Communicative Activities for Beginners

Just a few information gap activities in case you were looking for something to do in your language class today.

Many teachers struggle with finding ways to get beginner ELLs to use English communicatively in the classroom. Often teachers get stuck on things like repetition or reading out loud that may sound like the student is using English when actually they’re just mindlessly producing sounds that mimic English.

One of the best ways to break away from these activity types is by putting the students in situations where they have to construct their own utterances to complete a task. This is very difficult for beginners who may not have the English language resources to construct full utterances, but with the right help we can set them on the path that leads to these resources so that, by the end of the lesson, they will be able to produce full utterances.

The following are three information gap activities I’ve adapted for beginner EFL students in Japan. Each lesson took about 60 minutes and they are probably best used with students aged 14 and above. Each activity is followed by a brief explanation and an overview of the lesson. Feel free to adapt these to your own specific purposes or use them in any way you’d like. Also, some prior lessons may be required for scaffolding before these activities can be used, depending on student level.

#1 Bank Robbers info gap

This info gap activity mainly teaches students to ask and answer questions about people’s physical descriptions. On this handout I drew a little stick figure bank-robber at the top before making copies to help with visualizing the practice step.

-I started this lesson with a warm up by putting a picture of a person up for the class to see and then asked what words would describe that person. I listed the words the class used and made sure everyone understood what they meant.
-I then used their description words and created questions. I asked each student a question regarding a different descriptive characteristic of the person (e.g. What color is his hair?).
-I then had the students get into pairs and gave each pair the activity sheets (1 complementary set) and told them not to look at their partner’s paper.
-We did the practice component as a class, going through each question and answer. I transcribed a brief dialogue on the board for them to reference during the activity.
-Next I explained the task and had them begin. I circulated and helped where needed.
-10 minutes before the class ended I called their attention and we processed our answers together.

#2 Shopping Spree info gap

This activity focuses on asking and answering wh- questions regarding numbers (prices), and retail items. I tried to keep the math simple but it may be necessary to employ calculators. Also, I used the dollar for the currency in the activity but this can easily be changed to whatever you want.

-Warmed up with a brief conversation about my last trip to the local market and what I bought. I asked a few students about their last trips to the store as well.
-Worked on number pronunciations (e.g. $4.25 as “four twenty five” OR “four dollars and twenty five cents”).
-I made pairs of the students and passed out the sheets. Then, I explained the activity.
-We did the first receipt (Osaka bakery) together as a class. After, the students worked in pairs to finish the task. I circulated during this time and helped where needed.
-10 minutes before the end of class we processed our answers together.

#3 Daily routine info gap

I put this info gap activity 3rd for a reason. This one is slightly more advanced than the previous two because it requires students to derive the necessary wh- question from the context. That being said, it’s still fairly easy when given the proper instructions. It mainly focuses on times and schedules. This lesson mostly requires the simple present, but that’s flexible.

-Used the basic warm up of “what did you do today?” but also asked several follow up questions about specific times such as “When did you leave for work?” or “When did you eat lunch?”
-Next we practiced using an imaginary character whose brief schedule I wrote on the board. We took turns asking and answering questions about the schedule (e.g. When does he get home?, What does he do after school?, How does he get to work?). I just made sure to get a variety of wh- question types into the practice.
-Next I paired up the students and passed out the sheets. I explained the process, which can be done either by having one person fully complete their worksheet then the other, or taking turns after each questions (recommended). I circulated as the students did the task.
-After the task, if there’s time, have the students interview each other about their own daily schedules using the questions types they learned during the activity.
-10 minutes before the class ends, process the answers.

There are plenty more activities like these out there, and can quickly be found with a little time on Google. The brevity of my explanations and procedures was intentional as these things change so easily in different contexts. I hope you find these useful!
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