A positive start with SKILLS

Thursday, October 30, 2014

 A good way to start the school year is by playing a getting-to-know-each-other game. You probably have some ideas already, but here are a few tips from Bronia Hamilton. Her aim is to make the students acquainted with both their peers, the subject and the textbook, while focusing on speaking English.

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A positive start

 A positive start!


Starting the school year with some fun oral activities is a great way to help students feel comfortable with using English. Simultaneously, the students get to know each other. Before you get started with the oral activities, however, it is a good idea to discuss expectations. Students should be informed that there is only one grade for English and that it is based on both oral and written skills. Moreover, the curriculum places considerable weight on oral activity. Therefore, you as a teacher should discuss what expectations you might have of your students, and vice versa. For example, will it work for your students if you only speak English or should you repeat in Norwegian when required? How do they find your dialect and how fast you speak? And perhaps most important, how will the students support each other so that everyone feels comfortable with attempting to speak English in class?

Practice makes perfect

Students need to practice speaking English regularly in order to improve. Vocational students in particular have so few English lessons a week that it is imperative that they speak English each lesson.

Compare language learning to a situation that students will experience as relevant; perhaps related to their vocational course or learning to drive. Ask the students how they found using the clutch when they started to learn to drive. Did they stall the car? How did it feel to struggle to get it right? What was their driving instructor like? What would it have been like to have a friend in the back seat giggling? Did they get better with practice? Do they still need passengers to be patient and understanding?

Teaching HO and Barn og ungdom, I tend to compare language learning to a child learning to walk. Toddlers learning to walk fall over, again and again. They become frustrated and upset, but with the reassurance of those around them, they keep persevering. A class should be just as supportive of each other as a family is with a child learning to walk – thus providing a safe environment to practice and improve.

Learning a language is not so different to learning to walk, or to drive. In the process, we make mistakes, we become frustrated and perhaps less sure of ourselves. However, as long as we persist and are supported by those around us we will improve. Make a deal with your students that you will continue to encourage them while they will need to support each other and do their best.

Ideas for oral activities

“Getting to know you” games

  • “Speed dating”: Each student chooses a letter and writes it down. They then have 1 minute to write down 2 nouns, 1 verb and 2 adjectives that start with their chosen letter. Place the chairs in the room in two rows facing each other so that each student can sit down facing another student. Once the students have sat down they must swap their sheet with words with the person opposite them. Give them 30 seconds to prepare to tell about themselves or their holiday using at least 3 of the 5 words on the sheet. Then the speed dating begins: one row talks to their partners opposite them for 30 seconds and then they swap and the other row talks. Next, you ask all of the people in the row on the right to move one chair over, swap sheets again and start a new round of speed dating. Continue like this until they come back to their original partner and have thus spoken to half of the class.

  • “The world would be a better place without”: Give students homework to think of one thing the world would be better off without, and to be ready to convince others. It can be something as banal as mosquitos or sisters or as meaningful as advertisements or land mines. Organise groups of 3 or 4 students and each student gets one uninterrupted minute to convince the others in their group. When everyone has presented the group decides who was most convincing. “The winner” of each group then presents for the class and again a winner can be voted on and perhaps receive a prize.

  • “A picture is worth a thousand words”: For homework students should bring a picture on their computers or mobiles that they wish to talk about. It can be an artwork, a picture they have taken themselves or even something from the news. Talking about a picture is a reassuring way for students to (perhaps for the first time) present in front of the class. There is also the possibility of printing out the most popular pictures to decorate the classroom walls.

  • ”You should have been there”: If students are not familiar with the expression they can find out what it means. When they understand the expression they must think of a situation which qualifies, and thereafter present in pairs, groups or in front of class (it might be a party, a concert, or just the awkward or funny situation at the bus stop this morning).

Getting to know your textbook

Each student chooses a random page in their textbook and uses the PIFSI reading strategy to gain an understanding of the text.  PIFSI stands for Picture, Introduction, Final paragraph, Subheadings, Important words – (BISON på norsk).

Students should answer the following questions:

When looking at the Pictures, what information or ideas are communicated? What do you think the text is about? What prior knowledge do you have about this theme?

Read the Introduction. What do you now understand the text to be about? What prior knowledge do you have about this theme?

Read the Final paragraph. Did this provide a summary of the text? Did you learn anything new? Are you curious to read the rest of the text?

Read the Subheading. Is there any new information, or are there any new words or ideas in these subheadings? Do they help you to find your way around the text?

Important words: Are there any words that are in bold or italics? Why do you think they are highlighted and do you know what they mean? Do you understand the meaning of all of the words in the vocabulary list?

A more advanced – but fun – oral activity

“Would I lie to you?”

Students should watch the first 10-15 minutes of the BBC programme: “Would I lie to you?”(they can find many episodes on YouTube, however, Season 6 Episode 2 is rather good). The game is based on the first segment of the programme “Home Truths” but is simplified by asking students to write down their own lies and truths. Each student writes down rather unusual or shocking things about themselves on three pieces of paper. At least one thing should be true while another should be a lie. They then read their notes aloud and the others ask questions to ascertain whether what is said is fact or fiction. From experience, many students will simply want to guess straight away so it is a good idea for the teacher to help with appropriate questions to begin with. Once the other students have questioned sufficiently the original student can reveal if their statement was in fact the truth, or a lie.

Good luck with the start of the school year!

Bronia Hamilton

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