Apart from a few favourite warmers, fillers and coolers, if there’s one activity which I’ve used again and again since I started teaching, it’s Map of Spain (or Map of insert the name of the country where you work. With multilingual classes, you could do Map of the World.) Here’s how it works:
- Tell students that the classroom is the map of Spain / the country you’re in. Establish where north is and stand somewhere in the room. Students guess where you are - it could be a village, city, national park, somewhere in the mountains etc.
- Now tell them move around the map and stand in a place that they know well enough to talk about. Once each student is in place, the class guess where everyone is. If you have a large class, you may want to speed things up a bit by getting each student to say where they are. It doesn’t matter if more than one person has chosen the same place.
- Say that a tourist is going visit this place for the first time. What should they know about it? Write the categories that students suggest on the board e.g. food and drink, sightseeing, culture, nightlife, the weather and so on.
- Give students about five minutes to make some notes individually about the place they have chosen. Emphasize that they should be notes, not a composition, and that they should be legible. They should also write down any questions that they want to ask you.
- When the time’s up, answer their questions. They will probably ask how to say the names of food or dishes which don’t have a translation in English so you’ll need to give them ways to explain:
- It’s a kind of (stew) made with / of…..
- It’s a traditional dish made of / with / served with…..
Similarly, they may need language to talk about public holidays or festivals:
- It’s a day when people …..
- It’s a day that commemorates ….
6. Before students start speaking about their places, you may want to provide a model by telling them something about the one you chose in step 1. It can also be interesting for students to find out what you know about the part of their country you’ve chosen.
7. Now put students in pairs where each person has made notes about a different place. They take it in turns to tell each other about these places. Again, get them to note down any questions they want to ask while you listen and note down ways they can express themselves more naturally.
8. Once everyone has spoken, have another question and answer session. Hopefully the board will be full of interesting language by the end of it. Tell students that from now on, one of their objectives is to use as much of this language as they can.
9. In their pairs, students decide who is A and who is B. Student A’s role is to gather information while Student B’s role is to give information. Check that everyone is clear about their role.
10. Student A leaves the notes from step 4 with Student B and moves in an anti-clockwise direction to the next Student B. Student B shouldn’t move yet!
11. Student B tells the new Student A the names of the two places they have information about. Set a time limit for Student A to find out as much as they can about these places.
12. At the end of the time limit, Student A goes back to their original Student B, and tells them what they found out in step 11.
13. Now students swap roles so that Student A becomes the information giver and Student B the information gatherer. Student B moves in a clockwise direction to the next Student A and finds out as much as they can about two more places before reporting back to their original partner.
14. Each student now has information about six places including their own. Tell them they can spend a weekend in one place. Which one would they choose? They tell their partner, giving reasons why. Finish off by asking some of / all the students to tell the whole class briefly.
I keep coming back to this activity because:
- it’s multi-level - if you make adjustments to the language input and the length of speaking time, you can use it with students from A2 to C2.
- It gives students the opportunity to prepare to do the speaking task before doing it. There’s also an element of task repetition, which means they may do it better for some reason, perhaps by speaking more fluently or more accurately, by using a wider range of vocabulary etc.
- It generates a lot of vocabulary, most of which comes from students’ questions.
And, last of all, with no photocopies to make and no preparation to do beforehand, it’s a good one to have at hand if you’re called to cover a class at short notice.
Steve Muir has worked in ELT for over twenty years. He has taught English to young learners and adults in the UK, Egypt, Hong Kong and Spain. He lives in Madrid and works at the British Council in Alcalá de Henares. He writes a blog with Tom Spain at www.allatc.wordpress.com , which is a collection of video-based lessons for teachers to use in class.