One of the bread and butter ESL activities is the gap fill. This provides controlled practice on a particular language point, reinforces student understanding and can highlight any gaps in student’s acquisition of the grammar to help the teacher plan accordingly. As well as the many excellent resources for this style of activity including the venerable English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy, you can find some fantastically inventive ideas for making these traditionally boring activities excite your students. This type of task is probably the most common homework activity that is set, especially after discussing a grammar point in class. However, checking this homework can be more than a little monotonous and feels distinctly like wasted time especially when you only see your class for a few hours a week, the most common situation whilst teaching in Berlin.
Here are some tried and tested ideas:
- Throw a ball/nominate someone to answer
- Sentence auction
- Do as a team quiz
- Students ask follow-up questions
- Hide the correct answers around the room
- Give your students the answer key
Rather than asking each consecutive student for an answer, allow students to nominate each other. Get a tennis/small ball or failing that, a screwed up piece of paper. Give student 1 the ball, they answer question 1 and then can throw the ball to anyone who then answers question 2. Repeat until all questions are answered.
The grammar auction is a well-known grammar practice activity that can easily be adapted to check homework. Students start with an amount of money, say €400. They then bid on each gap-fill homework sentence, just like a real auction (you are the auctioneer). The winner of each bid gives the answer. If they are correct, they lose their money and they ‘win’ that sentence. If they give the wrong answer, they just lose the money. The person with the most ‘won’ sentences at the end of the correction is the winner.
Put the students into teams of 3 or 4. Give them a few minutes to check their answers together. Check answers together and give one point for each correct from each team. At the end, the team with the most correct answers are the winners.
Rather than only going through the answers, you could test student understanding by making them ask a question using the target language. Some language points really lend themselves to this, for example, a gap fill on past simple irregular verbs. After giving the correct answer in the gap fill, the student makes a question using the irregular verb and nominates someone in the room to respond.
Print the correct answers to an activity in sentence form, cut up to individual sentences and then hide these sentences in the room before the class starts. When correcting the homework, tell the students to find the answers. The first student to find all the answers and correct their homework is the winner.
Obviously this depends a lot on your students. Some can’t be trusted not to cheat, many value having the opportunity to discuss the answers during class time. For those who are sufficiently self-motivated and trustworthy, letting them correct their own homework can save a lot of time.