Making Chat Activities with Native Speakers Meaningful for EFL LearnersJo Mynard
Joanne.Mynard [at] zu.ac.ae
Zayed University (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
IntroductionThis article is aimed at teachers who want to make Internet chat activities more meaningful for their learners. It provides teachers with ideas for activities which engage the learner's interest. The lesson ideas presented are designed for learners who have used chat rooms before but may not have interacted with native speakers in the target language.
The most motivating chat activities for language students are likely to be ones which include interaction with native speakers. There are a number of ways that students can interact with guests. They can interview guests about themselves, their country, their job, their family, and so on. Students can engage in a debate or discussion about a given topic with the guest. Students can also be interviewed by the guest.
For the GuestsInvite friends and family to participate and give them chat room practice in advance. Before your guests meet your students, it is a good idea to prepare them for the level of English and the kinds of issues they should discuss or avoid. You might want to ask them to avoid chat room abbreviations such as brb (be right back). On the other hand you may want to keep the text as spontaneous and authentic as possible--remember the transcript is always available to study after the session.
For the StudentsIf chat rooms are a new concept to your learners, or if your students have had little interaction with people outside their own country, suddenly meeting someone from another part of the world can be quite daunting. Before the students meet the guest in the chat room, you might want to set the scene by showing them photographs of the guest and maps of his or her country. Giving students relevant websites to explore in advance may also be useful. You might like to play a recorded message from the guest to the students before they start. These things will remind the students that they are talking to a real person so that they need to be courteous and to use the target language. It also gives the students some idea of the kinds of questions they can ask.
WorksheetsThe worksheets make sure that the following guidelines apply:
- That the students understand the objective of the session and what the follow up activities will be. Without an objective, the chat session may lose momentum. Simply letting students chat freely in a chat room could be compared with arriving in the classroom and telling students to talk amongst themselves.
- That students have adequate time to prepare. Allow plenty of time for preparation as it will be key to the success of the chat session. This is particularly true with lower level learners and novice chat room users. Preparation can include writing down some possible questions and discussion topics, learning more about the focus of the session, learning about the guest's country, or looking up some vocabulary in advance.
- That students are given practice in a particular language area. Students have the tendency to stick to simple structures and familiar vocabulary, which means that the sessions could seem repetitive. Activities can be designed to give learners the opportunity to focus on a different vocabulary set each time and also provide practice in different grammatical structures.
A Note from the Editor: The original handouts included photographs of the guests and maps of their country. These were eliminated from this article in order to have a fast-downloading file and to preserve the privacy of the guests.
Activity 1 - Interview a Guest from Another CountryThe following worksheet can be adapted for any country. In this example students prepare to interview someone based in Finland.
Language focus: this activity uses predominantly the present tense and deals with vocabulary connected with asking for information about countries.
Learn about FinlandWhat do you know about Finland? Tell a friend.
David lives in Finland but he is from Ireland. Prepare some questions to ask him about himself and Finland. (weather/food/transport/universities/activities/language)
Follow up Activities - Choose One
- Write a summary of what you learned about Finland from David.
- Make a chart of major differences between Finland and your country.
Activity 2 - Gather Information and Compare with a FriendThis activity is an example of a jigsaw activity where students have to find out information in order to complete a chart. In this case students learn about primary schools in the UK. You can adapt it and choose any topic for the students to probe such as jobs, customs or language. Depending on how independent your students are, they can come up with some or all of the sub-topics to explore.
There are two guests on line in different chat rooms. Student A talks to a teacher and Student B talks to a schoolgirl. After the session, they compare notes and report back to another group. As a follow up, students write a collaborative paragraph from their notes.
Language focus: this activity deals with mainly the present tense and familiar vocabulary connected with schools.
Learn about Primary Schools in the UKStudent A: You are going to meet Amanda who is a teacher in London.
Student B: You are going to meet Rees, a schoolgirl from Cardiff.
You are going to complete this chart. Prepare questions you would like to ask.
After the SessionCompare charts with another student who talked to Rees. Together write a summary of the differences between schools in the UK and in your country.
Activity 3 - Interview a Couple about a Recent EventThe couple who have just got married are in the same chat room. If none of your friends have just got married this exercise can still work well if students ask guests about a recent past event such as traveling, moving house, having a baby, going back to college and so on. This worked well with my students as many of them have just got married or are planning their own weddings.
Language focus: this activity will be quite challenging as it forces students to use the past tense and some new vocabulary. In addition, by interviewing a couple, students are given practice with using "you" as a plural, "we" and "they." You may want your activity to isolate just one of these language areas. I am using them all here to illustrate how you can target a variety of language points.
Weddings in the UKYou are going to meet Suzanne and Julian from Cardiff in Wales. They have just got married.
Preparation Before You Meet Them
- What vocabulary can you think of connected with weddings? Write some here. Use a dictionary if you like.
- What do you know about weddings in the UK? Tell a friend.
- Go to the Internet and find some more information about weddings in the UK. What do you learn? Write it here:
- What questions would you like to ask Suzanne and Julian about their wedding? Write them here (remember to use the past tense):
- What other questions would you like to ask Suzanne and Julian? (jobs/hobbies/familyÖ) Write them here:
Follow Up Activity - Choose One
- Write a paragraph describing Suzanne and Julian's wedding.
- Compare Suzanne and Julian's wedding with one you have attended in your country.
Activity 4 - Interview a Couple about Their Future PlansIn this example students interview a couple who are planning to do voluntary work overseas. You can adapt it for guests making future plans of any kind such as changing jobs, traveling or getting married.
Language focus: students are required to use the future tense and prepare for the interview by finding out a bit more about voluntary work from the internet.
Future PlansYou are going to meet George and Amy from the USA. They are planning to do voluntary work overseas.
Preparation Before You Meet Them
- What is voluntary work?
- What kind of voluntary work do people do?
- Why do they do it?
- Where do they do it?
- Go to the Internet and find some more information about a voluntary organization called VSO. What do you learn? Write it here:
- What questions would you like to ask George and Amy about their plans? Write them here:
- What other questions would you like to ask George and Amy? (jobs/hobbies/familyÖ) Write them here:
Follow Up Activities - Choose One
- Write a paragraph describing George and Amy's plans
- Would you like to do voluntary work overseas? Why / Why not? Give details.
Activity 5 - Follow Up QuestionsThe transcript can provide you with evidence of structures that students have not grasped which could form the basis of a follow up lesson. Similarly, transcripts allow you to study students communicative competence. One common problem is sustaining conversations with follow up questions or comments. I used the transcript of an interview with Emma from Oxford to give students practice in this. You can adapt this by isolating a common problem illustrated in your students' transcripts and making them into an activity. It is a worthwhile exercise to have students study the transcripts and try to identify problem areas themselves too.
After the Interview with EmmaIn the last lesson you interviewed Emma. This exercise helps you to write follow up questions to get some more information or to keep the conversation going. Write some follow up questions or comments here to practice for next time:
- Student: Do you like sport?
- Emma: Yes I love sport. I am following the Olympics at the moment.
- Student: Do you swim?
- Emma: I enjoy swimming - I swim 75 lengths a day!
- Student: When did you get married?
- Emma: In November last year
- Student: Where have you traveled?
- Emma: Do you mean for my honeymoon?
- Student: Which is your favorite country?
- Emma: Australia
- Student: Have you visited the UAE?
- Emma: No but I would like to one day
- Emma: Tell me about your university
- Student: What kind of food do you like?
- Emma: I'm a vegetarian
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 3, March 2002