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Concourse 2

Activity types


Let's start with the obvious.
Nobody wants to spend all the time doing the same kinds of thing over and over again and your learners are no different.  What we crave is variety so it's important to supply some.
On the other hand, activity types need to match their purposes so variety alone isn't enough.  If we focus only on variety, we'll end up getting our learners to do things for the sake of it rather than because it leads to some kind of learning outcome.


Classifying activity types

There are lots of activities we can use in the classroom so we need some kind of taxonomy to know what we are talking about and doing.
This is to get you thinking.  There are three fundamental types of tasks in this list.  Try to organise the tasks into three categories (it doesn't matter what you call them at this stage).
Click on the table when you have an answer.

activity types


The characteristics of activities

The three types of activity (awareness raising, skill getting and skill using) have clear, identifying characteristics.  Can you make some informed guesses about what they are?
Click here when you have a response.

Lockstep or varied?

All the activity types so far discussed can be done with everyone doing the same thing at the same time or individually with a good deal of flexibility.
Whether one chooses a lockstep activity will often depend on the sorts of activities, the intentions of them and the learners' current abilities.
Awareness raising and skill getting activities are generally lockstep but skill using is another matter and need not be done all together. 


Inserting activities into lessons 

This is a planning issue but also a classroom management issue to do with giving and getting feedback and scaffolding your learners' efforts.  Scaffolding is not merely a sophisticated way of saying help or support.  There is much more to it and there is a guide to scaffolding and the ZPD on this site.  There's a link in the in-service teaching index.

When you wrote your plan (you did write one, didn't you?) you listed and described the stages of the lesson and what the aims of each stage were.
Try to figure out which sort of activity (from the three types) is being described here.  Click on the eye open when you have.

I tell the class about my efforts to learn to play the piano.
To introduce the topic of hobbies and pastimes in a personal way.
eye open
This is an awareness-raising activity.  You are not expecting the learners to acquire any new language or skill here (although they have to listen) so you need to make sure your story is clear and comprehensible to everyone.
The students work alone to match the words to the pictures of the pastimes and the correct verb (go, play or do).  Then they compare their answers in groups of 4.
To focus on the meaning of the words and on the correct collocating verb (e.g., do yoga, go swimming).
eye open
This is a skill-getting activity.  You really do want the learners to acquire new vocabulary and be able to use it with the correct verb.
The fact that it is checked in groups will reinforce it because there may be a need to explain choices and learn from each other.
I drill the language in full sentences with the collocating verbs.
To refine and improve pronunciation and sentence stress and to reinforce patterns of collocation.
eye open
Another skill-getting activity.  You are not asking the students to use the language in any meaningful sense.  You want them to focus on form and pattern.
You also, incidentally, believe that repetition and imitation are effective tools in the learning process but that's another matter.
Individually, the students select two pastimes from the list and think about why they would like to take them up one day.
To prepare for the mingle and allow thinking time
eye open
This is mostly an awareness-raiser.  You are not requiring the students to learn anything new or use any language except to themselves.
The fact that the learners have a little individual space and time to consider the language can, however, contribute to more effective skill getting.
The students mingle to see if they can find anyone in the class who has a preferred pastime in mind and for which reasons
eye open
This is skill using.  The students are actually having to deploy the language in a quasi-communicative fashion and talk about something that is personal.  Skill using reinforces skill getting in this way.
Students listen to the tape recording of four speakers and decide in pairs what pastime is being talked about.
To extend the students' knowledge and get them to focus on the collocating verbs and places where the pastimes are practised.
eye open
This is skills getting insofar as the learners are listening for correct collocations so if a speaker says, I do it in the village hall, we know he's not talking about golf because you play golf and not in a village hall (usually).
All the students stand and must give me the name of a pastime with its collocating verb before they can go for their coffee break
eye open
This has two functions:
It is skills using insofar as the students have to display their knowledge to themselves and the teacher.
It is awareness raising in that it demonstrates to the learners what they have acquired.


In what order?

This depends on the lesson structure (and there's a guide to on this site linked in the list of related guides at the end).

In traditional lessons of the Presentation – Practice – Production type
Awareness raising will usually come before skill getting and skill using is confined to the final phase.
This cycle, however, may happen two or three times in the same lesson.
In Test – Teach – Test lessons
Skill using will come before skill getting and then skill using will again be the focus.  Awareness raising still usually comes first.
In Task-based Learning lessons
Awareness raising has to come early but then the focus is on entwined skill using and skill getting.  The theory is that skill using stimulates skill getting.

So there's no single right way to order the activities.  We do, however, need to make sensible judgements about what sorts of activities we need and when we need them or lessons can disintegrate.

Related guides
task types the next obvious guide which concerns itself with the kinds of tasks which can be embedded in activity phases
structuring lessons for a guide to how lessons may be designed based on some clear principles
context whatever the type of activity or task you use, context is something to strive for
grouping learners to see how learners should be arranged to make the most of activities and tasks
planning for a guide to how to plan activities and tasks as part of lessons