A bit of fun, how much learning?

I wasn’t looking forward to the lesson as my second graders were a little moody last Friday. Some say it was about the time of the year when they turn! Reflecting on that, I thought if I can’t get them interested in the topic, at least I could engage them with some activities.

Last week, we did some reading on three festivals from different countries. In this lesson, my team teacher wanted us to do a review. The ideal thing would be to show them some videos but unfortunately that wasn’t an option. With practising all four skills and a stronger focus on listening and reading in mind, I thought we could exploit group work, competitions and kinaesthetic activities.

Here was the running order:

  1. Elicit keywords and any information about the festivals from memories and with flashcards.
  2. Tell the students we will have a quiz with competing groups. As they were looking at the flashcards on the board, they listened to me reading out the passages they had read last week.
  3. Get into groups of four, each group has a set of the passages. Read for two minutes.
  4. Start the quiz: To keep it simple, they give their answer like this – ‘Team X, the answer is ..(name of the festival)…’. The captain of the group has to raise his/her hands and answer the question for their group. Teammates can help coming up with the answer. Another person becomes the captain for the following question. Correct answer given within 10s gets the team some points. Incorrect answer gets a penalty. A few rounds with bonus points are thrown in for a chance catch up.
  5. After the quiz, do the grass skirt activity, set a time limit and award points depending on the position they finish in.
  6. Round it off with comments on the team work and a quick recap of the festivals.

The grass skirt activity is something I learnt on my CELTA from IH London. It is good for reviewing vocabulary in a kinaesthetic way. It could be a gap fill, an anagram, answering a question or anything you see fit. The skirt contains all the questions but with each question almost cut out, you stick the skirt on the board dangling with the first question at the bottom (see a sample).

Mine was a gap fill with sentences rewritten using information from the passages. Each time a member of the group tears off a question from the skirt, takes it back to the group, together the group write down the answer and let the teacher check it before they are allowed to get the next question.

Both activities worked well, better than I had expected. I even had backup strategies in mind in case they weren’t so keen on the quiz. What impressed me the most was the spontaneous assignment of tasks within the different groups. Some divided themselves into readers of different passages. Some separated themselves into listeners, readers, writers and runners. In one group, one of the students decided he didn’t want to do the reading in the grass skirt activity but he was to be the runner who delivered the question and the answer. He was literally standing like a runner ready to receive the ‘baton’ from a relay. But in the quiz, he was a strong listener. The students also enjoyed tearing off the questions from the skirt. The timid got pretty excited by it after a few rounds.

In fact, they loved the grass skirt activity so much that they begged me to let them finish. It really doesn’t happen much, so I let them. For the early finishers, we gave them a worksheet to complete or ask them what they thought of the festivals. If there were only a few minutes left, I let them just chill and watch the others trying to finish. Perhaps I should have asked them to help one of those groups but I thought it would be nice to let them rest and enjoy the moment. I didn’t really have time to do a recap but I made sure I acknowledged the different groups’ achievement.

I was quite surprised by how much they wanted to be able to finish the activity. Perhaps it is the Japanese spirit. I could see that there were idle moments for some of the students at least some of the time but I thought it was ok. I was happy they were engaged in the part of the tasks that interested them and the part they were strong at.

I also had the chance to talk to some of the early finishers and asked them what their favourite festival was. One of the girls told me she didn’t have one. She doesn’t even like festivals and thinks they are boring. That was a good reminder on how important it is to present and practise information in different ways so you can at least engage the learners in some ways even though they might not be inherently interested in the topic per se.

How much learning took place? Honestly I don’t know but I think working as a group, learning how to play to their strengths and trying to finish were as important as anything. I was happy to hear some of them commenting on how much fun it was, including the girl who hates festivals. In fact, she was in the group which finished first!

About Connieay

If I were a bird, I would be an albatross, a bird with stamina, persistence and the ability to go far and high. I value long-term relationships but am perfectly happy being independent and can endure solitude if necessary.
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