Jigsaw activities

June has been challenging but exciting at the same time. I’ve finally been able to work with my students face-to-face and full time, which is the exciting part. The challenging part though is that we’ve been in the middle of a heatwave and since summer holidays are slowly approaching, it’s harder and harder to keep up the ‘serious‘ classroom work. In other words, lately, it’s been a challenge to find suitable materials for the final revision which would be a) meaningful and b) fun. Now, without trying to toot my own horn, I must say that over the past couple of weeks, this very blog has proved to be one of the handiest places to turn to whenever I needed inspiration. After a long period of time passivity, I caught myself frantically searching the site for some speaking activities I remembered from the good old times. I mainly needed to dust off the rules and instructions I had already forgotten. And I was pleasantly surprised how valuable this teaching journal actually is in this respect.

In the meantime, full of energy and enthusiasm, I kept inventing new activities as well. I’ve discovered that jigsaw and information-gap activities work really well in my teaching context these days. I don’t know if it’s because the students, after a long time of self-isolation, crave cooperation and collaboration, or because it is me who likes to see my students fully immersed in an activity, communicating and negotiating in the target language.

Today, I’d like to share a couple of activities that worked really well. I’m doing so for half selfish reasons – because some people out there might find this entry useful but also, I realize my future self might find it handy too.

General Knowledge Quiz (45 minutes):

I googled about 60 interesting general knowledge questions with answers. They were challenging enough to pique my students’ interest but adjusted to their current level. The students worked in pairs. Each student got the same handout. However, Student A got questions 1-30 with answers and questions 31-60 without answers. Student B, on the other hand, got questions 1-30 without answers and questions 31-60 with answers. Students took turns. Student A asked question number 1. If Student B knew the answer right away (this was possible but quite unlikely) – he or she got two points. If Student B didn’t know the answer, they could ask their partner for help.

At this point, Student A had to offer 3 options (one of which was the correct answer). If Student B guessed correctly, they got one point. Then it was Student B’s turn to ask a question 31.

Example: What’s the highest mountain in the world? Correct answer: Mount Everest (Student A had to come up with two more mountains, e.g. Mount Elbrus and Mont Blanc). 

In case you are wondering, yes, I could have provided the students with the three options right away but it turned out that the fact that the students had to come up with 3 plausible options was the most interesting and fun part. This way, in my opinion, the students were more engaged. In other words, the felt like they own the activity since they were partially responsible for the content.

Crossword – across vs down (45 minutes)

I went to an online crossword generator and created a large crossword in which I used words and their definitions we had covered over the past few months. Each student got a handout with an identical blank crossword. Student A got the clues for the across words (on a separate handout) while Student B only got the down clues. First, they worked individually on their part of the crossword. When they both finished, Student A provided the clues for the across words they had come up with (without looking at the original clues) and Student B provided the clues for the down words. So, in stage 2, the students had to create the definitions off the top of their heads – in their own words. Sometimes, the students came across a problem, e.g. a word did not fit in, so they had to figure it out together. For example, this happened in situations when two or more synonymous words could be used for a particular clue. Eventually, the whole crossword was complete and the teacher was happy. 🙂

In conclusion, the first activity is well-suited for heterogenous groups, i.e groups which don’t necessarily have the same learning backgroud. There is no particular grammar or vocabulary area you are focusing on. Its main aim is to generate discussion, creativity and collaboration. It’s fun and competitive too. The second activity is great for revision of specific vocabulary areas.

Here’s another set of activities I wrote about some time ago here on my blog.

This person flies an aeroplane.
This person helps people to look after their teeth.
This is a TV programme that makes you laugh.
This happens when the ground shakes and buildings collapse.
This is an event with lots of dancing and singing in the street.
This is a big house. The queen lives here.
This is a place where you can watch boats coming and going.
If you stand on your feet all day, it’s very …
You can see shows and plays here.
This person greets people when they first come into an office.
This person looks after cows and other animals.
You wear these to cover your lower body. They are dark blue and very strong.
You wear them in winter to keep your feet warm and dry.
It’s a large open space in a town, with buildings around.
You wear them on your feet, inside your shoes.
It’s like a jacket. It’s very soft and warm, and it has a part to cover your head.
You wear it over your clothes when it’s very cold outside.
You can see famous paintings here.
You can see animals there, such as tigers and monkeys.
If your jobs involves a lot of repetition, it is ….
Men wear one around their necks when they go to work.
This happens when there is no rain for a long period of time.
You wear these to cover your hands when the weather is cold.
This is a place where you can buy local goods. It’s outside.
This person cuts people’s hair.
You go there if you want to hear your favourite band playing.
This person writes computer software.
You wear these on your feet when you run or exercise.
This happens when water covers the ground in places when it’s usually dry.
This is a TV programme that includes singing and dancing.


Embracing uncertainty

OK. It’s been a week since I wrote my last post and I must say things have changed a lot. Well, actually, things haven’t changed at all, at least not to the better. Still, I feel my perspective has shifted a great deal.

It’s unbelievable how flexible a human being can be, especially in times of despair. People can bear a lot of load. And the more of it they carry, the lighter the burden from previous days seems in comparison to what they are struggling with at the minute.

The teaching and learning conditions at schools here in the Czech Republic (and I dare say in the rest of the world) are nothing like they used to be, say, a year ago. Apart from the physical changes (masks, disinfectants, social distancing), there are some mental obstacles we need to tackle on a daily basis. At the back of our minds, there is this omnipresent fear of something we don’t quite understand. And that’s a hell of a load.

Yet, we are getting used to the invisible enemy. At least I am.

Last week, the weather was splendid. It was as if Mother Nature wanted to make up for the mess people find themselves in right now. So it was possible to have some lessons outdoors (where no masks are needed). For example, a group of my senior students did a project about their hometown – Šternberk. I split the group into pairs and each pair worked on a different topic. Their task was to find information about some of the places of interests found in the vicinity of our school. Then we wandered around and pretended to be tour guides, meaning each pair presented their findings to the rest of the group in English. Whenever possible, they presented the information on the spot, e.g. when talking about the castle, we were literally standing in front of the sight, Later, they wrote their parts up and sent me the electronic versions so that everybody had the the whole compilation at their disposal for their final exams.

Other group did some ‘outdoor’ collaborative writing. The students were working in pairs, lying on the grass or sitting around in the sun. One group wrote a story starting When I was seven years old … The story was supposed to be written in the past tense (which was the focus of the lesson) and it had to include a moral or an interesting twist. Another group wrote collaborative essays on the topic My future is in my hands? (the question mark is important here). Again, the lesson was based around the topic of future, which we had talked about in the previous lessons. All the stories were finally written up in an electronic version for me to see before the students will present their work in class next week.

Learning outdoors is fun and honestly, it’s great to have a change of scene. However, there are some pitfalls to it too. Firstly, it can get a bit noisy from the traffic. Also, not all students are disciplined enough to be able to concentrate on the given task – there are way too many distractions. Finally, outdoor teaching is not suitable for all types of activities. In fact, unless you have a fully equipped outdoor classroom, it’s something that definitely spices up the time spent at school but it’s just a temporary measure. Not to mention the most important thing – the weather must be nice.

Today is Friday and we are not at school. In an attempt to improve the epidemic situation, The Ministry of Health advised us to stay at home till Tuesday, which is a bank holiday in the Czech Republic. Well, we’ll see what the future holds for us. Hopefully, we’ll be back at school on Tuesday, teaching face to face. Otherwise, hello, online teaching!