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Describe the Scene: past tense practice 
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Post Describe the Scene: past tense practice
Good for simple past, past progressive and even past perfect
Ideal for intermediate students but the question can be made to suit the audience

Ss divide up into groups.

I play a short clip of a movie with no sound. Half of the group watches the movie clip. The other half of the group is given a sheet of questions. The group that watched the clip comes back and describes as best they can down to minor details what they saw.

The question group, without saying anything or showing the questions, tries to answer the questions based on their group members explanation.

It's a little labor intensive on the part of the teacher and requires media capabilities, but I've used a lap-top to play DVDs before. The students don't really care. This usually get them talking and hopefully gets them using simple English instead of trying to make the most compicated sentence they can think of.

They will generally give a little extra especially when they see the question group struggling to answer.

option: This can be done with a picture instead of a movie. Ss look at a picture for 30 seconds and try to explain in detail what they saw to the question group (or instead of questions have the other group draw the picture.)

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Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:35 pm
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Hey, Mark.

Have you tried doing this with the question group asking questions, not just listening, to the group that watches the movie?

Tomorrow I'm going to try showing part of a TV show, maybe five minutes or so, and have the question group ask questions using relative clauses (What was the color of the shoe that was in the tree?)

I have different levels of questions ranging from how's the weather, to the one above about the shoe.


Tue Nov 14, 2006 10:14 pm
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That's a good idea.

Actually, I've changed how I use this activity. Now, I don't give out any questions to start.

I let the watchers watch the movie and the listeners must look away or face the other direction. Then I stop the movie and they are allowed to discuss what happened. The watchers provide all of the main imput but the listeners can participate. They can ask for clarification, more information, or detailed information.

Once discussion has died down, I tell them time is up and then, the watchers must remain silent while the listeners try to answer some questions.

It allows for a lot more discussion.

Zanny movies or physical comedy movies work excellently! They have some awesome scenes with loads of stuff going on in 30 seconds to a minute. Ideas: any Mr. Bean, Mouse Hunt, Shrek I and II, any Home Alone, ect. but I've used Harry Potter and some TV shows as well.

Let us know how it works out.

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Wed Nov 15, 2006 7:08 am
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Charlie Chaplin movies would work great for this, and you can get them at any Tsutaya (some also have buster keaton pics or the other famous silent film guy, you know, the hanging from the hands of the clock guy).


Wed Nov 15, 2006 1:52 pm
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I know that cuts out the listening group, but the Chaplin pics are so well put together and so plot-filled that they would really make for a great activity. Modern Times is quite famous but moves a bit slowly, whereas The Circus or The Kid are faster paced. There's also one really good one about a mistaken personality at a costume party...anyway, you get the idea.


Wed Nov 15, 2006 1:57 pm
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I tried the activity with my third-year students and they enjoyed it. :) The clip I showed was of the TV show LOST. Not the best choice for the clip, but the JET jumped at the chance of showing the show because of its popularity among the students.

I showed the first five minutes of the very first episode. Five minutes is a rather long clip, I know. The first time I showed the clip the JET went over the questions with the students. The second time through they were idle but their interest was still engaged. I only asked about seven or eight questions. I plan on asking more when I do this tomorrow. :wink:

The students used more English than in many other classes and the chatter was much less. 8) The chatter was even about the clip. After class I showed the clip to the other half of the class that didn’t get to see it.

We will do this activity again next month. And next month the people that watched the clips will become the watchers and the other group will be the questioners. I will also use a different show for the clip.

If you have the resources the students enjoyed this activity very much. Give it a go!


Wed Nov 15, 2006 3:30 pm
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What are the kinds of questions people are asking?


Wed Nov 15, 2006 3:54 pm
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I generally ask questions based on what we've been studying (simple past, past progressive, there is..., before, after, while, when... ), but some examples might be:

Are there any animals? If yes, what?
How many people were there at first?
What color was the man's hat?
Who gave the boy the icream cone?
Were there 3 pictures on the wall?
Where did he put the drink?
What was there on the table?
How did they cross the river?
What did the woman do after she came into the room?

Stuff like that. I like to have a few general 'did you set the scene' quetions and a few detail questions to encourage descriptions. I generally have 8 questions per clip.

A five minute clip sounds a little long, but if the 'listeners' are kept occupied while the watchers watch, then it really doesn't matter. However, I generally tell the students with shorter clips they have to give a lot of detail and for longer clips they just need to focus on what happened.

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Wed Nov 15, 2006 8:46 pm
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I agree with Mark, 5 minites was too long but it worked out all right. Next time the clip will be much shorter.

Today when I tried this activity the JET didn't practice the questions with the question group and this made the lesson not flow as yesterday's lesson. The question group was not occupied and therefore were not interested when the watchers came back into the classroom.

Some of the questions that I asked were:

Where were they?
How was the weather?
Who was the first man that you saw?
What was the white thing that was in the tree?
What was the thing that blew up?
What did the fat man say to the doctor?

And some others.

We promised to do it again after tests and I will find a much shorter clip with much more action, maybe Charlie Chaplin. One of the students asked for Monty Python, too.


Thu Nov 16, 2006 2:39 pm
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