ICQs: making sure your students know what to do

Introduction

“ICQ” (or “Instruction Check Question”) is a piece of jargon which none of our non-TEFL friends would understand. But everyone understands the concept of making sure your students know what to do before they start!

ICQs are tools in the TEFL teacher’s toolbox which help us make sure students know what to do.

Good ICQs

  • are designed to help the teacher as much as the students
  • are tailored to the specific task
  • check understanding of all the relevant aspects of the task
  • contain two options so students can respond with x or y
  • are delivered while all students are looking at the teacher
  • are delivered snappily with appropriate intonation (i.e. they prompt a quick answer; students shouldn’t have to think first)
  • are scripted in advance where appropriate
  • don’t patronise students
  • can sometimes be used instead of giving instructions, (if the task is very obvious and/or a task you know your students recognise e.g. a gap-fill)

Possible ICQs for standard classroom activities

Listening activities

  • Do you write the exact words you hear or can they be other words?
  • How many people are you going to hear?
  • What are their names?
  • Do you have to write the answers or just think about them?

Speaking activities and role plays

  • Is there only one correct answer or can other answers be correct?
  • If your partner stops talking are you going to ask another question or sit in silence?
  • Are you (real name) or (role play name)?
  • Should you write the whole script or only notes?

Reading activities

  • What should you do if you don’t know a word? Continue reading or start to panic?
  • If you don’t know a word are you going to guess what it means or look it up in the dictionary?
  • Have you got time to read every word or are you just looking for the answers/matching the paragraphs to the pictures/etc?
  • Are you reading the whole text or only paragraph one?
  • What should you read first, the text or the questions?
  • How many minutes do you need?

Gap-fill tasks

  • Do you fill the gaps with words from the box or words from your head?
  • How many sentences are there?
  • How many words are there?
  • How many times can you use each word – once or twice?
  • How many words go in each gap?
  • Do you write the answer in your coursebook or your notebook?

Ordering tasks

  • What’s number one – the most (important/useful/interesting/etc) or the least (important/useful/interesting/etc)?
  • Are you putting them in the order you heard them or the order they actually happened?
  • Is there a correct answer or is it your opinion?

Matching tasks

  • How many (words…) are there? How many (pictures…) are there?
  • What should you write – the number or the letter?

Find someone who… tasks

  • How many people do you have to speak to?
  • How many questions do you ask each person?
  • What do you write on the paper?
  • What do you do after you’ve written their name?
  • Can you speak to the same person for three minutes?
  • Can you sit down or do you have to move?
  • Are you going to show other people your paper?

Text reconstruction activities

Levels: elementary to advanced.
Ages: older kids; teens; adults.
Type: a variety of activities to do with reconstructing texts.
Skills: listening; speaking; reading; writing.
Language focus: grammar – textual cohesion; other grammar and vocab points as they arise.

Introduction

Text reconstruction activities…

  • are a way to maximise the usefulness of a text so that good materials don’t go to waste. It’s a bit like saving unused pasta to make salad for the next day. A good text can be used for so much more than a straightforward reading lesson.
  • are a way to ensure that students get variety in their grammar input – a whole range of stuff may crop up: C/U nouns; pluralisation; verb patterns; use of linking devices; word formation – basically anything may come up. This is a helpful way to help balance the needs of short-term with those of long-term students.
  • are a valuable way to recycle language, especially vocabulary/collocations, in context. You could choose to do it as a lesson 3, or even a lesson 4, using a text the main teacher has used earlier in the week.
  • can be done with minimal preparation and materials.
  • should be done with texts the students have already read – ideally a day or two earlier.
  • are best if they reconstruct a text which was interesting the first time round. Boring texts tend to be boring to reconstruct.

Five text reconstruction activities

  1. Order the phrases
    Take out 8-10 phrases from a text; students put them in the order they heard/read them (from memory). By doing so, they are essentially obliged to re-construct a spoken version of the text. This works best (but not only) with stories. After they have
    done so they could re-write the whole text in their own words, using the given phrases in the appropriate place. (This would take quite a long time).
  2. Sentence anagrams
    Take one key sentence from the text and put the words in alphabetical order. Students have to put it back together. This can throw up a wide range of interesting grammar and can be quite a challenge. You could do the same thing with six or so sentences, stuck up on the walls: students move around and work on whichever sentence they wish.
  3. Replace the function words
    Take out all the articles, prepositions, auxiliary verbs, etc, leaving only the nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. Students have to re-grammar the text. This throws up all sorts of interesting grammar and is not as easy as it might sound. Encourage students to realise that alternatives to the original may be just as good or may slightly alter the meaning.
  4. Which verbs were used before these nouns?
    Take out all (or most) of the nouns, put them in a list. Students use their memories and general language awareness to remember which verbs collocated with them. They compare with the original and see if they were right. It’s worth drawing attention to other words which collocate with them – and which words do not.
  5. Dictogloss
    You read a few lines of a text at normal pace. Students write as much as they can down, then work in pairs, then threes/fours, then as a whole class (or two big groups?) to come up with a final version which they negotiate with each other. While they do so you will hopefully hear them saying things like ‘but does it need the or a?’ ‘is it infinitive or –ing?’ etc. Note: the first time they do this they will probably not believe that you’re only going to read it once so make sure you check this instruction thoroughly). Read up about dictoglosses and find out alternative ways of doing this really useful activity.

Sentence Stress through Obama’s inauguration speech

Levels: intermediate to advanced.
Ages: older teens; adults
Type: listening for key/ prominent words in a real speech
Skills: listening; pronunciation (intonation and stress patterns in spoken English, mimicking an accomplished orator).
Language focus: any vocab as it arises.

Preparation:
copies of the transcript of Obama’s address for your students;
some way of displaying or projecting the speech below, with sound.

  1. Ask students if they saw Obama’s inauguration speech; discuss what they thought of it. How has the world changed since he made it? Are they hopeful or pessimistic about their futures? Why?
  2. Invite students to consider what he might have said during the speech. Give one or two examples if you think it necessary (e.g. thank the people for voting for him; thank George Bush etc)
  3. Board students responses.
  4. Explain that they are going to listen to/watch the first part of the speech and check their predictions. (NB if your class haven’t come up with many good ideas you might want to skip this stage)
  5. Students listen and check their predictions
  6. Give them the list of things he mentions and ask them to put it in order.

    In the introduction to his speech he…

    • Thanks Bush
    • Offers his gratitude to the US people
    • Underlines that the citizens of the US are together
    • Makes a comment about the war
    • Makes a comment about the economic crisis
    • Talks about hope for a new age
    • Mentions job losses, healthcare and housing problems
    • Mentions the environment
    • Talks about the US people’s fear of decline
    • Repeats and confirms his promise to the US people
  7. If you want, at this stage, you could give them the tapescript and have them underline the relevant sections. (But don’t include the last bit or your next activity won’t work.) OR you could lead a discussion about the content of the speech; their opinions of it etc.
  8. Point out that they were able to get most of these points without understanding every word; invite them to feel glad of this.
  9. Explain that the most important words in spoken language tend to be stressed (with a little more volume/vowel lengthening/raise in pitch). Explain that understanding the stressed words is usually enough to understand the whole of a text – with a bit of common sense and thinking to fill in the rest.
  10. Explain that they are going to listen to a short section of the speech and write down the key (stressed) words. Explain that they can listen to it several times but that you’re not going to pause the recording: they shouldn’t waste time writing down “and”/”is” etc.

  11. Play them this section (above); students write down stressed words. Play the tape a few times – students compare and share in pairs after each listen.
  12. Hopefully you can then elicit to the board:

    Today… you … challenges … real … serious… many… not… easily… short… time… know this… America… will … met

    You can then read these words out loud and ask if this is enough to understand Obama’s gist. (the answer, I think, should be yes…!)

  13. Invite the students to fill in the rest of the text using their memory, common sense, knowledge of grammar and/or guesswork.
  14. Give/show the original text and ask them to compare. Explain that in some cases they may have come up with perfectly correct alternatives:

    Today, I say to you that the challenges that we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or (in a) short span of time. But know this America, they will be met.

  15. Read aloud some of the text but pause in illogical places e.g.:

    today I say to // you that the // challenges we face are // real they are… etc.

    Ask students what the problem is.

  16. Tell students to mark the places where Obama could, if he wanted, pause for breath, then elicit to the board. It should look something like this:

    toDAY I say to YOU // that the CHALLenges we face are REAL // they are SERious // and they are MANy // They will NOT be met EASily // or (in a) SHORT span of TIME // But KNOW THIS // AmERica // they WILL // be MET.

  17. Invite students to listen to the speech and mime (it helps if they stand up and also imitate his facial expression and body language) The purpose of miming is to encourage them to listen closely for how some words are “eaten” while others are lengthened and stressed.
  18. Invite students to choose two chunks next to each other and practise saying them. Practise fast, slow, loud, quiet, ignoring each other. Then in open class, they tell you their choice, you repeat it to them (with perfect Obama intonation); they mimic it straight back to you, looking at your face – not at the text.
  19. If you want you could get them to learn it by heart, practise and perform it, voting for the most effective orator in the class.
  20. If you want to you can then explain to students the meaning of the words “prominence”; “tone unit”/”chunk”

I first learnt this style of lesson (steps 10-18) from Nick Hamilton at International House London. It is similar in style to lessons by David Brazil (see his “Pronunciation for Advanced Learners of English”).
Tim McLeish

The relevant text:

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

I thank President Bush for his service to our nation…

(APPLAUSE)

… as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.

The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.

Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.
(APPLAUSE)

Dictionary-Based Reading Lesson

Level: advanced.
Ages: adults.
Aims: to engage students with monolingual English dictionaries; to practise identifying relevant meanings in monolingual dictionaries; to practise skim- and scan-reading skills.
Skills: reading; listening; speaking.
Language focus: any vocab that arises in the lesson.

Note: This lesson is designed to be used with the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

Dictionary worksheet (1) – using a dictionary (teacher’s notes)

This is an expanded version of a simpler worksheet published by CUP and available here:
http://www.cambridge.org/elt/dictionaries/worksheets/CALD3-Worksheets/CALD3_WS_01UsingADictionary.pdf

———————————————————-

1. Which extract…
…comes from a newspaper? (extract C)
…comes from a website about celebrities? (extract E)
…is about some scientific research? (extract A)
…comes from a website about outer space? (extract B)
…is a description of a plant? (extract F)
…is about English and Scottish history? (extract D)

This is to ensure that students have had a chance to engage briefly with the content of the extracts by skim reading – they do not need to go into detail but they must know what they are reading. The extracts are taken randomly from the internet after putting “partial” into google.

———————————————————————————–

2. There is one word which appears in all six of the extracts. What is this word? (partial) Find it and circle it in each extract.

This is to give practice in the skill of scanning.

———————————————————————————–

3. Look this word up in the dictionary.

Read the dictionary definition of this word and answer the questions.
a. What are the three guidewords in the definition? not complete; unfair; liking
b. What is the most common use of this word? The first one
c. What part of speech is it? adjective
d. What does the ‘A’ mean after the first guideword? advanced
e. What is the opposite of this word? impartial

This is to allow students the chance to explore the dictionary entry without being put off by the dense amount of information given.

———————————————————————————–

4. Which of the three meanings in the dictionary corresponds to each example of this word in the extracts?

This is to give practice in analysing short chunks of text to identify which of several meanings is the relevant one.

———————————————————————————–

5. Now think about how you would translate this word into your language in three different ways, corresponding to its three different meanings. Try looking up these words in a bilingual dictionary in your first language: hopefully, the result given should be this word. Check with a friend who knows your language.

This is to draw attention to the fact that many words have several translations; that it is not enough just to know what a word means when it stands alone, but to know what it might mean in a variety of contexts.

———————————————————————————–

6. Which meaning of the following words in the texts (be careful! Are you looking for a noun or a verb, in each case?)

spring (extract F)
brand (extract C)
act (extract D)
diet (extract A)
share (extract B)
come (extract E)

This is to provide further, freer practice of the above activities.

Answers:
spring (noun, meaning 1)
brand (noun; meaning 1)
act (noun; meaning 5)
diet (noun; meaning 2)
share (verb; meaning 5)
come (verb; meaning 8)

Dictionary worksheet (1) – using a dictionary – Students’ Sheet

Extracts
And even if you don’t fast, Mattson says that simply limiting the calories you consume may be beneficial. He points to studies where rats and mice were fed every other day. Compared with those fed normal daily diets, there was a reduction in disease among the rats that were severely restricted in their food intake. Mattson says those findings hold promise that humans could also benefit from partial fasting.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16513299

If you read this week’s SkyWatcher’s Forecast, then you knew several areas of the world were in for a partial lunar eclipse event. While the Moon basically just did a glancing pass through the umbral shadow, the effect was still dramatic and I was hoping that at least one photographer out there would have a picture and story to share!

http://www.universetoday.com/2008/08/18/august-17-2008-partial-lunar-eclipse-caught-down-under/

C Rich Chinese are partial to foreign brands
By Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-02-21 07:50

Big foreign labels such as Chanel and BMW continue to dominate as top brands for wealthy Chinese consumers, with their choices determined mainly by quality and environment factors, a recent survey has found.

http://www2.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-02/21/content_6471759.htm

D King James was especially concerned to present himself as impartial, given suspicions that he would be partial in his acts and decrees to the Scotsmen many English feared would impoverish their own country.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2220/is_/ai_16946519

E USA Today reported, at parties in Los Angeles and the Hamptons, Zino Platinum cigars considered the “Cristal of cigars” were given out as part of the festivities. Jay-Z, who says he has smoked cigars “on and off since 1996, ” is partial to Zino Platinums, which come in large silver matchboxes of three cigars for $87 to $127.

http://coolspotters.com/musicians/jay-z/and/products/zino-platinum-cigars#medium-6526

F Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) Grows from 25 to 30 feet tall with a spread of 20 feet. Grows best in moist soil with partial to full sun. White flowers bloom in the spring and are followed by bright red berries. Flowers have a strong sweet fragrance. The fruit has an astringent taste
but does attract birds.

http://66.102.9.104/search?q=cache:pxMKIdvEg5kJ:www.yardscaping.org/plants/swcdplants/native_shrubs.pdf+%22partial+to+full%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=149&gl=uk&safe=vss

Tasks
1. Which extract…
…comes from a newspaper?
…comes from a website about celebrities?
…is about some scientific research?
…comes from a website about outer space?
…is a description of a plant?
…is about English and Scottish history?

2. There is one word which appears in all six of the extracts. What is this word? Find it and circle it in each extract.

3. Look this word up in the dictionary.

Read the dictionary definition of this word and answer the questions.
a. What are the three guidewords in the definition?
b. What is the most common use of this word?
c. What part of speech is it?
d. What does the ‘A’ mean after the first guideword?
e. What is the opposite of this word?

4. Which of the three meanings in the dictionary corresponds to each example of this word in the extracts?

5. Now think about how you would translate this word into your language in three different ways, corresponding to its three different meanings. Try looking up these words in a bilingual dictionary in your first language: hopefully, the result given should be this word. Check with a friend who knows your language.

6. What is the meaning of the following words in the texts? (be careful! Are you looking for a noun or a verb, in each case?)

spring (extract F)
brand (extract C)
act (extract D)
diet (extract A)
share (extract B)
come (extract E)

(Based on Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary Worksheets, CUP, 2008)