Sticky Grammar! #4: 20 clues, 20 questions

Now, where were we?  In this series of posts we’re looking at ways to make grammar stick with classes of all abilities, especially the difficult bits that are often reserved for higher sets, by incorporating visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles into the way in which the language is presented and practised.  More briefly put, how do we make the tricky sticky?  (Did you see what I did there?!)  The idea is that by the time they get to use the structure(s) in a more open-ended activity, it’s more likely to be successful and it will stay with them way beyond the unit in which they learned it.

It’s an upside-down, back-to-front way of looking at grammar as well, because the learners don’t start with the rules, they end with them.  They use the language correctly in context first, their awareness is raised to salient grammatical features (gender, endings, number, word order, etc.), then they are put in situations where they have to recall, and then in situations where they have to decide whether what they see is correct or not based on how they have been using the language so far.  In this way, I lead them to discover the rules as they develop hypotheses and then go on to test them out.  Finally they are let loose on a less controlled activity where the grammar they have been learning in an almost discreet way is part and parcel of completing the task.

Just before we get to memorising genders, which is coming up in the next post, let me clarify a couple of repetition activities I mentioned very quickly in the last article and referred to in the powerpoint (first post in this category): 20 clues and 20 questions.

20 Clues

By this point, I have introduced some of the vocabulary, but the class hasn’t done anything with it yet.  In this activity, pupils have a copy of the pictures I used to introduce the vocabulary, photocopied onto card (I usually reduce them to ½ size) and cut up.  They don’t need to be colour photocopies, and you don’t need to cut them up – it’s a job of a few seconds for the class to do if you have a class set of scissors, but it will take you a good 15-20 minutes if you do it all yourself before the lesson.  Goodness, you could have had a cup of tea in that time!  I recommend photocopying onto as many different colours of card as your reprographics department has.  It’s much quicker to track down the right envelope if you find a card on the floor at the end of the lesson, however careful you’ve been about how the pupils are to clear up.  There’s always one…  Small pay envelopes are better than letter envelopes, and a class set will fit in an A5 envelope ready for next time.  I also photocopy enough for a class of 40, so that as sets get worn out and destroyed I can just throw them away without needing to remember to go and make another set.

The idea is that Pupil 1 chooses a card and gives Pupil 2 clues to guess what it is.  OK, you can do this without cards by getting them to choose a present off the screen and writing it down, but I find it always goes better when there are cards to move around.  Now Pupil 1 can use some of the phrases I have been using in presenting the language (have a look at post #3 in this category) to give their partner a clue.  If they guess it straight away, they get 5 points.  If they need a clue before they get it, 4 points, another clue, 3 points, and so on.  (As you can see, it’s not actually 20 clues at all, but I’ve always called it that!).  The same slide on the powerpoint that was used in presenting the language can be used in this pairwork activity.

20 Questions

By this point I have introduced a few more vocabulary items.  This activity gives you a subtle opportunity to keep recycling the vocabulary they learned earlier, plus the new vocabulary immediately before this activity.  The activity is exactly the same as 20 clues, and it uses the same cards (plus the extras) only this time it’s Pupil 2 who is fishing for clues by sticking Est-ce que… at the start of the sentence.  Of course, both of these activities can be dispensed with, and the amount of time you have and how it’s all going will determine what you can do.  It’s certainly beneficial to do them because they break up the Teacher-Class dynamic, they increase what is coming out of the average mouth in the room, it gives those who may have missed a lesson a chance to catch up a bit, and it pushes it all a bit further into the memory.  I only ditch these activities when I really have to.

You might be wondering how I have a powerpoint and a visualiser projecting on the screen at the same time…  If you can, it’s a good idea to have two projection spaces on the front wall.  In one school I was in that wasn’t possible so I had the left hand wall painted white so I could project onto that.  It means you need two projectors, of course, and for many that won’t be an option, but it could be a good use of department money one year to invest in some extra projectors.  Beaming onto a write-on whiteboard is not good if you can help it – the shine is too reflective and it isn’t good for pupils’ eyes.  I had mine moved to one side as I used it less and had the wall painted white where the write-on whiteboard had been.  It also gave me more space higher up on the wall to project than where IWBs tend to be fitted (it’s a pain when those at the back can’t see anything on the bottom half of the screen).

Well, with that done, let’s get onto learning the genders of nouns, which is going to be a bit of a long post, and for that, you’ll have to wait until next Friday!

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