Pushing the Envelope

image: http://www.mementodesigns.net/portfolio-images

A problem I have often come across on exam courses and in course books is that of recycling or repetition.  Very often having covered a theme with a class there is very little opportunity to return to the language and reinforce it.  The pressure of time and other exam themes combine to preclude any repetition.  And yet repetition is key to learning, without it, we are unlikely to be able to transfer knowledge into short and long term memory.

One quick method I have used to try and help students recycle language regularly is to use the first fifteen or twenty minutes of a class to randomly revisit themes from previous classes.  The way I do this is by using an envelope (hence the oh so clever title of this post ;-)) and some squares of paper.

On day one, for example, we might have a go at getting students to talk about where they are from.  The following day the the envelope exercise begins, in pairs the students get an envelope and inside is a square of paper with the word ‘from’ written on it, the student who draws the paper then asks a question using the word, ‘where are you from?’ being an obvious example, and the partner replies and passes the question back, they may then draw a piece of paper with the words ‘where exactly’ and would ask something like ‘where is that exactly?’.  They are then given a few minutes to speak to each other on that theme.

The second day’s theme (whatever it is) is then added to the envelope using one or two prompt words (I prefer this rather than giving them the full question to allow for variety and emergent language).  Students also change partners every day or so to prevent boredom (he says, optimistically!).

By limiting the activity to 15 minutes or so it hopefully doesn’t intrude too much on the days activities and is a useful resource to have on students table if they finish other activities early or have a few minutes free time.  The number of prompts can build quickly and often needs to be shuffled and streamlined in a long course.

It can also work as a valuable springboard into the day’s lesson if you happen to be more dogme minded!

For those with computer access in class then @ij64 ‘s excellent html sentence generator here http://tefltecher.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/random-text-generator/ can be adapted to do the same activity very easily.

Hope some people find the idea interesting, as usual please let me know, all the best  for now,



About andrewpickles

Teacher of English in Germany
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3 Responses to Pushing the Envelope

  1. Mary says:

    I like this! I agree that it’s important to find ways of recycling the language, and having a regular activity like this that draws on the thematic threads is a good way to make sure it’s happening.

  2. This is a great idea, Andrew. Thanks for sharing it with us! =)
    Higor (www.higorcavalcante.com)

  3. Pingback: Dogme for Learners II – Things to Hold on to | Mr Schenk

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