’ll call them the X family) have just arrived from another country. They plan to live here. Since you know more English than they do, they have asked you to help them. First we’ll list on the board several kinds of help the family will need. (The students will know ─ better than the teacher ─ what kinds of help the new family will need.) Then we’ll use the yellow pages of the telephone directory to decide where we should take the X family for things and services they need.
In both these activities, students are led to consider problems which they might help people solve through their knowledge of English. Both activities also illustrate an important point about Intermediate classes. The point is this: In Intermediate classes, we make a special effort to introduce vocabulary that is related to the lives of English – speaking people. It is usually at the Intermediate level that we teach words like hamburger and hairdryer (even when hamburgers and hairdryers are not part of our students’ everyday lives).
As Chapter 2 pointed out, vocabulary for the Elementary level of instruction consists mainly of words for persons and things in the classroom, in the students’ homes, in the local community. At the Intermediate level, however, we begin to go beyond the students’ immediate experience. We teach snow and subway, for instance, even where neither snow nor subways are found. Techniques for teaching words that have special meanings among native speakers of English will be described in the next chapter.
1. Describe a task for small groups of students in the Intermediate class (similar to Task 2 on page 60).
2. Add five more sets of words to the ten sets which are listed in Task 3 on page 60. (You will probably find suitable words for this activity in the textbooks which are used in your own classes. Another possible source is the list of “Useful Nouns and Verbs” in Appendix C, page 121.)
3. Suggest some other activity (not described in this chapter) that could be done by a small group of students who are more advanced than their Intermediate classmates. Write the directions that you could give to the leader of that group.
4. In a textbook intended for Intermediate students, find a vocabulary exercise which could be used by small groups. Prepare an answer card for the group leader.
5. Write three sets of scrambled sentences like the sets on page 65. Ask a friend to put the sentences in proper order. See if your friend’s rearrangement is the order you intended.
6. Write a series of commands containing Intermediate-level vocabulary and grammatical structures (as complex as the commands on page 68).
7. Mention problems which the class might discuss in relation to helping families (like the problems of the Hall family and the X family in this chapter).