This is a quick post to share a grammar activity I did with my B1 students earlier today. The main focus of the lesson was reported speech, which, along with the present perfect tense, is one of the trickiest aspects of English grammar for Czech learners. I think that the reason why we don’t quite get reported speech is that it works differently in our mother tongue. When we say: I’m tired… the reported version is She said she is tired…. (not she was tired). It takes a lot of practice until it all eventually sinks in. I keep drawing graphs and doodles until my students finally reach the aha moment: Oh, I see! It is easy indeed.
Anyway, at the beginning of the activity, I changed the seating arrangement from horseshoe to circle. Then I asked each student to make up a sentence. It could be any personalized statement; the only restriction was the tense, i.e. I gave everybody a specific grammar tense to stick to (this was to make sure that the students would come across a variety of grammar structures). So Student 1 had to make a statement in the present simple, for example, Student 2 in the present continuous, Student 3 had to use a modal verb, etc. I handed out blank A4 sheets of paper. Each student wrote their sentence at the top of the page.
Student 1 then sent their sheet of paper with the sentence to Student 2 (S2 to S3, S3 to S4, and so on). Student 2 read Student 1’s sentence and wrote the reported version at the very bottom of the page. Then the same student (Student 2) folded the paper back so that Student 3 couldn’t see what Student 2 had previously written. So throughout the activity, everybody could only see the original statement. This went on until the original sheet came back to its author. The authors then unfolded (unrolled) the sheets and saw how the other students reported their statements.
So far, so good – an ordinary grammar exercise, you might say. But then I asked the authors of the original statements to give a brief feedback; they were supposed to read their original sentences, the correct versions of the reported statement plus share a couple of observations, e.g. how many students had made a mistake in their sentence, what the most common mistakes were, etc.
I believe students benefited from the activity for several reasons.
- The activity was personalized and student-centred; by making their own statements, the students were partly responsible for the content of the exercise.
- Apart from practising a variety of structures during the writing stage, everybody got some extra practice through the analysis of other people’s answers. Thus, each student’s attention was drawn to issues they might otherwise not have zoomed in on.
- Also, a few problematic aspects of reported speech we hadn’t considered/covered in the previous lessons emerged along the way (because unlike an exercise from a coursebook, the content as well as the outcome of the activity was unpredictable).
- The feedback was anonymous, i.e. nobody pointed at a specific student saying that it was his/her mistake.
- Finally, I believe that due to all the factors above, at least some aspects of reported speech will be more memorable.