Groupwork and the NASA Survival Activity

It can be vital to establish a pattern of effective group work among a cohort of student, particularly at the beginning of the course.  International students may not be used to working in groups or even using English to communicate their ideas, so they need to see that doing so can be enjoyable and rewarding, but also relevant and intellectually stimulating.

The NASA Survival Task – which genuinely originates with NASA, but which I was introduced to by the wonderful Rob Reynolds and Oaklands College, St Albans – involves a sequence of thinking and speaking tasks, and in my classroom ends with a short piece of self-reflective evaluative writing.  I first did this task as a trainee teacher on my Cert TESOL course, and it’s always gone down well with students.

A suggested lesson plan is best followed via the Powerpoint slides above and involves the following steps:

1. To pre-teach / check vocabulary, show the students pictures of the 15 objects they will later discuss.  They should see each picture for 20-30 seconds; the room should be silent, and students should not take notes.

2. When the 15 pictures have been seen, ask students in groups to recount what they saw using ONLY ENGLISH.  Slides provide linguistic structures for circumlocution; students no doubt know the names of the objects in their first language, but several are likely to evade them in English.  It’s important for them to realise, however, that they can do this using only English, so make sure nobody reverts back to their L1 (encouraging peer-discipline will help).  Assure students that they will get a chance to check words and spelling later.

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