This is just about the best activity you’ll ever do with your students! It sounds like a big claim, but the pedagogical reasons are many. A word of warning though: it may not work perfectly the first time, but it is worth persevering.
If you look at the image of the activity in progress you might think “what the hell are they doing?” Well, essentially they’re reading, but it isn’t reading as we’d recognise it. So, below is the procedure.
- Separate your class into groups of three if possible, but if there is one group of four it doesn’t matter.
- Tell the students that you are going to do a great activity and that they are going to love it.
- After a dramatic pause, tell them that you have a text and that you want to them to copy it. Obviously this is not going to excite them, but then you tell them that there is a trick.
- Take the task and loosely screw it up in front of them. That is how they are going to receive the text.
- Assign three roles, reader, writer and mover. The rules are that the reader can hold the text in one hand and dictate to the writer, who writes, but should not look at or touch the text. As each group has the same text but screwed up differently, different sections will be visible in each. The mover therefore can get up and go to look at other groups’ texts, read, remember, return and dictate to the writer.
- Every few minutes, instruct the members of each group to rotate their roles so that all three have the chance to read, write and move.
- The objective of the activity is to create a copy of the text as close to the original as possible.
- When groups have finished reconstructing the text, let them open the scrunched ball and compare and correct what they wrote.
So, why is this such a great activity? Well, there are both pedagogical and practical reasons.
- It practises all four skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
- It promotes collaboration, rather than cometition, on two levels: intra-group and inter-group. They work together as teams, but also with the other teams too.
- It’s great for mixed levels because everybody has to participate and has something to offer.
- It caters for bodily-kinesthetic learners who are restless and need to move around to expend some energy.
- It creates “linguistic detectives”. As the information is incomplete, they have to make educated guesses on words and constructions they can’t quite see.
- They have to focus on both form and meaning.
- Rather than the teacher just giving the information, the studentsre having to be actively involved in working for it.
- It’s a lot of fun.
- It takes almost no preparation from the teacher! Tired teachers sometimes need meaningful activities that require little preparation. This can be done on a moment’s notice either as an introduction to a topic, somewhere in the middle of a lesson sequence, or as a kind of revision at the end.
- The teacher gets to do nothing for half an hour! Really, just sit back and let them get on with it safe in the knowledge that they are entertained doing a meaningful and worthwhile task.
So that’s it. Find a text, make it fit on a piece of A4 paper in a reasonably sized font and give it a go.