Lindsay ClanfieldLindsay Clandfield is an English language teacher trainer, international conference speaker, and award-winning author. In this post, he shares 10 ways that you can use lists in the ELT classroom.

1. Take the attendance in new ways

One of the lists teachers and students are faced with every day is the attendance list. Why not start your class by adding a bit of originality to the attendance-taking routine? Instead of calling out students’ names, spell the first names quickly in English. Students must listen carefully and say “Present” when they hear the letters of their name. Alternatively, call out names and ask students to respond with a word in a certain category. So if the category was clothes, when you call a name the student must respond with “T-shirt!” or “underwear!”

2. Dictate a list

Find a list of short items (no more than three or four words) and words that the students recognise – don’t use it with names of people for instance. Introduce your list, and simply dictate the items to the students, who write them down. Ask students to check their dictations in pairs afterwards and have one pair come and write it on the board. This is the most basic technique, but could be made more interesting by choosing a list of words which are connected in a strange way and asking students to find the connection after the dictation.

3. Guess the list

Find a list of facts about something, someone or somewhere. Write up some key words from the list randomly on the board (these could be numbers, or names of people or places). Introduce your list and explain that you are going to read out the items on it. Tell the students that they have to number the words on the board in order that they hear them. Read out your list. Check the answers to the order of items. Then ask students to work in pairs and retell as much of the information as they can remember, using the words as a prompt.

4. Mix up the items

Find a list which is a ranking of some kind (a top five or best of…). Give students items from the list in a mixed up order. This could mean putting each item on a different slip of paper or, if all that cutting up seems too onerous, simply jumbling the order of items on a piece of paper. Give them the list and ask the students to try and put the items in the correct order.

5. Use the students’ list

Find a subjective list (e.g. the best things to do in X city, the most newsworthy stories of the year, the most romantic places to ask someone to marry you). Introduce the subject of the list but without saying what the items are. Ask students to work in pairs and brainstorm 10 different things for the list. Ask each pair to work with another pair and combine their lists into a new list of 10 things. Then do feedback on the final lists as a whole class. At the end of the discussion, read out (or distribute) the original list for students to compare with. Do they agree with the author of the list?

You can also ask students to make more personal lists. At the beginning of a new class, ask students to make a list of four things they like or don’t like about their name. They then compare lists with a partner before reporting back. Another possibility is to give students homework of making their own “top five” list. This can be anything they like, as long as it relates to them. Examples include their top five TV shows, top five comfort foods, top five cities that they would like to visit… The next day they share lists with each other, or you publish them on a class blog.

6. Work on intonation

Many lists can also be used to practice pronunciation. One characteristic of lists is that the intonation usually rises on each item of the list (as if indicating “I’m not finished yet”) and falls on the last item (as if indicating “I’ve finished now”). You can use a shopping list for this. Raise students’ awareness of this by asking to listen to you read the list with this intonation and mark their own arrows. Then ask them to create their own (more common, or useful) lists and read them to each other with the correct intonation.
Today I have X, Y, Z and English class.
I’d like to visit X, Y and Z.

7. Find useful chunks

Shopping lists are also a very good source of language chunks and collocations. A google image search for “shopping list” will give you lots of examples. Take one of these, or make one yourself, and ask students to find all the examples of collocations (e.g. air freshener, hand soap, baking powder). Then they turn over the list. You call out one word and they have to call out possible combinations.

8 Use to-do lists

To-do lists can be a great way of practising the present perfect. Ask students to make a list of things they have to do this month. Tell them to include three things they have already done. Working with a partner, they exchange lists. Each asks his/her partner: “Have you...yet?” The partner answers “Yes, I have / No, I haven't.” and gives more details.

9 Follow or discover trends in a list

One variation on the guess the list activity above is to find a list of news stories of the past month or so and gap some of the words. Display the list for a short period of time, and ask students to take notes. Then take the list away and ask them to try and reconstruct the headlines.
An alternative to this activity is to find recent “trending topics” on Twitter for the country you are in (you can do this via a search for ‘trending topic’ + country name). These topics are displayed with hashtags, for example #electionday. Display this list and ask students to copy it down, then discuss what they think each trending topic means.
In either case, a follow up activity could be to ask students to choose one of the headlines or trending topics they don’t know, research it and report back to classmates.

10 Discuss a list

Of course, many lists can be great as a springboard for discussion and conversation. Some ways you could do this would be: to ask students to underline the items they found most interesting/unusual/typical and compare with a partner; discuss what items are missing (in their opinion) from the list; discuss a different order to the list or simply talk about the topic that the list brought up.

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