12.4 Free Activities
Controlled and guided exercises present a good experience for practices where children can say what they want to say, but let us look at free activities in this unit and how to use them in the classroom.
- Free activities focus on the message/content and not on the language, although the activity itself will usually limit the tongue.
- Even though the situations are sometimes fabricated, there is honest communication – teachers will do it to equip students for their lives outside the classroom.
- Free activities will show if students can or cannot use the language – this is something that the teacher cannot be sure of if they only focus on guided exercises.
- Teachers’ control is minimal throughout the activity, but the teacher must ensure that the students have sufficient language to do the task.
- The environment should be informal and non-competitive.
- There is often a game component in the exercise.
- Free exercises focus on meaning more than on accuracy. Formal errors do not matter unless it means the students cannot be interpreted so that teachers will leave correctness until afterward.
- In free activities, teachers are attempting to get the students to speak with a natural flow or fluency – and fluency is more significant than exactness at this stage.
The range of free exercises is infinite and goes from giving mini-talks to figuring out what their partner had for breakfast. Below are a few of these activities, which we know work great in a class of younger children. The majority of them are based on the information gap principle: student A knows something student B does not know, and B wants the information.
Let us look at some pair-work activities:
Teachers should remember that most pair-work activities are done solely in a class by directing half of the classes back to the teacher/overhead projector, etc. All the students who have their backs to the teacher must have partners who are facing the teacher. In that way, the teacher can give information to half of the class facing him/her, and they have to pass it on to those who cannot see the teacher.
The ‘information gap principle’.
The Information gap principle is a variation of a surprised activity called an information gap. An information gap is when there is communication between two or more people and where information is known to only some of the people present. Language students should be involved in as many situations as possible where one of them has some information, and the other does not have. However, one has to get it from the other who does have it to breach the information gap between the participating students in the activity-based classrooms.
- With older children working in pairs, the teacher will give a student one picture and the other student a different picture.
- Student A describes to Student B where the different locations are, or Student B can ask where the places are.
- Teachers should not give students activities that are so free that they do not know where to start or are unable to cope linguistically. This is a restricted but free exercise in where vocabulary and language structure are limited.
Here is an activity usually used with younger children, but made a bit more communicative in the language sense by attaching the information gap principle.
- Teachers will give everyone in the class a picture to colour – we have used a girl and a boy.
- The class should be divided by group ‘A’ and ‘B’.
- Ask the students in group ‘A’ to colour the girl and all students in ‘B’ to colour the boy.
- Teachers will walk around and encourage them to talk to him/her about what they are doing. When they have finished, the teacher will put group A with group B facing each other and ask the other students how they have coloured in their part of the picture: ‘What colour is his shirt?’ ‘What colour is her blouse?’ etc.
- The students must not show each other, or the point of the exercise ceases. (They can put up something between them.)
- When they are done, they should end up with two identical images. If they do not, then there’s something incorrect with their colour or clothing vocabulary. Note here that although the image decides the language limits, the pupils still decide for themselves.
In these exercises, the teacher plays a non-dominant role – that of the organiser. The same is true for many of these types of exercises.
- The teacher will take any picture story from their textbook, copy it, cut it up, and give one picture to each student in the group.
- Each student then has to describe to the other what is in his or her picture, without exposing it to the others.
- When the pupils have gathered what is in all the pictures, the group picks the proper order of the images.
- The activity is a matching activity. The teacher will make cards that are similar but will have a few differences. The teacher will make two copies of each.
- Each student has one card that they look at, memorise, and leave on the desk facing down.
- Everyone walks around the class to try to find the person with the matching card just by speaking to each other.
- When they think they have identical cards, they check by looking at their cards and then sit at their places. If the teacher has more than two copies of each, then the activity will continue until the identical cards have been located. This kind of exercise is useful for prepositions, colours, actions, and all sorts of object vocabulary.
Another great exercise which we have already briefly discussed in the listening chapter is using questionnaires. These are a mixture of group work and whole classwork, as well as a combination of written work and oral work that can be guided or free activities.
- In this exercise, the teacher will split the class into groups – the size will depend on how many pupils are in their class – and give them each a different task.
- The teacher will ask them to find out about favourite foods, books, television programs, how much television people watch, how much pocket money they get when bedtime is, or whatever is relevant to what they are working on at that time.
- With the younger students, the teacher will have to provide the questionnaire, which might look like the image below.
Whole class activities
In these exercises, all the pupils get up and walkabout. Unavoidably, they tend to be loud, and if the educator has more than thirty students in the class, he/she should split them into smaller groups. Whole class activities are easy to prepare, fun to do, and concentrates on oral work.