the unnamed activity

This is an activity that is inspired by a blog post write up by @kevchanwow on doing dictogloss/pictogloss summarizing activities with his classes. I’m not sure why Kevin’s post inspired this particular activity, but it inspired nonetheless (as Kevin’s blog is wont to do).

The following also incorporates some ideas I have read/heard/learned about from one Mr. John Fanselow. I’ve added a few elements and twists too, so in the end I guess its not really like anything already named. For that reason I haven’t figured out what to name it. Any thoughts idea on this would be greatly appreciated.


Background Thoughts

Something that is immediately apparent in South Korea is that many students have an immense data bank of vocabulary from which to draw on. It’s also quickly realized that most have little to no ability to implement this vast bank of vocabulary words when speaking, and little understanding when listening.

What I really want my students to do better is to express ideas more completely. I did this by doing the following.


Phase 1

I began by teaching the students the idea of a “comfort zone”. I told them that they had a comfort zone when speaking, and that I wanted them to “step outside of their comfort zone”. I wanted them to use phrases and vocabulary they knew, but rarely if ever used.

photo 1

I had students think of a few phrases that they always rely on when using English.

Some examples are:

Hi/Hello/How are you

I’m fine/OK/so so

nothing special



I’m tired

I’m hungary

that’s too bad

Can I go bathroom?

I had each student share one of their “most common” and the class brainstormed different, but similar, ways to express the meaning of the word/phrase.


Phase 2

Next, I gave each student the following as a handout (as pictured).

I don’t really enjoy watching scary things. If I see something scary the worst, scariest images stay in my head. Sometimes, those pictures remain there for days. I think, it’s much better to see funny things. I can laugh and have positive things to think about and remember afterwards.

I then taught students about sense groups, or the natural pauses in our speech. I demonstrated, with an exaggerated pause, the first sense group. I had the students make a slash every time I paused, even if it was a short pause. Their papers looked like this…

I don’t really enjoy / watching scary things. / If I see something scary / the worst, / scariest images / stay in my head. / Sometimes, / those pictures / remain there for days. / I think, / it’s much better / to see funny things. / I can laugh / and have positive things / to think about and remember afterwards. /


Phase 3

The next step of the process involved students working together to come up with different vocabulary/phrasal options for the sense groups. They worked in pairs or groups of three. The goal was to brainstorm as many alternatives as possible while maintaining the general meaning of the original.

It was difficult at first. The students focused on substituting single words instead of taking a sense group or sentence as a whole idea.

For example, every single group changed the word “scary” in the first sentence to “horrible”. I explained that, yes, scary movies can be horrible, but so can any kind of movie. If they wanted to use “horrible” then they’d have to adjust the sense group/phrase as a whole.

finished product looks like this
finished product looks like this

Once each pair/group was finished with creating the alternatives I instructed them to rewrite the paragraph using the alternatives they thought or liked best. Following this the students read their paragraphs to themselves and marked out the sense groups in the new piece of writing as they saw fit.


Phase 4

At this point I reshuffled the pairs/groups of students so everyone was working with someone new.

I then instructed the pairs/groups that everyone would share their paragraph with their partner(s) one sense group at a time.

The speaker is to read a single sense group once. Then they turn their paper over and count out loud to 5. After they count they speak the sense group, once, as best they could recall. The listener(s) would listen, count out loud to 5, and write what they could recall.

When everyone was finished I had students compare and circle the differences.


Phase 5

After the students had compared and discussed their work for a few minutes I brought everyone back together.

I asked them what they thought of this activity. Everyone immediately said it was difficult. I asked if they thought it was helpful. Immediate head nodding and resounding yes’s. I asked why.

Some answers I got were (general ideas students shared)

We had to focus hard

We used many skills

I see where I make mistakes

We worked together


I have done tasks similar to this before, but never seen such “buy in” from the students. They genuinely seemed to enjoy the brainstorming alternatives challenge. The sense group recitation was fairly taxing for them, but there was real happiness after realizing what they could do.

One challenge to doing this is making sure my directions are complete, concise and clear. In the past it took half of the activity to get the students working in the correct way.

In addition, a large part of my previous troubles stemmed from my inability to help students understand the aims of this task.

This task aims to help students recognize that understanding the idea being conveyed is as important (or more so) than hearing and understanding each word perfectly.

I had students look at the words/phrases they circled for being different. Once they saw that, for the most part, they understood the ideas being conveyed (even if their spelling was off or they were missing articles/prepositions) they were quite satisfied.

If I were to do this again I think I would spend a bit more time on helping students brainstorm, as a class, before pairing them off and sending them on their way. I would definitely spend more time on creating the write up, which I think is pretty poor.

All in all though, I think it went down quite well. It covered a lot of bases. It demanded the students utilize all 4 skills, work together, step outside their comfort zone and gave the students a fair bit more confidence that they have the tools necessary to successfully communicate.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s