You shouldn’t be in the dark when you’re making a new activity for class. All experienced teachers have come into a lesson with an activity they thought would kill only to have it completely bomb.
These guidelines should direct your approach to activity writing so that you get better results in less time. My previous article “Building Up To Fluency | 1 | Types of ESL exercises: P1, P2, P3, Production” describes the classification of ESL activities I will be using.
P1 Level Activities
(fill in the blanks, make the sentences/questions…)
Our goal at P1 is to build the student’s confidence that the patterns we are instilling in them are accurate. If they start to feel doubt in that area, they won’t trust the patterns and will be much slower in moving towards fluency.
Therefore, a good P1 activity:
- is possible for weak and strong students at that level
- reinforces the patterns and rules established in previous exposure to material
- does not present contradictions to what has been covered!
If there are general contexts in which the target language is used, you have an opportunity to point to them in your P1 activity. For example, 1st conditional (and Future Time Clauses) can be used to threaten, promise, negotiate, and plan. Focusing on one or more concrete context will connect the form more directly to the real-life situations that make the language interesting and useful.
Therefore, a great P1 activity also:
- is fun, funny or interesting
- presents another context in which to use the target language.
These two points are not absolutely necessary. They help tremendously. Your stronger students will remain interested if the activity has these qualities, thus helping you maintain their interest all while giving the weaker students more time to build confidence!
P2 Level Activities
(card races, reaction games…)
A P2 activity is designed to develop quick time response in the students. If students are weaker, build up will be necessary. For example, if you have a card race, you can allow the students to go through the activity slowly before timing them. We want to build and test confidence with the target language, and pushing too early can severely hinder that process!
Keeping the students’ minds off of the name of the target language or the Meta language is essential in this step of the learning. If they focus too much on the form itself, they will be unable to fully automate the form in their heads! Competition with themselves or other students is the best distraction!
Therefore, a good P2 activity:
- allows for build up
- provides distraction
- repeats the form of the target language without requiring specific context.
In a well-built lesson, weaker students should be on an equal footing with strong students when it comes to using the new target language. Thus, any time or reaction game should occur on a level playing field.
Therefore, a great P2 activity also:
- allows students to compete against each other and against themselves
- provides obvious feedback and improvement
- allows weaker students to keep up with stronger students!
You should also praise students based on visible improvement to help build and test confidence.
P3 Level Activities
(short dialogues, roleplays…)
Confidence in the new target language, its structure and basic form, have now been developed. It’s time to provide more real-life context to practise the target language. It is essential once again that provide a step-by-step build up so a P3 activity must focus specifically on the target language at hand.
Therefore, a good P3 activity:
- makes obvious the requirement for the target language you are practising
- gives limited freedom to students to respond, but does not ask them to go further
- has some level of back-and-forth between students
We want to keep the weaker and stronger students at a level playing ground. Again, we want to distract the students from the target language and keep them interested and involved.
Therefore, a great P3 activity also:
- has a fun, interesting context
- involves emotion from the students (excitement, anger, laughter…all good results!)
At this point, students are ready to deal with a broader real-life situation and experiement more with the language.
Production Level Activities
The goal is for the students to resolve a real-life situation using all the language tools they’ve mastered. With a good build up of P1, P2, P3, your students are now confident in the form and use of the new target language. They’ve drilled it so that they will use the new target language naturally and confidently with all their other skills if the right context comes along.
Therefore, a good production activity involves one of the following:
Involving these elements creates a requirement for communication. Otherwise, there is no purpose or aim, and the conversation won’t really go anywhere.
To make a good production activity, answer there questions:
- What target language do I want to include?
- In what situations would you use this sort of language? It’s helpful to come at these questions with a relationship in mind. Here are some you can mull over: roomates, business partners, friends, teacher/student, parent/teacher, parent/child, neighbors, babysitter/child, babysitter/parent, customer/some sort of business…
- What cooperation/conflict/compromise can you put together for that relationship?
You can then start devising your production activity around that!
Whether you actually write your own activities or you select them from a database, these simple guidelines will help you devise the perfect lesson plan for your students. Remain true to the E. A. T. Principle (Establish Structure and Basic Logic, Automate, Test Instincts) and your students will develop fluency every step of the way.