El amanecer en la meseta
El amanecer en la meseta

(If you’re a student and want to use this idea for your own oral practice, click on the post and then scroll all the way down for some study suggestions)

My last two classes on a Friday are double sixth year (twelfth grade in the American system). That’s two-fifths of our contact time every week at an hour when they are:

(a) physically tired

(b) tired of school

(c) ready for the weekend!

…so I’m under more than the usual pressure to make sure I hook every student into whatever activity we do. This one worked a treat!

The first full week we were back I told the students that on Friday we would do a Show-and-Tell! There were a few snickers of disbelief but lots of grins of anticipation.

I explained that they had to choose three objects to bring in to which they could link a story about their summer. Bedclothes, pillows and duvets were not allowed! I did allow photos. In the future, I would insist that at least one object per person be brought to the classroom.

The following week, we spent the first class of the double working through some of the finer points of the past tenses in Spanish to set them up for the Show-and-Tell in the second class.

unnamed-41I said that I would model what I wanted them to do. I walked about half the Camino this year during my summer holidays, so I brought in my Camino passport (some photos of the stamps I received are in the collage to the left) and I showed them the photo at the top of this post. They had lots of questions for me about it. It worked really well as an example, and I explained that it was exactly what I wanted them to do in their small groups. As I wanted it to be a natural exercise, like a conversation, I didn’t set a rule that they had to ask x number of questions of their fellow group-members, nor did they have to do any in-class writing. It was purely an oral exercise.

It worked wonderfully! The students had concrete objects around which to base their stories and these objects prompted far more questions than a simple list of questions about the summer to ask each other (which I usually do). Some items people brought in included a Foo Fighters t-shirt, a Spanish grammar book, a skateboard, a rubber penguin and of course there were many photos. Groups heard about internships, summer jobs, how to make a skateboard, visits abroad and summer-skiing among many other things.

There was a buzz of conversation in the classroom, there were lots of laughs, groups stayed on task and, as I did, students learned a lot about their classmates and their interests, which is one of the things I love about teaching a language.

The best conversations -with some notable exceptions – were the ones where the group-members had brought in objects that the others could handle, and far more vocabulary items were queried and learned in those groups than in the groups with just photos.

The follow-on homework was of course, to write about their summer, and I’m looking forward to reading the work and hoping that the structure will have benefited from the above activity. This activity could clearly be used across the languages, and it’s one I will use with more than just my senior students in the future. For students needing more support, I’d probably do my show-and-tell a day before, so they could see what kind of detail I am looking for.

If you’re a Leaving Cert student and wondering how this could benefit you outside the classroom, do the following exercise.

Grab your study-buddy if you have one, or else talk to yourself in the mirror (seriously!)!

For each month of the summer holidays, choose one or two objects that could represent what you did that month.

Remember that it doesn’t have to be anything out-of-the-ordinary. Something as simple as a ticket stub from a film you saw that you really liked could lead you into a conversation about:

  • film and your hobbies
  • the price of movie tickets in Ireland
  • whether you have a job to earn money to pay for cinema tickets or whether you get pocket money.

Now, either take turns talking about the objects, or chat to yourself in the mirror, anticipating and posing the kind of questions into which one object might lead you.

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