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!

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

Mario Rinvolucri’s Six ways of improving relationship

The guest lists continue, and this time … well, what a guest! I don’t think Mario Rinvolucri needs much of an introduction for the readers of this blog, so I will pass it directly over to him.  Here Mario shares six ways of improving your relationship with your learners.

A central aspect of a teacher’s work is getting an adequate relationship with her student/s. I would suggest that without a reasonably harmonious way of relating to her class a teacher will find it hard to get the students to take the subject matter on board.

The building of  inter-personal bridges is central to the work of all the helping professions, doctors, shamans, nurses, social workers, therapists, priests. A recent study suggests that in the US the doctors who get sued by their patients tend not to be the ones who make medical blunders but the ones who fail to achieve decent rapport with the patient.

Here are six ways of building relationship:

Way 1  Geographical rapport. If you meet a student and discover that you have both been to the same town or region you tend to suddenly feel that bit warmer towards each other. If the place is the student’s own native place or your native place…the effect will normally be stronger.

Way 2  Speaking the same language/s  If you meet a student whom you are going to teach English to and are able to say a few words in their mother tongue this act of respect will have its effect on them. If you find out that you are both speakers of a third language this can also have a bonding effect.

Way 3  Same interests. You get talking to a students at coffee break and realise that you both keep bees. If this is the case  then a whole area of sameness and warmth opens up between you.

Way 4  Humour.  You carefully choose a joke that you  reckon everybody will understand and that will not cause listening comprehension anxiety. You tell your new group the joke and, for a moment, they are all united with you in laughter. The joke-telling has given you a way of wave-lengthing with the whole class.

Way 5 become vaguely aware that this first meeting with this student is not easy…you decide to pay attention to the tempo, or speed, of his speech and you modify your tempo to follow his…this will often, seemingly magically, improve the  initial uneasy situation between you. Please don’t take this on faith- try it out for yourself. 

Way 6  Adapting your language to the student’s main eye movement patterns.

This technique is only worth doing if you have not already got adequate rapport in easier ways.

If you see the student has a lot of upward eye movements speak to him from the picturing part of your mind, therefore using visual language.

If you see the student lowering their voice and speaking a lot with eyes cast down to their right then follow suit, lower you voice and respond to the student from the emotional part of your mind.

If you see the student speaking to you with eyes down to their left then they are probably in a sort of internal monologue in your presence…respond in kind…as if you were talking to yourself.

You will only manage the above elegantly if you give yourself loads of practice.


My feeling is that without rapport I have as much chance of teaching my students  as a baker has of baking bread without flour.

Mario Rinvolucri is an author of numerous books for language teachers including two of the most classic ones ever (Dictation and Grammar Games). He is a teacher trainer at Pilgrims. Mario’s new book Culture in our Classrooms, with Gill Johnson, is coming out later this year from Delta Publishing

Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 6:13 am  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , ,