ESL Solutions: IT plus Intensive Pair Work Techniques

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 on preparation when using new media or using 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 pair work, tutorials (one-to-one sessions), project presentations and student films?

My advice to you

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

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 literally 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 simply encourage the use of IT without having to deal with the problems and the stress. A good way to get students started on their own projects is by showing examples of multimedia work done by other students. Here the QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource will help you immensely by providing PowerPoint slide shows and clips made by students.

Web 2.0 assignments

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

  • Find a language exchange partner, discuss four questions with him/her and present the discussion to the class (http://www.sharedtalk.com, http://www.blogs-exchange.com, http://www.language-exchanges.org)
  • Find an interesting ESL/EFL web site, present it and conduct a language exercise from the website with the class (Just type “free ESL/EFL/ELT teaching materials”)
  • 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 alone with the teacher) with information found on the Internet, bring pictures and an outline with no complete sentences.

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 on a DVD 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 (with even parodies of teachers): http://www.qualitytime-esl.com/spip.php?article517 (for download).

"Fond Memories from CPPG" is also STREAMED ON DAILYMOTION:

Easier techniques—requiring only paper!

But there are 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 and are thus less stressful.

On especially effective teaching technique is Intensive Pair Work—which requires only paper materials, is always successful! 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, i.e. CDs or DVDs. The key is to have students work in pairs and to alternate playing the role of the “teacher”. This works very well when the key to an exercise looks exactly the same as the exercise itself—so 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 has over a hundred exercises with keys especially adapted for intensive pair work.

A ready to print booklet for pair work activities

On this web site we are now offering a complete 25-page booklet ready to print called “Back to the Basics Volume 1: Pair Work Activities ”. This downloadable workbook includes classroom exercises that can be used at all levels (with the exception of complete beginners) from A2 to C1. Exercises involve spelling, using numbers, reviewing tenses, practicing with “make” versus “do” and nationalities, doing a geography quiz and giving each other an oral test. The price is €1.99 for the files, instructions and all the keys. This is an excellent way to test the method without having to do much preparatory work. Good luck to you—and enjoy!


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