When I first thought about this goal I couldn’t think of anything huge, interesting or innovative to write about. So I discarded the idea to reflect on this topic and went on with my usual daily routine. But then something made me come back to the idea. Ironically, the fact that I’ve eventually come back to the idea of writing a post about revisiting an idea means that I’ve actually revisited an idea.
This wordplay brings me to another point: teaching itself is all about revising ideas. Don’t we revisit ideas every day? Don’t we try to reinvent the wheel all along the line? I think we do. We revisit our own ideas but we also get inspired by fellow teachers and our students. It happens on a daily basis that a student calls out: “Wow, I loved this game. Please, teacher, can we play it again next time?” At that moment, based on the student’s wish, I decide to revisit an idea. Even if I feel my students were bored and felt discouraged during an activity, I don’t give up. I’m not afraid to revisit the idea, although next time I get rid of what was redundant, replace what went wrong and improve what was mediocre.
The funniest thing about teaching is that revisiting a wonderful idea will not always guarantee an excellent outcome. Of course, it’s highly probable that a great activity will work as well as it did last time, or even better. However, it can well be a total disaster. One never knows in teaching. And this is what I love about my job – the prospect of insecure results, the challenge, the need to create, revisit, change, improve … Nothing ever happens exactly the same way it happened last time, not even with the same classes.
Enough of theory, I’d like to share an activity which I think worked really well with one of my classes of 13-year-olds. Chinese Whispers is nothing new under the sun – I didn’t invent it and I’ve done it many times in many variations. I love this game because it can be easily adjusted for students to practise various language areas. I especially like it when it’s linked to grammar and translation practice. Grammar exercises are notoriously unpopular with students. Why not make them fun?
- Choose a picture in your coursebook you need to focus on (I chose one focusing on comparatives/superlatives and clothes items).
- As a preparation stage, ask Ss to look at the picture for a while. Ask a few questions to make sure everybody has seen all the details.
- Ask Ss to close their books. Their task is to say as many sentences about the picture as possible from memory. They work in pairs and take turns. They get one point for each sentence. Go around the class and monitor.
- Divide the class into two teams (this works best with a class of up to 16 students) and ask them to stand in two rows with one person from each team standing at the board.
- The first person from each team gets an A4 piece of paper and a pen. They invent a sentence about the picture and whisper it the next person in their team. This person then sends the message further on.
- Meanwhile, the person who’s invented the sentence must write it on the paper.
- The last person to receive the message writes the sentence on the board.
- The sentence on the board is then checked against the one on the paper.
- Each team can always score two points; they get one point if the sentence on the paper is identical with the one on the board and one point if the sentence is grammatically correct.
- They change roles after each round (the writer becomes the inventor, the inventor becomes a whisperer, the whisperer becomes the writer, etc.)
- If the students tend to make very short sentences to avoid mistakes, you can resolve this by giving them one point for every correct word in the sentence (the longer the sentence, the more points).
This activity works particularly well with younger learners because of the game element. Everybody is involved; some students practise listening and speaking (especially pronunciation – they must be understood to succeed), while others practise writing, spelling and grammar. The best part about this game is that the students invent their own sentences. They are not forced to use some complicated grammatical structures, so the activity perfectly suits their level. The more advanced the learners are, the more complex structures they’ll use, but this will happen quite naturally. The language will simply emerge as they play.
Next time I revisit this idea, it will probably be slightly different. I’ll be working in a different classroom and/or with different students, and by that time I’ll have changed a little as well. If you decide to try this activity, it will never be the same either because you are not the same. Our lives and everything we do are truly unique. So revisit ideas, reinvent the wheel and keep changing.