Thursday, February 19, 2015


Vocabulary Group Work

Happy Dance
Today was a good day!

I've been playing around with different seating charts since the beginning of the year. It has been tumultuous; we have had new students join the class, and some students go back to their home countries. Plus, the class has some very strong personalities.

Many of my past seating charts have been OK, but today I implemented "the one." It just worked! Students were collaborating on tasks (not just dividing up questions), they all stayed in English, and, most importantly, they actually stayed on task!

I was beyond thrilled. Today's lesson was a simple one, but to see it go so well made me ecstatic. My class is reading The Great Gatsby. Since this is a rather difficult text for ESL students, I took some time to pre-teach the vocabulary. I picked ten words that they need to know and we used them in the activity.

STEP 1- Modeling
I select one word from the chapter and use it as a sample. 

Contemptuous: showing contempt; scornful.

Since we can't use a word to define itself we look up contempt together

A combination of disgust and anger

Now we make a definition that anyone in the class would understand: When someone/something shows disgust and anger towards someone or something

To show they understand the word, they need to create a dialogue using the word. 
  • I usually need to remind them that dialogues are exchanges, meaning at least three lines between at least two people.
Then we "play" Whose Line is it Anyways? I ask the class what type of people would be talking that may be contemptuous. They shout out ideas, and I pick the ones that are the most outlandish (or easiest). Then I ask them to shout out a situation. They usually can't just shout out answers, so this is fun for them, but if you want, you can use this as a time to get shyer students to communicate by calling on them. 
  • Me: What types of people do we want to be talking? Who would make you feel contemptuous or be contemptuous?
  • Student 1: Teacher 
  • Student 2: Coach
  • Student 3: Dentist
  • Student 4: Doctor
  • Me: Awesome! Let's go with dentist. Where should the dentist be?
  • Student 5: Office
  • Student 6: Restaurant
  • Student 7: House
  • Me: Ooo, let's have him at the restaurant, So, I can say:

Waiter: Would you like to see the dessert menu?

Dentist: Is there anything sugar free?
Waiter: No, we believe in using lots of sugar.
Dentist: How dare you do such a thing? Sugar is a silent killer!
Dentist's wife: Dear stop being so contemptuous to the waiter. It isn't like he makes the menus.   

Once they understand the concepts

STEP 2- Assignment 
  • Each group is assigned one word. Be sure not to assign all of the words. You'll need one word not assigned to a group for Step 3. 
    • They need to look up their word, define it, and create a dialogue that they will present to the class.
  • Dialogues can be on ANY topic. This freedom really lets students have a little fun with it.
In my class I try to focus a lot on the difference between, "dividing and conquering" and collaborating. This is best done as a collaboration! Everyone pitches in and brings their own ideas to the table.
STEP 3- The Twist
  • Take the word that you haven't given to a group and tell the class you will be modeling what they will present to the class.
  • The twist!
    • Teacher in a deeper voice: What makes you think your boyfriend is cheating on you. Did he tell you? 
    • Teacher in a higher voice: No, but there were clear intimations
    • Teacher in a deeper voice: Like what?
    • Teacher in a higher voice: He didn't always answer his phone, and he stopped using my name. He always called me, "Baby," or "Sweetie."
  • Ask students what they think the word intimation means? 
    • Field guesses and help them come to the correct definition if they can't figure it out on their own.
  • Explain that they will be presenting their dialogues FIRST and then helping the rest of the class figure out the meaning. 
    • Give them a little (I did two minutes) more time to make sure their dialogues are ready or to practice.
This is the part that makes the lesson really interactive. Students aren't just presenting to the class; they're helping them discover what the word really means. The rest of the class isn't just taking notes; they are trying to guess!

STEP 4- Listening

  • As each group presents, the rest of the class listens and guesses what the word means.
    • I hardly had to give any guidance today, but feel free to help your students focus or give them clues if they struggle. 
STEP 5- Final Product
  • Students take all of the words presented (including the two from their teacher) and make either a short story or another dialogue. 
    • If you want to add a technological aspect, you can have them make a comic stop on bistrips
    • There's a short story app for Windows 8.1 and higher called Chekov
    • You can also choose to make it a speaking task by using the sock puppet free app 
    • And many many more! 
  • I refuse to give more help with the definitions. If a student asks what a word means, I ask the group who originally presented on it to help. Otherwise, I point out the dictionaries sitting in the middle of the group's table.
Voila! Your students should feel fairly comfortable with these words, They've worked in a group, presented to the class, listened to others, and practiced writing.

Again, this isn't a new concept or activity, but it worked so well today I wanted to share it.

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