This post was originally written on ptec blog a few years ago, so some of the readers may remember it. Re-Blogging (manually) because my friend and colleague reminded about it today 🙂
The idea for this post came from one classroom activity I am not a fan of (but quite often I see it being used by teachers in class). The instruction for the activity begins with the words ‘Make a Sentence…’ and the continuation can vary. Some examples I can think of right now include:
Make a Sentence…
- … using these words (with a list from the target vocabulary for the unit/topic)
- … choosing 3-5 words from the word list in a course book (the number may vary)
- … using the Present Progressive Tense (the grammar point may vary)
- … to make another go in a board game (the game may vary — tic-tac toe, hangman, etc.)
- … using at least 2 adjectives from the list (the part of speech may vary)
- … to continue/complete a story your partner started (orally or in writing)
- …(can you make the list longer?)
I looked at the activities above and made another list of what they all (might) have in common:
- each activity asks students to come up with their own sentences (even though some scaffolding or support is provided), as opposed to activities where all the words are given (in the wrong order, with a mistake, etc.)
- there is no context for the sentences provided
- no communicative purpose, or reason to make that sentence (only ‘classroom’ use, so to say)
- the form is more important than meaning (because we have never specified what or who the sentences need to be about; also, because the instruction itself focuses on a form of a sentence rather than communication or meaning — we clearly focus on grammar more than anything else)
- (do you notice anything else?)
My next thinking step was to brainstorm some variations to make the same activities more meaningful/purposeful:
- make a true sentence about yourself (using certain words, or grammar structures, etc.)
- make a true sentence about someone else in the room (peers, teacher), or about something in the room/school, etc.
- make two sentences about yourself – one true, one false – and let the others guess which is which
- make a sentence as if said or written by a celebrity (insert the name(s) the learners know)
- make a sentence as if said or written by a character from the text the students were reading
- (again, can you make this list longer?)
Note: we can use various patters/techniques for those activities, such as ‘think-pair-share’, or race/competition, or running/shouting dictation, or mingle/cocktail sharing, or a board game, etc.
Some Other Ideas (even more communicative/meaningful/purposeful, etc.)
- write your own bio in 1-2 sentences
- choose a peer and create a bio for him/her (in 1-2 sentences)
- create a mission statement for your own company (1 sentence)
- write a tagline for your own/your peer’s private blog
- what is your sentence of the day/week/month/school term/year?
- choose a sentence from a fiction text and learn it by heart
- ‘distill your life into a single sentence (what it’s about, why you’re here)’ — and video yourself, as suggested by Dan Pink.
- ‘very short stories‘ (it does not even have to be a sentence to be a meaningful piece of writing!) Thank you Ljiljana Havran for sharing this idea in her post.
Final questions and thoughts
- What (else) do you do with sentences in your lessons?
- Is there any other useful resource you use (with students or teachers) that encourages creativity with sentence structure?
- Have you already read or written a post on a similar topic? Please add a link!
Thank you for reading! 🙂
I am totally with you Zhenya thinking about this task. I also see it a lot in different classrooms, and my thoughts are very similar to yours: this task does not have any meaningful context or aim, and the focus is on form, not on any meaning.
Thanks a lot for suggesting the ways to make it more meaningful. I love them!
Trying to play the Devil’s Advocate game: don’t some of them lose the focus on the form? Teachers give this task to help Ss practice a certain structure or form, don’t they? I guess this is where Teacher’s creativity is needed: we have to find the way to give Ss a meaningful task and still help them practice a certain form.
Thank you Andriy for reading and commenting! Wow, I love your question (reminds me of John F. Fanselow’s encouragement to think about the opposite idea and check what could be true about it)
I agree that teacher creativity and support is needed to ensure there is a balance (of meaning, usage and form) and that accuracy and fluency are both addressed. I would not, however, sacrifice meaning to just help students say accurate structures. The key part (to me) is that the sentences are true, real, ‘live’, so to say.
Great conversation, thank you for it!
P.S. and if you have more ideas/alternatives/variations, please add. Let the game continue! 🙂