Teaching Unplugged Activities (Part 3)

Sharing and Comparing

Sharing and comparing ideas

In Part 3 of our series about using activities from the book, Teaching Unplugged, in online English teaching, I’m going to look at activities for encouraging your learner to talk with you about sharing and comparing ideas. This was actually quite tricky since a lot of the activities would only work with a group of students, and I’m assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that most of us online English teachers teach on a one-to-one basis. Just in case my assumption is wrong, I’ve included an activity to use in a group discussion. Otherwise they’re all about you and your student sharing things between the two of you.

Last Saturday

Tell the class that you are going to go back in time, to last Saturday. (A weekend day is better as people’s experiences tend to be a bit more varied than on school or work days…unless you stay in bed all day!) You and your student are going to describe what you was doing at different times of the day.

Take two six-sided dice and roll them. Add up the two numbers: this is your time. So if you get a 3 and a 1, the time is 4 o’clock. (You can choose whether to talk about am or pm – but either of you was asleep at 4am, you should describe what you were doing at 4pm). If you don’t have a dice in the house, use an online dice – I find the 12 sided dice quite useful because then you just need to throw once.

So, roll the dice and announce the time. You need to say what you were doing at that time. For example, “at 4pm I was coming home from the shopping centre” or “I was having a cup of tea and a slice of chocolate cake.” Your student should make brief notes about this, then tell you what she was doing at 4pm. You should make brief notes of this. Then roll the dice again and repeat. Do this around 6 times.

Finally, using your notes, tell your student what she was doing last Saturday, but in the correct chronological order. For example, “at 8am you were making your breakfast, at 10am you were catching the bus to the city centre…” and so on. Then your student should tell you what you were doing last Saturday. Support her with vocabulary and reformulate her language to make it more accurate.

This is a good short activity for practising the past continuous tense, and could be repeated each week if you wanted, so long as you tried to push your student to ever more detailed descriptions of her day.

Memory Stars

Draw a five pointed star on an online whiteboard, and in each point of the star write one of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Ask your student to copy this star on to a piece of paper. Explain that inside the first point of the star they should write a word or phrase that evokes a memorable experience involving sight: for example, a spectacular sunset, or a firework display. In the second point of the star they write a word or phrase that evokes a memory involving sound; and so on, for the five points. While your student is doing this, you can do the same on a piece of paper.

Once you’ve both finished, you can ask and answer questions about the experiences that each point of the star represents. Take it in turns to describe each of your five points, and encourage the use of follow-up questions, such as: “what happened to you?”, “where were you?”, “how did you feel?”, “what did it look/taste/feel like?”, “how old were you when this happened?” (you can add these questions to the whiteboard to support your student.)

Top Three

This activity works best if you teach a group of students online. Students get to share and compare their daily routines. Tell them they are going to conduct a survey to see who is the “Slowcoach” and who is “Speedy Gonzalez”. Work together to prepare 5 or 6 questions about daily routines, for example:

  • how long does it take you to get dressed in the morning?
  • how long does it take you to eat breakfast?
  • how long does it take you to get out of the house in the morning?

They then take turns to ask each other the questions. Support the students with any language needs. The task involves finding out who takes the longest over their daily routines and who takes the shortest time, but there should be lots of communication needed to complete this task. As an alternative, you can also ask students to share and compare their top three things to do at the weekend or their top three favourite sports.

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