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Young Learners

Teaching English to Elementary School Children

March 20, 2011

Spot the Difference

I have always struggled to find ways of giving students opportunities to speak English in class in a communicative way without being prompted by questions, either by me or by another student. While being able to answer questions is an important skill in a foreign language, it is also important to be able to speak without having first been asked a question.

One activity I have found that allows this kind of practice is using Spot the Difference pictures. The way I use these pictures is to give the students a pair of pictures which have about five differences and set a 3-minute egg-timer going. I sit with my back to the students with a piece of paper and pencil. The students try find the differences and explain them to me before the time limit is reached. Once all the differences have been explained, I read what I have written and they show me on the picture what it refers to. If there is something they didn’t know how to say or explained unclearly, this is when I can teach them the correct word or phrase. It helps to have your back to the students so that they can’t point at the picture - they have to explain clearly. The time limit encourages fluency and makes it more fun.

This activity allows students to use language they have already learned in class in a meaningful way, and at a level that is appropriate. Lower level students can use single words while higher level students can use phrases or sentences. I have been using this activity in a class of three students who are in their third year of learning English. I have a very small, cheap book of Spot the Difference pictures which I bought from Amazon, called Spot the Differences Puzzle Fun published by Dover Publications. The pictures are simple line black and white line drawings and the differences are easy to find. The second time I did this activity in class the students immediately started asking me the English for anything on the picture they didn’t know, which they knew they would need for the activity, before they let me start the egg-timer. I let the students flick through and choose a picture. They usually demand to do two per class.

The only special language that I taught in advance was “left picture, right picture” although these are words they already knew. I have found that they are very creative in using language they know to explain the differences to me, even if they don’t know the exact way to say it. It is also a useful way, depending on the pictures, for students to learn phrases such as upside-down, back-to-front, topsy-turvy etc. As the pictures are designed for children, the vocabulary that comes up is vocabulary that is interesting for children. It also lets students use a mixture of sentence patterns such as describing actions, describing positions, describing size differences and so on.

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