Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Just A Minute

One of the things I miss most about living away from England (alongside good curries and flat beer) is BBC Radio 4. As far as I'm concerned the BBC does two things so well that they're worth the license fee on their own - it's website and Radio 4. Even when I was young enough to be bored by the political and current affairs content, I was still very much a fan of the comedy shows. My favourite of all of these was Just A Minute, a game in which four contestants attempt to speak for one minute on a given subject without hesitation, deviation or repetition. I fell in love with the wit and linguistic endeavour of the contestants then, and have been a fan ever since.

One of my first ideas as an ESL teacher was to take it into the classroom. I tried a listening exercise with some advanced students, which failed miserably due to the playful nature of the language being used. I don't remember the game being a roaring success either. Anyway, it stayed in the back of my mind and popped up again when I was looking for an activity that would encourage my high school students to practice speaking extemporaneously.

Obviously some changes were needed from the original format. I dropped the repetition challenge, as my students vocabulary certainly isn't big enough to not repeat words in one minute. I also wanted to reward speaking for any time, so I gave them a point for every ten seconds that they spoke. I also incentivised listening and analysing by giving extra points for spotting linguistic errors. This led to an entirely different and more complex scoring system from the original game.

My lesson plan, evaluation and introductory powerpoint, are posted below. I've also posted the letter cards I use for sorting students into groups, and the numbers for selecting them.

The game worked really well this time. As I mention in my evaluation, I suddenly hit on the idea of using it to practice grammar points or conversational themes that we had covered previously. I like the idea that this is a semi-"real" use of the language learnt, and places the listener under a little (fun) pressure that they would experience in the real world.

In a high school environment, I think that the dice adds a nice air of chance to the game, as students do not feel that they are being picked on. It also encourages students to make challenges, with the knowledge that it's unlikely that they will have to do the speaking. The more challenges there are, the more fun the game is.

You can adapt this to almost any level or classroom setting. For lower level learners it can be a review of what you have done. For higher level learners it's a chance to use everything that they know creatively in a real speaking challenge.

As a discussion point, what do you think would make good topics for a round of Just A Minute? Leave me a comment.

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