This school year marks the first time I have had the opportunity to work with younger students on a 1-2-1 basis. My kids are 11 and 12, hence the tween label. In this series of posts, I would like to describe several activities that have worked particularly well during our classes (90 mins once a week). Here, you can read about my favourite speaking activity.
You might have read how I prepared for my first 1-2-1 class with one of my students and remember I approached this new teaching experience quite apprehensively. I am happy to say my “kids classes” have become one of my favourite parts of the week (now here’s the sentence I’ve never thought I would say!).
I realise it is largely due to the fact that I might be privileged: I face virtually no discipline issues, I need to focus on one student only, and I have absolute freedom in designing my curriculum and choosing resources. This means I am also free to experiment with ideas and activities I have never tried with my younger students before, mostly sticking to a staple diet consisting of a mix of the coursebook, read-made, run-of-the-mill board games, and fill-in the gaps song lyrics worksheets. There is one principle behind each activity described here: since it is used during a 1-2-1 class, the focus is mainly on the student’s life (real or imaginary!) likes, dislikes, wishes, favourites, and interests, so the topics might not align with what is found in coursebooks and the language used might not reflect any particular word lists or glossaries. Below, you can read about the first new addition to the weekly menu.
Speaking: Speech bubbles dialogues
Why: My students are old enough to have a longer, meaningful conversation but at the same they are absolutely not used to conversing in English and giving more elaborate answers to open questions. I thought that an unusual packaging of these conversations would make my students feel less on the spot and I first prepared some paper speech bubbles which were soon replaced with these cool magnets. My students told me that these board chats remind them of using WhatsApp, only in English, which I take as a compliment and confirmation that they do feel comfortable talking to their teacher about whatever,
What: Start by drawing your faces on the board / piece of paper. There is a twist here as you can tell your student to draw either their own face or any face (somebody famous, somebody who doesn’t exist, a face your student knows how to draw in a cool way etc.). Share the speech bubbles with the student and introduce the topic for today’s conversation: Let’s talk about… I usually wait for my students to come up with an idea or give them a couple of choices. If you go for the latter, the key is to keep these choices close to your students’ interests.
Once you have the topic, start talking. The first couple of times I was the first to start the dialogue i.e. wrote down the first question. Later on, when my students already knew the drill, they had enough confidence to start on their own. There is no actual protocol as to how this activity should go, but you surely should steer the conversation so that your students get the opportunity to use the language they already know. The idea is to try and make these conversations sound as natural as possible so it is important to think what kinds of questions and answers are likely to occur while two people talk about shopping, food or Minecraft.
Another way to go is to focus on expressions typically used in informal conversations. When I started working with my students they had the “How are you? I’m fine, thanks.” down and were able to produce it automatically, without thinking of the meaning or intonation. I have found these mini-dialogues focusing on using everyday language and the way it is produced really enjoyable for my kids and something they have never ever done in English before.
The erasable board magnets are great as you can keep the conversation going without worrying about running out of paper speech bubbles.
Here, you can find some examples of dialogues I did with my students.