ESL Solutions: IT plus Intensive Pairwork Techniques

Marianne Raynaud

Today teachers keep hearing about online teaching possibilities. They are told, “It is easy - you only have to… click”! But teachers feel both curious and overwhelmed. They want to know where they can find motivating, worthwhile exercises for all levels of learners. They also worry about spending too much time preparing when using new media or Internet exercises that soon lose their novelty. They ask themselves pertinent questions:

  • Should teachers sacrifice other very effective but more traditional methods to be modern?
  • Isn’t it more important to show empathy and work on oral communication rather than come with the latest Internet innovations?
  • If speaking skills are the aim, then how can teachers find ways to adapt the vast resources offered by the Internet to activities such as intensive pairwork, tutorials (one-to-one sessions), project presentations, and student-produced films?

My advice to you

Here is the advice I can give teachers concerning IT and a technique—which is always successful—"Intensive Pairwork":

First, I have provided two lists of recommended websites on this site. A favorite for cloze exercises (both oral and written) with excellent short recordings is www.breakingnewsenglish.com. Teachers should also look at the list of recent podcasts provided by http://a4esl.org.

Another idea is or go to the iTunes store and search under podcasts/education/language courses. There are hundreds of free podcasts available. With podcasts, students have access to a language lab at home and teachers can find excellent recordings free of charge. Listen to English lets students take advantage of an extraordinary voice with an impeccable British accent and perfect diction while working on their listening comprehension on topical subjects. QualityTime-ESL podcasts provide grammar-oriented drills, and Your English is a series of vocabulary building exercises to help with job interviews and oral tests among other subjects.

When using high tech don’t try to compete with students

Teachers should not try to compete with students, who are digital natives. Young people will always be a step or more ahead of the teacher when it comes to the latest technology. Instead, teachers should learn how they can enhance their learners’ creativity as well as their speaking capabilities by trusting their students to cope with multi-media on their own and out of class. In other words, teachers can encourage the use of IT without having to deal with the complexity, problems, and stress. An excellent way to get students started on their projects is by showing examples of multimedia work done by other students. Here the QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book 2.0 will help you immensely by providing PowerPoint slide shows and clips made by students as examples of what you expect them to do.

Web 2.0 assignments

The following activities involve searching the Internet for information and then presenting their research in class. Examples are:

  • Find a language exchange partner, discuss four questions with that person and offer the discussion to the class (http://www.sharedtalk.com, http://www.blogs-exchange.com, http://www.language-exchanges.org)
  • Find an interesting ESL/EFL website, present it and conduct a language exercise from the website with the class in real-time. (Type “free ESL/EFL/ELT teaching materials” to find hundreds of such sites.)
  • Find a real on-going project on the Web and present it with four slides in a PowerPoint.
  • Present a tutorial (one or two students giving a presentation with only the teacher listening) with information and images found on the Internet. Bring an English-style outline with no complete sentences and give one copy to your teacher.

A film parody

A very enjoyable activity is having students make a film that is a parody of a blockbuster everyone has seen. In QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book there are two ten-minute films of this kind that will surely inspire students all over the world to do even better!

Before ordering the book in three downloadable zips, you can have a look at excerpts from student TV and film parodies in a video I made for my former students entitled "Fond Memories from CPPG." It has scenes from English (ESL) classes as well as other aspects of student life (and even parodies of their teachers). This engineering school is in France, so at times you will hear French, but most of the time the students are active in English class.

Copy this link into your browser: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xxlpz4_fond-memories-from-cppg_school?search_algo=2#.USPMoOhcTZ.

Easier techniques—requiring only paper!

There are, however, easier ways of making all the students speak English as much as possible that are particularly useful at the beginning of a course and which do not involve IT. These exercises reduce the stress and anxiety of the first days.

One teaching technique is always successful: Intensive Pairwork—which requires only paper materials! The good news is that this dynamic speaking activity can be used with many of the exercises found on the Internet or in digital resource books.

The key is to have students work in pairs and to alternate playing the role of the “teacher.” This peer-teaching works very well when the key to an exercise looks the same as the exercise itself—so the students won’t get confused while using it. Of course, the “student-teachers” have to respect certain rules—they should explain, encourage, even spell to their partner, but they should never show the key to their partner). QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource 2.0 has over a hundred exercises with keys especially adapted for intensive pair work.

A ready-to-print booklet for pairwork activities

On this website, we are now offering a pack entitled Back to Basics, which includes three mini-booklets. “Back to the Basics Volume 1: Pair Work Activities is a complete 25-page booklet ready-to-print and give out. It can also be merely lent out for the duration of the lesson.

This downloadable workbook includes classroom exercises that can be used at all levels from A2 to C1 (except for complete beginners). Exercises involve spelling, using numbers, reviewing tenses, practicing with “make” versus “do.” Other activities consist, for instance, of learning nationalities, doing a geography quiz, and giving each other an oral test. Instructions and keys are provided. This booklet will provide you with a chance to test our methods and will give you very little preparatory work. Good luck —and enjoy!

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