Even more than face to face, the classroom language most needed for online classes is definitely checking/ clarifying phrases like “Can you say that one more time (more slowly)?”, “Can you say that another way?”, “Did you say… (or…)?” and “How do you spell…?” It’s also vital for things which are particularly good on Zoom etc such as telephoning and drawing dictations. However, there are (as I’ve been writing quite a lot recently) complications. Here are a few:
- Students and even the teacher can easily get mixed up between the real communication problems that are inevitable in online classes and whatever communication problems are included in the practice activities for checking/ clarifying phrases. Therefore at least the beginning of the activity will need to be easy and/ or quite artificial.
- Giving something to just one person to say so other people genuinely need to check/ clarify what they are saying can be quite complicated online. Therefore, you might want to start with quite a fake situation such as someone deliberately making mistakes with things on a list that everyone can see for other people to correct. Alternatively, you could start by asking students to make up their own things to say for the other people to check so that there’s no need to share lists. (See my post on drawing games for how to share stuff with individual students if you do want to do it that way).
- If you want students to make up their own things to say/ dictate for other people to check, you’ll need to set it up carefully so that students aren’t saying things that are too easy to need clarification but that they are avoiding things which are too difficult to understand even with clarification, and also that they aren’t saying things that they aren’t clear about themselves (which can cause more and more confusion as the other students try to check what is being said).
- If you want students to do it in groups in breakout rooms, you’ll need to set up a very structured activity and/ or give them lots of language that they’ll need. For example, to practise numbers and checking/ clarifying in pairs or groups online, you’ll probably need Student A and Student B worksheets with figures and at least two ways to pronounce each figure so that they can explain another way
- If you’re not splitting into groups , you’ll need to keep every involved. For example, you could have one person say something, the other people take turns asking as many checking/ clarifying questions as they can, and finally anyone who can’t think of any more suitable questions writes down what was said
Although I’ve written and shared an article, 222 phrases and 17 photocopiables on checking/ clarifying over the years, nothing quite seemed right for my Zoom classes. After a night of restless tossing and turning in thought, I eventually came up with a lesson where students get each other to say numbers and words that get longer and longer by one figure/ letter each time, with a bit of pretending to have communication problems for more intensive practice of the functional language. It also involves them working together collaboratively on the same screen, which is a good real-life skill (especially nowadays) and as a lead-in to or further practice of other classroom language for Zoom lessons.
And here it is:
I’m planning to follow this with something on understanding and pronouncing numbers, then to practise it with a bit more context as part of leaving messages on the phone. Will let you know how that goes…