Practicing making questions with Past, Present, Future Simple using biographies of famous people

This is a simple activity if you want your students to practice making questions (or other activities that use the same tenses) in Past, Present, and Future tenses. There are 2 notions behind this activity:

  1. Tenses are usually taught separately and in isolation from each other. Inspired by Bloom’s Taxonomy, I was trying to apply an activity where students could make comparison between tenses. In this case because they have learned Present Simple, Past Simple, and Future Simple, thus this activity was created.
  2. After reading about Whole Language approach in language teaching and the importance of using authentic instead of artificial (read: textbook like) materials, I was intrigued to use more authentic materials in my class. The biography used here is an example.

Few notes before you do this activity:

  1. Make sure students have already learned about the 3 tenses and done some other necessary activities to practice them.
  2. Choose biography of a famous person who is still alive, because you need your students to also make predictions about the biographee’s life in the future to practice Future Simple Tense.
  3. You can choose to use biography in form of text, video, or the combination of the 2 where different types of skills are in practice.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. I used Bill Gates’ (mini) biography from Bio.com’s YouTube channel.
  2. Before viewing the video, students were divided into pairs.
  3. Students watched the biography, twice (more if you like).
  4. Each pair was instructed to make 3 questions using Past Simple, basically making questions about Bill Gates’ past.
  5. Before the next task, members of the group were swapped.
  6. Each pair was then instructed to make another 3 questions, this time using Present Simple, asking about Bill Gates’ current life.
  7. Members of the group were again swapped.
  8. Each pair for the last time was instructed to make 3 questions using Future Simple, making predictions about Bill Gates’ future.

At the end of the question making, you can ask students to either correct other groups’ questions or answer them. Here are some questions my students made, with few additions from me:

Past Simple Tense:

  1. Where was Bill Gates born?
  2. When did he found Microsoft?
  3. Did he drop out of school?

Present Simple Tense

  1. What does he do now?
  2. What is the name of his foundation?
  3. Is he a creative person?

Future Simple Tense

  1. What will Bill Gates do in 2014?
  2. Who will replace his position?
  3. Will he go bankrupt?

I hope this is useful for you. Don’t forget: like, share, comment. 🙂

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Teaching “Will vs. Going to” with YouTube videos

It was only recently that I started making ‘contact’ with YouTube in terms of English Language Teaching (ELT). You can read my first experience in using YouTube here. Drawn by the successful attempt, I decided to give YouTube another try. This time with other grammar points: Will vs. Going to (Future Simple Tense). The activity consisted of 2 parts and used 4 videos: the first 3 videos were used as the explanatory videos for “Will vs. Going to” and the last video for writing (productive skill) practice using the 2 grammar points.

The steps are as below:

1. Students watch the first video about the use of ‘will’. The video contains some funny scenes so my students were quite entertained. You can choose to pause and play as the video contains several conversations and scenes. The video can also be used for other types of activities (listening, fill in the gaps, summary writing, etc.).

2. Worksheet is given to students and teacher explains a little bit about the use of ‘will’. Students are given time to do the worksheet while teacher guides, but only the ‘will’ part (the left-hand side). Download the worksheet that I made and used here Will vs. Going to Worksheet.

3. Students continue watching the second video about the use of ‘going to’. The form of this video is almost the same with the first one: it contains several conversations and scenes. It’s funny too.

4. After watching the second video, teacher explains about the use of ‘going to’ a little bit and students are asked to continue doing the second part of the worksheet (the ‘going to’ part). Again, teacher’s guide and assistance in students’ completing the worksheet is essential.

5. After finishing with ‘will’ and ‘going to’ in the worksheet, teacher prompts the question: “So what’s the difference between will and going to?” Students try to answer the question and teacher confirms it (explanation can be found in the worksheet). Third video is played.

6. After gaining understanding about the difference of ‘will’ and ‘going to’, students are asked to practice using the grammar units — again, with a YouTube video. I was trying to find a short video or movie about how the future will look like, but ended up with this video “What Will Clothes Look Like in the Future?” about the future of clothes. It is quite interesting and my students also found it quite amusing (so did I!).

7. So what’s the instruction for the practice? Students watch the very short documentary twice (or as many as you like depending on students’ level), then in pairs they have to write a summary about the documentary using ‘will’ and going to’. The aim of this practice is so students can make predictions about the future using ‘will’ and ‘going to’. Sentences should start with ‘will’ and ‘going to’ like these:

  1. There will …
  2. There is going to …
  3. The clothes will …
  4. The clothes are going to …

Here’s an example made by a group.

Students' work: Will vs. Going to

Students’ work: Will vs. Going to

Well, that’s all. I hope you find this blogpost useful. If you have comments or suggestions, or perhaps other brilliant ideas to teach grammar, feel free to drop me a comment. Thank you. 🙂

Practicing the imperative and modal auxiliaries with The White Stripes’ We’re Going to be Friends

Do you know this song?

I didn’t know this song until after I desperately asked for some suggestions on songs I could use to teach on my Twitter and a friend suggested me this. At the same time I was teaching the imperative and modal auxiliaries to my business English students. After watching the suggested video (the real music video from the band looks far more depressing than this one here) and reading the lyrics, I found the two grammar points were used a number of times.

Since the activity uses song as its media, the practice eventually incorporates listening as part of the grammar practice. Listening, just like reading, is considered to be an important input in the process of second language learning. Besides that, my other aim of using the song is to also show my students that grammar is not a separable unit or entity in a language. We can find it in speech and utterance, even songs. Hopefully this can motivate them to pay more attention to grammar.

The procedure of the practice involves listening, fill in the gaps activity, and followed by grammar and short writing practice. All of these activities are done individually but at the end of the listening activity they are allowed to discuss their findings. Because the topic of this song is about school, I believe school teachers can definitely use this song too. Here’s how I did the practice and other aspects about it.

Steps I applied during the practice

  1. Students watch the music video. This is done to entice students and let them grasp the context of the song.
  2. Worksheets are given to students. You can download the worksheet I made and used here We’re Going to be Friends Lyrics Worksheet.
  3. The music video is played 3 times while students are listening to the song and filling the gaps in the worksheet.
  4. Time to check students’ work! Students discuss and read (or sing) the lyrics aloud. There are many ways we can do to check students’ work. We can ask different students to read or sing the lyrics aloud one verse at a time, they read aloud or sing together, etc.
  5. By the fourth time they listened to the song, they could sing it. So we decided to sing together as the closing activity before we went to the next tasks: grammar and writing.
  6. Students do the grammar task in group or individually, then complete the activity by doing the writing task individually.

Why this activity is good

  1. According to Dr. Krashen, lowering stress means achieving more learning. Listening to songs can certainly make students feel more relaxed in classroom and help them enjoy the learning process.
  2. Choosing songs with the right tempo is also important. As their first listening activity, this song really suited my students well.
  3. Students can practice grammar from things that are familiar to them and their world — songs. It is hoped that they will be able to apply the practice on their own time.

Tips on using songs for grammar practice

  1. Choose songs that are appropriate to your students’ level, the tempo and difficulty level of the lyrics.
  2. Find songs in which the lyrics contain grammar points you are going to practice. It takes time but it’s worth it.
  3. Beware of lyrics and music videos that contain explicit content. Same concern I mentioned some time ago in my previous post.

So, what do you think about using songs to practice grammar? Are you interested in applying the same or similar activity in your class? Or do you have other ideas? Let me know by leaving your comments. 🙂

Pages you can use as additional handouts for pre-activity:

The imperative

Modal Verbs