Collaborative Activities in Advanced ESL Classes | Webinar summary

I was hoping for something really innovative from this webinar but it ended up being a presentation of fairly basic activities from a single coursebook using an information gap-type format. Nevertheless, there were some neat quotes and interesting variations on trusty old task types.


The speaker, Dennis Johnson, started off by sharing a quote about why you might want to include collaborative learning.

Cooperative learning has a dramatic positive impact on almost all of the variables critical to language acquisition.

Spencer Kagan (1995)

He then went on to specify how this might affect retention and use of lexis.

Before we ‘own’ a word, we need multiple exposures – for recognition around 20 times; for production, nearly 60 times. To provide that exposure to their Ss, Ts need a variety of activities.”

Paul Nation, Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, 2013

Finally, here’s an interesting format for expressing future skills. Johnson suggested that 1, 2, 3 & 5 directly related to collaborative work.

7 Cs: essential skills for the future workforce

  1. Critical thinking
  2. Communication
  3. Collaboration
  4. Creativity
  5. Cross-cultural understanding
  6. Computing
  7. Career self-reliance (lifelong learning)

Bernie Trilling: 21st century skills

Student interview

Johnson’s name for this activity is unfortunately not very exciting but the way he stages it make it a fairly interesting paired interactive lecture. 

Ss listen to a short lecture and then fill a form that contains 7 questions. However, they fill this form by asking a partner these questions and noting down their responses.  Ss can then rewrite these notes as sentences using academic language phrases for citing evidence and support opinion. The sample listening text he used to illustrate this activity is available here. So you could potentially use any short podcast or perhaps a TED clip.

Some phrases in the questions could be underlined to help Ss notice language that you would like them to use.

  • Questions that require citing evidence: What are the two purposes of small talk the speaker gives? Other phrases that might signal these sorts of questions include ‘how does the speaker define’ and ‘according to the speaker’.
  • Questions that support opinion: Do you agree that people should not start conversations about things that are too personal? Give a reason for your opinion. Other phrases include ‘based on your experience’.

You might also have a poster on the wall which supplies phrases for citing evidence:

According to the author …

________ pointed out that

The author states that …

In the text, ______ states that …

______ indicated that

______ emphasized that

______ concluded that

As feedback, you could call attention to register and style and get Ss to consider replacing ‘I think’ with ‘Based on my experience’ or ‘From my perspective’.

A variation: Group interview 

Ask a series of close-ended questions and tally answers; questions such as “can you tell me if you would permit your child to stay out late?” Ask Ss to then to draw a graph based on their findings. Johnson suggested that Ss would naturally ask follow-up questions such ‘why’ or ‘why not’ even though they are explicitly told to do so in the task. I’m not so sure about that. In my experience, Ss are generally focused on task completion rather than having a real conversation.


Partner dictation 

Ss work in pairs but are given very different worksheets. Pairs could be separated a folder or some such so they don’t see each other’s posts. The two sheets have different texts. Ss dictate the texts to each other and they take notes. Ss then check their sentences with their partners and then discuss a follow-up question which asks them to reflect on the ideas in their texts (perhaps a comparative question that bridges the two texts), relate it to their own experience, and share opinions.

Role play 

A really bland name for a not so bland activity. What I like in this format is the opportunity that Ss have to anticipate the content of the role play and plan (without realizing that they’re planning). 

Ss study a picture of a person at his cubicle and make some predictions (This is XYZ, what do you think he is doing?). They then read a short scenario written in the second person (You are XYZ … You call ABC to find out more.) The third part of the activity asks Ss to find specific details such as a deadline or requirements. Because this is essentially an information gap activity, half of the Ss will get a different worksheet but with the same staging where they make predictions about ABC, read a second person scenario which asks them to provide some information to XYZ. The twist in the third stage is when Ss who play the role of ABC need to read some information in the picture and frame sentences which they will then share with their partners.

Untitled picture
Source: Ventures Level 5 Transitions, CUP

Ventures, the coursebook that this webinar was a plug for, has a T’s resource site which may be worth checking if you like that sort of thing.



One thought on “Collaborative Activities in Advanced ESL Classes | Webinar summary

  1. Hi Adi,
    Thank you for sharing the ideas – in fact, I was glad to be reminded of the activities. I liked (and took a note of) the phrases for citing evidence: I think this would be a good (long-term) classroom poster for advanced learners, or even teachers on a course. Also, agree that adding a piece of instruction in the interview about asking ‘why (not)’ questions is a good idea (not all cultures of learners do it without being reminded)


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