Lo prometido es deuda, as they say. So, as promised to those lovely people who came to my session on Saturday at the Association for Language Learning Conference in Nottingham, here goes with a full write-up of the Multiple-Choice/Millionaire activity I referred to at the end of my session. It was a long journey from Nottingham to Great Yarmouth, but the benefit to you is that I got this finished!
Multiple-choice questioning is a valid exercise to engage in with our classes for several reasons: The main one from my point of view is that this is something we have to do all the time at high speed as fluent (but not native) speakers of another language. I reckon all language learners are familiar with the experience of getting half-way through a sentence and realising that they have to make a lightning-fast decision between several options about how to complete it grammatically. It could be an adjective ending, a verb ending, a particular tense or its auxiliary verb. It might mean placing a direct or indirect object pronoun somewhere different in the sentence to where it would be placed in the speaker’s own language. The more fluent (and accurate) we become, the less aware we are of making those decisions until we hit some sort of block and we have to pause, sort it out in our heads and then continue.
Other ways I have used multiple-choice questioning include getting learners to choose the most appropriate word for a given context (‘most appropriate’ here could refer to style, register, cultural choices, etc.), correct factual answers and to check understanding of parts of a film, book or argument. The materials you can download here relate to a unit I taught a Year 10 French class on the Louis Malle film Au Revoir Les Enfants. The fantastic languages department at Cheam High School in Surrey had produced an excellent scheme of work for teaching a unit on this film to Year 9 and very generously shared their resources with my department a few miles down the road. I was keen to teach with this film in my own department but to do it with Year 10 and to approach it quite differently. Part of this process led me to coming up with the materials in this post.
There were lots of details in the film that needed to be noticed and understood if pupils were going to empathise and ‘grow’ as a result of watching it, but which I felt could easily be missed, especially if they (Year 10) were more used to watching films just for entertainment value rather than thinking through the issues presented. Multiple-choice questioning gave me the opportunity to point up some of these details. Depending on when you run the activity (towards the beginning, half-way through watching or after) it can either guide pupils towards understanding how the film is developing, or clarify recurring details where some pupils may have missed their significance the first time round and before they come up again, or pull everything together before moving on to some more creative work on the film afterwards.
So multiple-choice may be the basic technique I use, but how can I run it with the class so that it achieves what I want it to achieve? How can I get them to care about getting the correct answers but also to make sure that enough language is coming out of the average mouth in the room all the way through? The problems, as I see them, with multiple-choice is that a worksheet is hardly engaging and can be romped through in no time at all. How do I get the class to go more slowly and think carefully about their choices? This is especially the case if I want to run this part-way through the film but what the class wants to do is to carry on watching it. (I know some will see it as sacrilege that the film is interrupted at all, a point of view I partly agree with. However, this was the first time the class had watched a film in French, with a range of ability and prior attainment, and they needed some support. To do it before they had watched the film would not have helped – they would have had nothing to relate to. To wait until afterwards would have led to lots of pennies dropping after the event – “so that’s why he did that!” and I don’t think they would have got anywhere near as much out of the film as they watched it. There are several points where the film can be paused, almost cliffhanger-style (to protests around the room!), where I can make sure the class knows what’s going on, they can speculate on what could happen next and on what that could mean. One particular balance I wanted to strike in the unit was between time, mood and comprehension. I wanted to make sure the class understood what was going on, but I didn’t want to take too long to get to the end. The film is very moving and as the class begins to understand and empathise, they realise the depth of the issues involved. As I was teaching this unit over 4 weeks, I realised that we also needed some lighter moments at points but I was anxious that what we did wouldn’t trivialise what they had watched and begun to think about. Some of the games and activities we would do in other units would have felt entirely inappropriate here. Indeed, some reading this may feel that what we did was still not quite right, but in practice, I think it was.
The multiple-choice activity I chose was ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’, which we had played in other, completely different contexts several times before so, by now, we could just pick it up and do it because much of the setting-up had been done at earlier stages. In fact, I think many of the more communicatively-rich activities we do with our classes only really come into their own when we run them several times and pupils get the hang of what they are doing and how to win.
So now, let’s put the film to one side and look at how we can use the Millionaire activity with classes for any topic for which we think it suitable as the dressing for multiple-choice questioning. Electronic devices for use in class where every pupil can vote for what they think is the correct answer are both very popular and very good, but the version I’m going to look at here doesn’t use them. My main reservation about them is that where I have seen them used, the technology has overshadowed the interaction. A lot of emphasis goes on getting the answer right, but at the expense of the grammatically and communicatively rich opportunities that the whole class could benefit from when the game is run in pairs and in the target language. In particular, I wanted everyone to get the opportunity to ask the questions rather than just me. As forming questions is something most pupils find tricky, it seems daft to deprive the class of the opportunity to ask them and do it myself. As everyone will get the chance to be the quizmaster within the same lesson, they will get this question-asking opportunity throughout.
So this is how I run it:
- An envelope per pair of pupils containing the cheques, a list of the amounts to be won in order, 2 sets of A/B/C/D cards, 1 set of Ask the Audience, Phone A Friend and 50:50 cards, an interaction language card
- An envelope per pair of pupils of 27 numbered question cards, the questions & 4 possible answers on one side, the correct answer on the other
- 2 prop phones
- A bike horn or something to make a loud noise to cut through everyone talking
Once you’ve made the resources, you can use the activity again and again very easily. The only thing you need to change is the envelope of questions. If you make a template of the question cards on your computer, it’s a quick job to type in the questions and answers and copy them on to card.
A couple of tips to make this quicker:
- Make sure your template has 3 question cards across an A4 page (landscape) and 3 down, so 9 in total. If they are lined up right and you set the photocopier to ‘collate’, you only need four swishes through 3 sheets of card on a guillotine to cut up a set of 27 questions.
- If you can, use several different colours of card, one colour for each set of questions. If you find a card on the floor at the end of the activity after you have cleared everything away, it won’t take so long to find which envelope it belongs to.
- To put the answers on the back of each card, you need to type them in reverse order. That is, if you have the questions 1 -2 -3 going left to right across your page, the answers 3 -2 -1 need to go left to right on a page which you will photocopy onto the back of the questions. Take a look at the materials download to see what I mean. If you don’t, you’ll have Answer 2 on the back of Question 2, but you’ll have Answer 3 on the back of Question 1 and Answer 1 on the back of Question 3! If you make this mistake, it will only happen to you once – it’s so irritating you’ll make sure you never do it again! Believe me… Also, if you number the questions and answers, it’s easier to see that you’ve got it right.
- I find it easier to do a template like this and line up the questions and answers on a desktop publisher like Pages (for Mac) or Microsoft Publisher rather than on Word.
I’ll come back to the demonstration of the activity later. Let’s look first at the set-up and how the activity runs.
In each pair of pupils, one plays the question-master, the other the contestant. The cheques and lifelines are set out on the table so both pupils can keep track of where they are up to. As the lifelines are used, they are turned over so it’s clear what they have and haven’t used. The questions are numbered, but that is more for my reference than for the pupils’. It is important that the cards are shuffled because otherwise, everyone will start on number 1 and every contestant will be able to hear what the contestant at the next table is saying. It really kills the game! As the questions are not sequential, it doesn’t matter where they start. The numbers are there so that the questions can be located quickly during the Ask the Audience or Phone a Friend lifelines and after the game if you want to run through the questions with the class quickly. I suggest 27 questions per set (there are 18 on the materials I have attached), even though only 15 are needed. This means that at the end of the game, the questions can be shuffled again, the pupils swap roles and they play again, the pupil of the pair who wins most money being crowned the overall winner. Some of the questions will crop up twice across the two games, but there are enough for both to play without too much overlap or the need for two envelopes of questions. The only thing all will need to be careful of (which they will soon discover) is to cover the back of the card or put the question card on the table so that they don’t just give it away!
The game proceeds in the usual way. When they want to use their lifelines, the 50:50 is easy – the quizmaster pupil just covers up two of the wrong answers.
If they want to Ask the Audience, they signal to me and I stop the class in its tracks using a bike horn to cut through the noise (and if you’ve got the whole class talking, there is going to be quite a bit of noise!). Once everyone is quiet, the quizmaster pupil puts the question to the class and gives the 4 possible answers. Everyone picks up the A/B/C/D card which matches what they think and on a show of hands for each letter, we get a clear view of a majority. We don’t wait to find out which answer the contestant chooses or if they got it right, it’s straight back into pairs and the game continues.
For the Phone A Friend you can either stop the class or let it continue and the two pupils involved shout over the top of everyone else – you decide! In any case, the pupil signals to me and they are given a prop phone. The other prop phone is given to the pupil they want to call. They ask the nominated pupil the question on their card, they give their answer within 30 seconds, and then it’s back into pairs and the game continues. Far from disrupting the game, these little interruptions add to the experience. I’m kept very busy throughout the lesson managing the lifelines, but I don’t have to do much from the front. This is more about the pupils being busy rather than me, as it should be!
In the TV programme, on those rare occasions when someone manages to leg it with a million, the studio explodes with music, tinsel, bright lights and hysteria. I, on the other hand, have a humble, comparatively rather pathetic, box of confetti. But it’s the thought that counts.
And so, to interaction. The game as seen on TV is full of interaction: Who are you and where are you from? Tell us about yourself. How much do you want to win tonight? How much would you need to win to change your life? If you won a million, what would you do with it? Have you ever won anything before? You’re just 15 questions away from winning a million. Is that your final answer? If you’re right, you will have just won £100 000. If you’re wrong, you will have just lost £100 000. [X amount] is safe, you might as well play this question, you’ve got nothing to lose. You had [X amount], you’ve still got [X amount]. You had [X amount], you’ve just won [Y amount]! You’ve still got 3 lifelines. You’ve only got 2 lifelines left. You have no more lifelines. We don’t want to give you that, we want you to win [X amount].
As a bare minimum, every quizmaster pupil will need a Feuille de l’animateur, with the expressions they need. Better still (but not instead), an enormous poster on the wall (leave it there for a term or so) that gradually gets filled in with more and more expressions every time you play. It’s a big mistake (I know, I’ve made it) to give them too many expressions to use. If you do, they probably won’t use any. Better to use no more than 6 and next time add some more, and gradually build them up. Something I’ve done occasionally is to get the contestant to keep a tally of how many times the quizmaster uses a ‘telly sentence’. At the end they are added up and multiplied by €1000. It’s quite funny when the presenter wins more than the contestant!
Whenever they reach €1 000 000, or they choose to stop earlier, or they get a question wrong and they are out of the game, they swap roles.
What about the demonstration? The game itself doesn’t really need any instructions. The good thing about running a game like this is that everyone knows how to play it. The only things we need to make clear are how it’s going to run in our classroom and the need to communicate with each other.
The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to give out everything they need first (except for the questions) and get the game set up, then project a question on the screen that won’t be used in the game they play in pairs. One pupil is dragged to the front to be the contestant and the game is played for up to 3 questions only. The whole class is the question master, prompted by the teacher. Everything the teacher says is echoed exactly by the whole class, including all the interaction language. I make sure the third question is a difficult one and push them to use the 50:50 lifeline, just so I can show how to ask for it and what happens. I say nothing about the other lifelines apart from that if they want to use one, they have to ask me. Then the game can begin and as and when they need to use the other lifelines, I can explain at that point.
On paper (or screen), this looks like a lot to take in, but in practice it’s quite straightforward. It’s worth doing it a few times within a reasonably short period of time so that the class can get the hang of it and then it can be brought out every so often when you need it.
Many thanks again to those who came to my session in Nottingham. As always, the Association for Language Learning Conference is a fantastic event. A particular highlight for me was to attend a lecture on grammar teaching by Ernesto Macaro, someone I’ve waited many years to see after reading his book Target-Language, Collaborative Learning and Autonomy 15 years ago! Now if Michael Gove were to sit down and listen to what Professor Macaro has to say…..