I’ve always been very keen on information gap activities; the kind of thing where students work in pairs and where one student has one set of information and the other student has a different set and they have to communicate to somehow pool what they know. The classic example of this is ‘Spot the differences’. It usually works something like this..
- Student A has one picture. Student B has a slightly different picture. They don’t show their pictures to each other.
- They talk to each other to find differences between their pictures, using questions like ‘In your picture is there a man?’ ‘Does he have a beard?’ etc.
It’s a great way to encourage lots of meaningful communication and to practice certain grammatical forms and particular areas of vocabulary. On the other hand, when I’ve used it with low level learners I’ve often encountered problems. Sometimes learners end up showing their pictures to each other because they simply don’t have enough shared language to do the task. If either of them doesn’t know the word for beard for example, they can end up showing the pictures to each other in order to clarify meanings. The information gap is lost of course but the language gap is still there, and I think that in certain situations this can actually lead to more learning.
Here’s an example from the Hands Up project’s last session before Xmas which took place on Wednesday. Alex in Russia led the session for a group in Gaza and she asked me to take part too from the UK. She organised a really nice competition between me and the class (in which I was resoundingly thrashed!) with questions about how Christmas is celebrated in Russia. Then she showed this picture of Father Frost and Father Xmas and asked us to take it in turns to talk about differences and similarities. There’s no information gap, but there are plenty of opportunities to notice language for the learners.
Happy Christmas to readers of this blog everywhere and we look forward to seeing you in the New Year.