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Information Gap Activities in EFL Lessons

Bill Pellowe, Robert Chartrand, Dominic Marini

Podcast Notes

Today's panel is

  • Bill Pellowe, Kinki University Kyushu School of Engineering and ELT Calendar.
  • Robert Chartrand, Kurume University.
  • Dominic Marini, Fukuoka International University.
Today we discussed information gap activity, a familiar type of exercise found in communicative textbooks and teacher resource books. An information gap activity requires as least two different versions of the material. Students work together in pairs or threes, and each have different information on their pages, so that they have to talk to each other in order to complete the information.

Here's a simple example:
Student A's paper:Student B's paper:
Name:Bill PelloweName:blank
The conversation would go like this:
B: What's his name?
A: It's Bill Pellowe. What does he do?
B: He's a teacher.

One drawback to this type of exercise is that it could train students to engage in conversations that resemble police interrogations rather than interactive discussions. It should be understood by teachers and students that many varieties of information gap activities are actually a type of interactive drill rather than a model of conversation.

Also, teachers need to be clear to students about the purpose of the activity. Some students mistakenly believe that the purpose is to completely fill in all of the blanks on the page. Teachers need to emphasize that the important part is the process of asking and answering in English. Otherwise, some students will talk in their native language, peek at each others' papers, just recite the answers, or any number of other ways to quickly rush to the end.

When a class is doing an information gap, all of the students are talking to their partners. Teachers who are more comfortable with teacher-centered lecture-style lessons may balk at this apparent lack of control and inability to closely monitor every utterance by every individual. Likewise, students who have been raised in such teacher-centered educational systems may misinterpret this loosening of control as time for them to do whatever they want to do.

All of these drawbacks, warnings and caveats aside, information gap activities can serve very useful roles in the foreign language classroom.

Here are a few Info gap ideas with specific language practice:
  • lists of people's personal information (name, job, height, age, etc.)
  • lists of countries (language spoken, population, capital city)
  • lists of top-grossing movies (practice large numbers)
  • crossword puzzles (vocabulary review)
  • schedules for trains, movies, concerts
Here are a few info gap ideas with more flexibility in language choice:
  • maps with different locations; students give directions
  • drawings that differ slightly; students describe or ask questions to discover the differences
  • student-generated content (students write a menu, draw a picture, etc.)

mp3 file
size: 12.94 MB
time: 26:49
Feb 20, 2007

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