Six ways to use a list

Since I’m going to be rabbiting on about lists at various workshops I’m doing I thought I would save the bother of making a handout and simply include here some teaching tips. There are of course six of them. A longer version of these appeared in Humanising Language Teaching and It’s for Teachers magazine.  Here are my top six ways to use a list in class.

1. Dictation

Introduce your list, and simply dictate the items to the students, who write them down. Ask students to check their dictations in pairs afterwards and have one pair come and write it on the board.

A variation would be to dictate the items first and ask students to guess what they think the list is about.

Try it with: This basic technique works best with lists of short items (no more than three or four words) and words that the students recognise – don’t use it with names of people for instance.

2. What’s the list?

Write up some key words from the list randomly on the board (these could be numbers, or names of people or places). Introduce your list and explain that you are going to read out the items on it. Tell the students that they have to number the words on the board in order that they hear them.

Read out your list. Check the answers to the order of items. Then ask students to work in pairs and retell as much of the information as they can remember, using the words as a prompt.

Try it with: This works well with lists of facts about something, somebody or somewhere.

3. Mixed up list(s)

Give students items from a list in a mixed up order. This could mean putting each item on a different slip of paper or, if all that cutting up seems to onerous, simply jumbling the order of items on a piece of paper.

Ask the students to try and put the items from the list in the correct order.

Try it with: This works only with lists which are a ranking of some kind (for example, most popular leisure activities, top ranking movies of all time etc). It’s best too if the items are not too long.

4. The students’ list

Introduce the subject of the list (e.g. 10 top things to do in your city) but without saying what the items are. Ask students to work in pairs and brainstorm 10 different things for the list. Ask each pair to work with another pair and combine their lists into a new list of 10 things. Then do feedback on the final lists as a whole class.

At the end of the discussion, read out (or distribute) the original list for students to compare with. Do they agree with the author of the list?

Try it with: This activity works well with lists that are based on opinion (the best things to do in X city, the most newsworthy items of the year etc).

5. Work on intonation

Lists can also be used to practice pronunciation. One characteristic of lists is that the intonation usually rises on each item of the list (as if indicating “I’m not finished yet”) and falls on the last item (as if indicating “I’ve finished now”).

 You can raise students’ awareness of this by asking to listen to you read the list with this intonation and mark their own arrows. Then ask them to create their own (more common, or useful) lists and read them to each other with the correct intonation.

Try it with: Almost any list of short items – even a shopping list. Read out the items on the list, paying attention to the intonation. Then ask students to do the same, in pairs. Finally, ask students to make their own lists. For example:

Today I have XY, Z and English class.

I’d like to visit X, Y, Z and ZZ. Etc

6. As a springboard for discussion

Of course, many lists can be great as a springboard for discussion and conversation. Some ways you could do this would be: to ask students to underline the items they found most interesting/unusual/typical and compare with a partner; discuss what items are missing (in their opinion) from the list; discuss a different order to the list or simply talk about the topic that the list brought up.

Try it with: Any list that you think will spark interest!

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Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 1:57 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Erm, Lindsay – don’t you think this idea of lists for everything is … well, not infinite? There are some people out there that never compile lists – like me, for instance. Even my shopping tends to be an experience in the nature of random choice, a sort of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ applied to consumerism.

    However, I’ve just had an idea. Why not get your students to list six things they like about your classes, and six items they don’t? If anybody puts ‘MY TEACHER’ on the wrong list, just give them six reasons to avoid you in future – (1) a slap in the face; (2) copying out a page from the Oxford dictionary, etc. Good, eh?!

    • Hi Sandy, you are quite right that this whole list business could be finite, maybe I will stop at a hundred lists (six hundred things) or perhaps 111 lists (six hundred and sixty-six things). Thanks for the suggestion on learner feedback, I would personally opt for number two if forced… or get them to make more and more lists such as “things I like about my teacher and things I love about my teacher” 😉

  2. hey Lindsay, nice meeting you at Oxford House, i put a mini-writeup of your workshop on my blog under the title “it’s workshop season: the final chapter”.

    Also, speaking of lists, thought you’d be interested in this, if you hadn’t already seen it:

    http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/category/lists/

    • Hi Nick, thanks for this link. I like the idea my blog could be considered “mental floss”, but hopefully not the used-up kind you find in the bathroom garbage… Cheers also for the write-up!

    • Thanks for this link. I like the idea my blog could be considered “mental floss”, but hopefully not the used-up kind you find in the bathroom garbage… Cheers also for the write-up!

  3. À propos of nothing else, I not only enjoy the lists, but I liked the little memory jolt regarding my favorite television drama, The Prisoner.


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