Activities allow the students to practice newly learned language and skills, and they appear anywhere within a lesson. For the activities to run smoothly and effectively, the teacher should consider several points because valuable class time may be wasted. For example, students may be slow to start the activity, perhaps talking in their L1 to confirm what to do. Or, even worse, the teacher may need to stop the activity in order to re-explain the steps, which happens when part of the class misunderstood the explanation and begins the activity incorrectly.
Some critical questions to set up activities include:
- How clearly has the teacher explained the steps of the activity?
- How has the teacher supported the explanation?
- Do all of the students know precisely what to do and how to do it?
- What are the students working towards in the activity?
- How has the teacher checked that students fully understand the steps and end goal?
For activities to run without any (or fewer) problems, the teacher should consider the five points below. Not all need to be incorporated when setting up activities, and the teacher should decide which points are most needed.
1: The teacher explains clearly and concisely. He should also speak somewhat slower than the level of the class. The purpose isn't to demonstrate real language, which may warrant quicker, more natural speaking. Natural speech can be presented elsewhere in the class, or even before, after, or at the break (if there is one). Here the teacher wants to ensure that the whole class fully understands how to successfully conduct the activity.
The teacher also frames the instructions with the imperative mood, especially with lower-level students. Sequencing adverbs ("first," "next," "then," and so on) clearly outline each step of the instructions. Of the five ideas, this is the most important.
2: Limit the instructions to the immediate task at hand. If an activity has several steps, the teacher should explain only the first step. After students complete the first step, then the teacher explains the second step. This limits the amount of information students need to process. It also limits the amount of information students need to remember, which is especially important with lengthy, multi-step activities. It's a bit unrealistic for everyone to remember all the instructions given at the start, especially when the activity may run for ten, fifteen, or even twenty minutes.
However, if action or information in one step is directly applied to a subsequent step, then the teacher should provide that information. Students need to know the purpose of what they are working towards. For example, if students are expected to quickly read a short article (step one) and then summarize it with a partner (step two), the teacher explains both steps because the class needs to focus their reading and remember the key information.
3: It's a good idea to model the activity in order to provide clarity. The teacher can do part of an activity with a student, which then allows everyone to understand the activity. If the students were to use flashcards for a substitution drill, for example, the teacher should partner with a student and run through the activity once or twice. He holds up a flashcard, his partner provides an example sentence with the vocabulary on the card, and the two switch roles and repeat. The student now holds up a flashcard for the teacher, who provides an example sentence. The class now has a model of the activity to go along with any oral and/or written instructions.
It's important that the teacher select a stronger student for the demonstration. The teacher wants to quickly and clearly demonstrate the activity, after all. What's more, the student may be embarrassed if he can't understand what to do or if he makes many mistakes with the target language.
...the teacher should explain clearly and concisely
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4: Comprehension questions help confirm for the teacher that everyone understands the steps of the activity. After the teacher explains what needs to be done, he can ask such questions as, "What do we do first?" and "What do we do next? Why?" and so on. If there is an incorrect answer, or if students take a long time in providing the answer, then a clearer explanation and/or demonstration may be needed.
5: Visual aids or references greatly help too. The teacher can write the steps on the board, for example. He can provide sentences needed for the activity on the board as well, in which case he will also want to drill them aloud with the class. Let's say that in a class of beginners, students don't know how to ask a partner to repeat a question. The teacher therefore writes "Excuse me, can you repeat that?" on the board, explains the meaning, and choral drills it with the class a few times. Students now have a communicative tool needed for the success of the activity.
In conclusion, it's always important to maximize the time in a lesson. With the objective of the lesson and various activities or worksheets carefully considered in the planning stages of the lesson, equal consideration should also be given to how the teacher sets up activities. If the teacher hasn't covered the above points, then the activity could fail.