I suppose every teacher has their favourite type of activity. I’m really into information gap activities, i.e. activities which require students to speak and work with their classmates to obtain the missing information. And once they’ve acquired the information from their classmates, they can fill the “gap” and complete the task or activity. During these activities, students need to communicate clearly in order to successfully complete the given task.
Most of my classes work best if you get them to work in pairs or groups. An otherwise reticent group will turn into a chatterbox once I ask them to discuss, compare and share in pairs. Some coursebooks have ready-made information gap activities. To give an example, Student A must read a text on page x, while Student B turns to a different page to read another text on the same/related topic. Then they share what they’ve learned. But I mostly design these activities myself. The good news is that practically any exercise or task can be transformed into an information-gap activity.
Below are just a few examples I’ve recently used.
Pictures: I ask Student A to look at a picture for 30 seconds. Student B looks at a different picture on a different page. They close books and describe the pictures from memory. Then they can contrast both pictures without actually looking at them. Students look for the common theme and other similarities, as well as for differences. This can be a springboard for the topic you’d like to focus on in the lesson.
Gap-fills: I like to create two versions of a gap-fill, i.e. I use the same text but omit different words for Student A and different words for Student B. They work individually first and then they share their answers. If they are unsure about an answer, their partner helps them by describing the missing word.
Student A: They work 1 _____________ first and then they share their answers.
Student B: They work individually first and then they 1 _____________ their answers.
Keys: Students complete two run-of-the-mill exercises. When they finish, I give Student A the key to Student B’s exercise and vice versa. They check answers by sharing the keys. This is a time-saver and it’s much more interactive than sharing it as a whole class. Your only task is to monitor.
Half-a-crossword: This is by far the most favourite activity of mine. As the title suggests, you create a crossword where Student A has some words while the others are missing and Student B has the ones Student A needs. The task is to complete the whole crossword by exchanging the information.
A variation on running dictation: Each student picks a certain number of words from a list/text. They write them on a piece of paper. Alternatively, you can ask them to choose a longer sentence, e.g. from a coursebook text, or you can dictate one. Student A stands opposite their partner, a few meters apart. Student A remembers the first word from the list/sentence and runs to their partner. They describe the word and when Student B guesses it, they write it down. Student A runs for another word. When they are done with their list/sentence, they swap roles. The task is complete when both students have written the whole list/sentence. This could be done with pictures as well (see Activity 1).
Drawing: Find some suitable paintings/visuals on the internet. For example, like me, you can google the most famous paintings of all time (our topic was ART). Show one of them on the screen. Student A faces the screen and describes the picture to their partner who can’t see it. After a certain amount of time, they stop, look and compare their drawing to the original painting. Then they change roles. To make it more interesting and fun, before they can look at the original, they compare their drawings with other students’ creations. You can later set up an art exhibition (if students don’t mind displaying their products).
These are only a few examples of information-gap activities. The list is endless. And as I mentioned above, any task can be designed as an activity where students simply need to make a little bit more effort than usual to complete it, which, I believe, is something we should always strive for.