My six favourite Mario Rinvolucri Activities

Part of my bookshelf of teacher's resource books, there are four more shelves full!

Note: This blogpost originally appeared as part of a series of articles I was invited to contribute to in honour of Mario Rinvolucri’s 70th birthday. The post below and other articles about Mario’s influence in the world of ELT appeared in the last issue of Humanizing Language Teaching, one of the first online magazines for ELT that I know of that is still going. See the issue here.

The first resource book for teachers I ever owned was Mario Rinvolucri’s Grammar Games. After fifteen years of teaching and having several books of my own published I still enjoy opening the battered green cover and leafing through it (you can see it on my shelf, above). Much of the book still feels as fresh today in 2010 as it felt when I first opened it. It’s the sign of truly good and practical classroom activities, something that I know Mario has always striven for in his work.

Since my early teaching days I have slowly collected resource books for teachers. They occupy around eight shelves in my office now. Many of them are Mario’s and I’m happy to say that with every new book there is still always some good stuff in there.

I know that some teachers and writers like to make fun of the more “experimental” activities that Mario has suggested over the years, certainly many of these to do with Multiple Intelligence theory or NLP. But that overlooks the great amount of practical, doable and sensible activities and ideas that Mario has contributed to our profession. I thought I’d share half a dozen “Mario activities” that any language teacher, new or experienced, should have up their sleeve.

Note: I call these Mario activities because I discovered them in his books. Mario is very honest about where his activities come from, citing the source wherever possible. I know he would not want me to attribute a whole idea or activity to him if it weren’t his, so the proviso here is that all of these activities have been shared by Mario even if not created by him.

1 Causes and Consequences

This collection of ideas and activities are all stimulating, even though the photos in it now look extremely old-fashioned. My favourite activities here were ones that did not depend on photos. Causes and consequences was a simple activity where students were given a statement and had to brainstorm all the causes and consequences of that statement. Brilliant, and worked as a critical thinking activity for me many a time.

taken from: Challenge to Think, written with Christine Frank, published by OUP (1982)

2 Present Perfect Poem

One of my all time favourites as a teacher. The students are given a series of words which they have to make into as many different sentences as possible. They put these together to make a poem, which will be very close to an actual poem by Robin Truscott. Sample sentence: We have seen the face of the enemy and it works.

Probably one of the most meaningful exercises I’ve done with learners.

taken from: Grammar Games, published by CUP (1984)

3 The Marienbad game

I still use this activity with almost every group from Elementary level upwards. You write a poem on the board and the students have to take words away one or two at a time until a group cannot take any more words away. So simple and elegant as an activity. And very grammatical.

taken from: Grammar Games, published by CUP (1984)

4 The Coke Machine Round the Corner

My first ever activity I did with movement and mime, the Coke Machine dictation involves students miming a series of actions to get a soft drink from a machine and drink it. The “burp!” at the end often yielded hilarious results.

taken from: Dictation, written with Paul Davis, published by CUP (1988)

5  The Optimist and the Pessimist

I love the way Mario is able to generate a mass of communication and meaning from a simple sentence. In this activity students are given a sentence and each have to write a reaction to it beginning either with “Fortunately…” (for the optimists) or “Unfortunately…” (for the pessimists).

taken from: Humanising your Coursebook, published by Delta Publishing 2002

6 Time is of the essence

Given my long relationship with Mario’s writing as a teacher and a teacher trainer, it was an amazing opportunity for me to be able to actually work as an editor on his latest work, Culture in our Classrooms (written with Gilly Johnson). Mario’s passion for culture really shone through here, and even though we hotly debated some of the material and how it should appear I think his eye for practical activities that appeal to the students’ affective needs is as good as ever. One of my favourites in this book is Time is of the Essence, where students read a sentence relating to time and have to determine what time they would put. For example: She got to work early that morning. (students say what time that would be in their culture). Even more of a honour was that Mario asked me to supply the Canadian times as an example for the activity!

taken from: Culture in our Classrooms, written with Gill Johnson, published by Delta (2010)

There you have them. Only six, from an overall collection of probably more than six hundred. Apologies if I have missed your favourites, but you are welcome as ever to leave a comment. And if you don’t know any of these, then I recommend you get to a library or bookshop pretty quickly! Your teaching repertoire will be much improved for it!


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Published in: on July 1, 2010 at 7:47 am  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for sharing this list of shared activities, Lindsay. Particularly, I like number one.

    I really need to look at more of Mario’s books =)

    • Hi there,

      ELB Publishing (http://www.elbpublishing.co.uk/) has managed to get rights to and republish many of these old gems. Challenge to Think is there. It’s a great book!

      • Cool! Thanks again, Lindsay =)

  2. I think I’ve used every single one of these six activities several times with classes over the years! My all-time favourite is the Coke machine, which I have used with classes from kids and teens, up to experienced teacher trainers (to illustrate a TPR activity). Everybody loves it, every time, including me :-). Thanks Mario!
    Nicky

  3. Along with all these brilliant activities, as well as many many others, we also have Mario to thank for the wonderful ‘Running Dictation’ activity. I can remember when I first read about it in ‘Dictation’ in Brazil in the early nineties. I could hardly wait to get into a class to try it out and I still get quite a buzz out of it when I use it with a class now.

    • wow! excellent coincidence!

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Lindsay. About a year ago I could attend one of Mario’s inspiring lectures on how to bring cultural aspects into the classroom and where he showed how the last activity you mentioned worked. I clearly remember sitting next to a Polish colleague and comparing times in our cultures. Imagine how different Spanish times were!

    In addition to those activities, one of my favourites is Grammar Auction (fake plastic auctioneer’s hammer included :-). It always works and helps to grammar up from time to time.

  5. A pleasure to read,indeed! I remember a workshop I attended in the late 80´s when Jhon Morgan presented his RUNNING DICTATION,and thanked Mario for giving so much light to the games world.So many years and I still go to the ´green and yellow´ book you mentioned!!! Thanks for the warmth of your words!

  6. One of those was borrowed* (without credit being given) from a colleague of mine who came up with it during a workshop given my Mario and who was (un)pleasantly surprised to find it in publication a couple of years later. Naughty, naughty Mario!

    *True story


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