A recording of “Just a Minute” by Diamond Geyser on Flickr
Those of you not from the UK may be unaware of BBC Radio 4. It’s a wonderful mix of news, debate, documentary and especially comedy. It’s where many British comedies (including Little Britain and The League of Gentlemen) got their first, pre-TV airings. I think it’s the jewel in England’s public service broadcasting crown and probably justifies the cost of the license fee alone.
One of the longest running shows on BBC Radio 4 is called Just a Minute. The rules are simple, four contestants play, and one is given a subject to speak on for one minute without hesitating, repeating themselves or deviating from the subject. If they do, the other players can challenge, and if successful, gain a point and steal the topic and the rest of the time. The player speaking when the minute is up is awarded a point. If you speak for the entire minute without a successful challenge you also get a point.
This game has been in my mind almost as long as I’ve been teaching English. About three weeks into my career I think I tried a listening class based on a show, followed by an attempt to play the game with a class of intermediate students. It was pretty much a disaster. The language, which is always playful and laced with cultural references shot straight over my bewildered students heads, and they found playing the game with the original rules almost impossible. Not surprising really, it’s difficult for a native speaker and even the pros very rarely get through the whole minute. With a little adjustment though, the basic concept can be used in any kind of classroom, and the point of today’s post is to share two things that have worked very well for me in the past.
The first is really useful where you want students to memorize something, which for better or worse happens often in Korea. I found it particularly useful as a substitute or addition to the listen and repeat with the dialogues in the elementary textbooks. You can apply it anywhere though, including trying to recall text in a kind of spoken dictogloss, role plays or imitating speeches or even just pronunciation. Here are the steps:
- Pre-teach the terms “hesitation” and “deviation / mistake/ error” (whatever you choose to call them).
- Group the students into however many speakers the text has (eg if you’re doing a dialogue, put the students in pairs). Now match these groups up with 3 or 4 other groups, so you have several larger groups.
- Give the first pair a prize. I use candy. Tell them they cannot eat it yet, and other pairs in the group can steal it.
- Tell all the participants you will play/read/show a text/recording. They have to memorize as much as they can.
- The first pair then has the first chance to try to repeat the text exactly. The other pairs listen. If they hear a hesitation or deviation, they can challenge and steal the prize and attempt to recreate it themselves.
- The teacher can replay any or all of the text at any given time.
- The pair that completes the text unchallenged gets to eat the candy.
This activity has great benefits for listening for linguistic detail, and noticing the differences between expert production and the students’ own. It also makes sure that the non-speaking students are really focused on their peers’ output, and not just using the time to take a break.
The second thing I’d like to share is my version of the game for a Korean classroom. I did this with my lowish level high school students and they managed it OK, and had great fun. I’ve played a little fast and loose with the rules here, and devised a much more motivating scoring system (the beauty of the original game is that competing comes a distant second to being witty, but that doesn’t work so well with teenagers). I also took out repetition and replaced it with a “language” challenge for if the student makes a mistake. Here’s the Powerpoint:
Just a Minute.ppt (Original PPT to download)
What I found whilst playing the game is that carefully selected topics can be great for eliciting points of grammar and lexis that you have previously worked on, and for having the teams listen for them with specific challenges.
Of course, the game does rather focus on errors, so it may be worth explaining to your students that it is just a game, and that the mistakes don’t matter so much outside of it. I think it also has a lot of potential to build fluency, so be careful to select topics that students are already well familiar with. In this way, it will hopefully build, rather than destroy their confidence 🙂
However you use it, I hope you have fun.