For any extended free writing activity to be a successful experience, there are two basic requirements: that the pupils know the necessary vocabulary and that the grammatical demands of the activity are within their reach. Whatever else may be needed, there is no way anyone will benefit (pupil or teacher) unless these two basics are in place. So let’s have a look at some techniques for helping pupils to learn vocabulary and become increasingly familiar with the written form in a visual, auditory and kinaesthetic way.
You need a pack of Post-It notes, 5 dictionaries and a vocab list for each pupil, a visualiser sheet, or powerpoint slide with about 25 parts of the body listed. I use: hair, head, ear, eyebrow, forehead, nose, cheek, mouth, chin, neck, throat, shoulder, back, chest, arm, elbow, forearm, wrist, hand, thumb, finger, palm, stomach, hip, thigh, knee, shin, ankle, foot, sole, heel.
I run this activity (along with the rest of the Healthy Living unit) in the spring term of Year 8, where pupils have entered the school at Year 7. (In a couple of schools where I taught there was a middle school system in the town and they started in secondary at Year 8. In those schools, I ran the unit in Year 9. For non-UK readers Year 7 is 11-12 years old). From the beginning of Year 7 they have played Simon Says as a warm-up activity, which has at least 5 stages of progression. (You can see a fully detailed demonstration and explanation of the game and all its stages in Volume 1 in the All Aboard! All Abroad! series. Click here if you’d like to know more).
So by this point, they know many parts of the body, but not all, and they won’t have seen many of them written down. This activity will put that straight.
Assuming you’ve got a class of 30, divide the class into 5 groups of 6 and give each group enough Post-Its to be able to write down all the vocabulary with one word per Post-It. Number round the groups so everyone has a number from 1-6. All the number 1s in the class copy down the first 5 nouns, all the number 2s write the next 5, and so on. It won’t take them long if they do it, but it will save you ages in preparation. I usually insist on all masculine nouns being written in blue, all the feminine ones in red. Visual learners can find this very helpful. Don’t clarify any vocabulary they are not sure of – finding out is all part of the activity.
With the Post-Its written, we’re ready to start. Get the 5 groups standing up in lines, one pupil behind another, all facing the front. You’ll need a volunteer from each group to stand at the front of the room facing their team, leaving a good couple of metres between them and the rest of their group. They don’t know what they’re volunteering for yet, don’t tell them! It’s much funnier when the realisation dawns later…. Each team puts their Post-It notes in a pile at the back of the room on the floor or a table, in line with the group, and a dictionary next to their Post-Its. As the game gets started, the pupil at the back of the line will pick up a Post-It, read it (if they don’t understand the word on the Post-It, they look it up in the dictionary immediately) and then pass it to the next person in their line and saying the word. The person they pass it to has to point to the appropriate part of the body, take the Post-It once they’ve got it right and pass it on to the next person, doing exactly the same thing. When the Post-It reaches the 5th person at the front of the line, this person goes and sticks it on the volunteer from their team at the front (the 6th person of the group) on the correct part of their body. And so the game continues until all the Post-Its have been passed down the line and the poor unsuspecting student at the front has been thoroughly covered in sticky labels. Once they have finished, they may approach the gift-wrapped student and rearrange any Post-Its which may suggest that someone in the group does not know their arm from their elbow, until all the groups have finished sticking. At this point, everyone stands back and I count how many Post-Its each pupil is ‘wearing’ correctly. Whichever team has most is the winner.
A couple of points that help to make it all work:
- The 5th person (the one at the front) goes to the back of the line after they have stuck their Post-It on their teammate and everyone moves up a bit. This 5th person has now become the 1st person in the line and is the one who picks up the next Post-It from the table. In this way, everyone gets a chance to stick one on their teammate. Gently, of course.
- Explain at the start that they must stay in line and only one Post-It may be in play at any one time. They are not allowed to take another Post-It before the previous one has been ‘delivered’ at the front.
- Everyone must say the vocabulary and point to the correct part of the body – this can easily drop out of play when the class gets a bit excited and wants to be first to finish.
- As a penalty for any rule-breaking, you can take a couple of Post-Its off the volunteer from the front and return them to the table at the back of the room.
- I usually put some fun, pacy music on while the activity is running.
The whole thing from start to finish takes me about 25 minutes in the lesson.
After this, I give them all a picture of a cartoon person on an A5 sheet to stick in their books with the arrows drawn in pointing to all of the parts of the body referred to in the game. As a homework, they label all the parts of the body, first from memory, then checking with a dictionary. When the homework is set up, I do a quick reminder about parts of speech and their abbreviations in the dictionary (I want to see ‘brazo’ for arm, not ‘armar’). Before they hand it in, I hand the dictionaries out and they do a last check (for some it will be the first check, of course!). In this last check, I want them to look in the foreign language section, not the English section of their dictionaries – they may get a surprise.
One last thing, yes, Post-Its can fall off. Better that than doing what I did the first time I ran this activity and use sticky labels. Getting the label off a jumper was easy. Getting it off their hair, well, ……….