Jun 1

Mix Your Class Up and Make it Better- an idea from Paul Seligson

a practical teaching idea...

Shake things up in your lesson...

At the IATEFL Conference in April 2024, I went to a really inspiring talk by Paul Seligson and (with his permission) I'm sharing one of the brilliant, reusable, low prep, high engagement activities that he shared with us. I hope you enjoy it.

Video transcript

Want a brilliant, reuseable, engaging, low prep idea for ANY classroom? Of course you do! Keep watching!

I’m Jo Gakonga, I’m a teacher educator and I’ve been a CELTA trainer and assessor for over 20 years. I’ve also got a website at ELT-Training.com where I make video based support material for English language teachers at all stages of their careers. Check it out and if you like this, give it a thumbs up and subscribe, I make a new video every week.

I went to a fantastic talk at the IATEFL conference last month by Paul Seligson and with his permission I’m sharing this idea that he shared with us- thanks Paul!

Paul gave us several great ideas in his talk and the common theme was change- shake things up. Imagine you have 3 main activities in a class. You don’t need to take a linear approach and do them each from beginning to end one after the other. You can mix it up, come back to things again and again throughout the lesson and this can really increase engagement and also increase the benefit of an activity for learners. Let me show you an example…

Start with a list of general knowledge questions. Stop me for a minute and read them. Imagine you’re giving these to your learners. You put them up on the board and you give them 5 minutes to look at them and talk about the answers to their partners. Right. Now you take them down and get on with something else. Something completely different. No feedback. Yet.

While we’re imagining doing a different exercise, I need something else to do with you, so I thought I’d talk about where I got the questions from. This is where AI tools like Chat GPT or Gemini are your friends. What’s the topic of your lesson? I chose dogs (fairly randomly) and put in this simple prompt:

Please give me a list of 10 general knowledge questions to do with dogs.

and it did… You could specify the level of language you want it to use especially if you’ve got a low level class, but the easiest thing is just to ask for more questions than you want and choose the best ones or edit them. I wanted about 6-7 so I asked for 10.

OK. You’ve done another activity with your class- maybe a discussion about dogs or a matching task with some vocabulary- breed/ bark/ a sense/ toxic food/ fur. Now put the questions up again and ask them to discuss with their partner which 2 questions they feel most comfortable answering. Five minutes. No feedback again. Not yet!

Go on to another exercise- maybe a reading about dogs? You could find one or ask Gemini to generate one for you. Easy. They read, they answer some questions.

And we circle back to our list of questions again. This time, though, we don’t show them the questions, we show them the ANSWERS -mixed up- and see if they can remember what the questions are from the answers. Talk in pairs- five minutes again. They don’t have to write anything down but an extension to this might be to try to write as many of the questions as they can remember, prompted by the answers. Doing this in pairs or small teams makes it less of a test and more of an engaging competition.

And we move on again- to a different activity. Maybe a listening? Or some grammar work? Maybe on question forms based on the questions they’ve remembered?

Finally, maybe towards the end of the lesson, you can put up the questions a final time. By now, they should all be able to answer them, so you could go through as a class.

You might feel that this repetition would get dull but Paul used this activity with a large group of English teachers with questions about Brighton and I can assure you, it was anything but dull. More importantly, it exploited the material of that quiz really effectively. Language learning is all about reinforcement and meaningful repetition and this, for me, was a great example of that. Try it out and see how you get on and have fun!

List of general knowledge questions

1. What is a dog's most powerful sense?
2. True or False: All dogs are colourblind?
3. Dalmatians are born with what colour fur?
4. How do dogs communicate with each other besides barking?
5. What is a common toxic food for dogs?
6. What is the most popular dog breed in the United States (according to the American Kennel Club)?
7. What is the unique feature of a dog's nose that is like a fingerprint?

Mixed up answers

a) False most dogs see in shades of blue and yellow
b) Chocolate
c) Their wet nose print
d) White, they develop spots later,
e) Labrador Retriever
f) Smell
g) Scent glands release pheromones with information

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