Professional Development

5 great reasons to extend activities

Robert Dobie

Following on from yesterday’s article on classroom activities with scissors, Robert Dobie shares 5 reasons for incorporating extension activities in your lessons, and provides a free worksheet download too!

It’s tempting to look at what happens in ‘our’ classrooms first and foremost from a teacher’s perspective, and so as an ESL teacher, we might sometimes feel a little guilty when we hear the phrase ‘extend an activity’.  It might conjure up images of a teacher too lazy or time-stressed to think of new, additional activities and tasks to fill the time we have with our learners.  Well, leave the guilt aside because, in fact, extending a classroom activity has major benefits for our learners.  Here are five of them.

1.   Long Term Memory

You probably already know about short term memory and long term memory – about how it’s easy to ‘learn’ things and remember them a few minutes later; but how it’s difficult to ‘learn’ things and remember those same things a day or two later.  As it turns out, people need to learn things, forget them, and then re-learn.  This process is what ‘practicing’ is all about.

That’s easy enough.  The trick, however, as a language teacher, is to provide opportunities for practice without boring your learners to tears by spending too much time on one particular activity or task.  This is where extending activities comes in.  For example, an extended activity may begin with (1) a short spelling dictation of new vocabulary, followed by (2) a short discussion using the same vocabulary, followed by (3) a written-response exercise with opportunities for learners to use the vocabulary.  This strategy allows for learner ‘practice’ and ‘learning’, while at the same time keep your students’ interest level up.

Try this downloadable Present Perfect activity and extension task!

2.  Increased Learner Motivation and Confidence

Naturally, we want our learners to feel that they are learning and making progress because, without a sense of accomplishment and confidence, learner motivation will fall.  With less motivation, effort and learning decreases.  With less learning, less confidence ….  Obviously, this is a terrible trap, or cycle, to have your students fall into.  By extending activities, you allow for more practice, long-term memory (see above), confidence, and ‘real’ learning to happen.

3.  Mixed Ability Classes

In reality, every class is, to some degree, a ‘mixed ability’ class – no two students are exactly alike in their level of language proficiency.  This becomes very obvious when some of your learners raise their hands and proudly exclaim, “Finished!” while other learners in your class have barely begun the task you gave them.  Rather than giving these quick finishers a new, completely different task to work on, consider extending the activity to keep them ‘on the same page’ as the rest of the class (no pun intended).  So, for example, if your student has finished writing the answers to a number of reading comprehension questions, ask her to write two more additional related questions – then, when most of her classmates finish the task, she can then ask aloud her questions.

4.  Individual Learning Styles

Just as many classes are ‘mixed ability’, students in almost any class have different learning styles.  Some students prefer to work alone, while others like to work with their classmates.  Some students hate to make mistakes, while others prefer to take risks.  When you extend an activity (and work on it from different angles), you create a learning environment that can satisfy the learning needs of more of your students.

5.   The Real World

It’s a fact that ‘realia’ can provide authentic language input and increase learner interest.  What is realia?  Realia = real-life objects or materials from the outside world that you bring into the classroom; for example newspapers, magazines or websites.  Realia is a good thing, no doubt, and extending activities can naturally lead into opportunities for its use in your language classroom.

Here’s an example of how extending an activity allows for realia:  Your students have just completed a listening exercise in which they listened to a number of questions using the Present Perfect.

A: [spoken question] Have you ever flown on a plane?

B: [correct answer] Yes, I have.

You could make this exercise more “real” by (first) checking their answers, and then (second) giving them a few minutes to work together to write any of the questions they can remember.  Then (third) they could write some of their own interview questions.  Finally, (fourth) they could use their questions to interview some people outside the four walls of their classroom (schoolmates, friends, or family members) for homework.  In this case, the ‘realia’ in this series of extension activities are people, not things!  In the following class period, your learners could report their findings to their classmates.

The list of reasons to extend activities doesn’t have to stop here. What other reasons can you think of to extend activities?

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