How to engage people new to English

How to engage people new to English

On the back of the previous blog entry identifying icebreaker activities as a means of putting learners at ease, enabling them to be more open to participation in research based activities, I thought it might be useful to identify a range of warmer activities I have found to be productive and fun.

Human bingo is a really nice activity if there is time to prepare a resource ahead of time and especially when the group is newly formed. It’s helpful for this activity to have at least a vague idea of learner ability levels ahead of attending sessions to enable the facilitator to make adaptations. It can also be adapted to cover specific topics (e.g. body parts, parts of speech, tenses) to complement topics learner groups have been focusing on within their classes. There are many example templates online but I like to create my own to personalise it to specific groups, ensuring that vocabulary is not too far beyond learner comprehension levels whilst still stretching & challenging the skills and knowledge of the learner group.

Categories is another lovely activity. This one requires very little preparation ahead of time and all learners can participate to some extent.  The only requirements are a whiteboard and markers. The facilitator marks out 10 boxes on the board, in 2 rows of 5. The first row is to record the categories. I like to use simple categories, (e.g. animals, food, sport, jobs, parts of the body) but it can be adapted to include more difficult categories to suit more advanced learners. The learner group then choose a letter of the alphabet and members of the group take turns to identify words in these categories beginning with the chosen letter. If a word cannot be identified beginning with the letter, then it can be a word containing the letter. It can be an opportunity to help learners notice that some letters have more than one sound and identify patterns between spellings and sounds.  It’s fun too if learners are encouraged to come up to the board and spell the words out themselves, encouraging peer co-operation if any mistakes with spelling or pronunciation are identified. The activity can be expanded to incorporate using the word in a sentence and then work can be expanded to cover sentence grammar too.

Word ladder is always a firm favourite with learners. This again requires minimal preparation. I like to separate learner groups into 2 teams to add a friendly competitive element to the proceedings, where there is the luxury of having a second whiteboard in the classroom, although this activity can also be undertaken using good old pen and paper. The facilitator makes a ladder with ten spaces between the rungs (or however many, depending on the time you have allotted), the facilitator models what to do, eliciting from learners the longest English word they can think of (that they are also confident at spelling). The word is recorded and the last letter of this word forms the first letter of the next word moving up the ladder. Teams are asked to check their spellings at the end. The team with the most correctly spelled words wins. You can also introduce a Maths element to this game by asking learners to count up all the letters in each word and adding them up to make a total. The whole group comes back together and the teams mark/correct the other teams spelling, also discussing the meaning of the target language. If there are any errors in spelling, teams lose all of the letter points for that word so subtraction is worked into the activity. These activities are great for ESOL groups but could also be adapted and work well for any learner groups or team building exercise.

Lisa Mckeon
English Language Service Assessor