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ESOL Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Barrier exercises

Listening and Speaking Strategies: Barrier exercises/games

ESOL Principles:

Most strategies can be used to support all seven of the ESOL principles dependent upon how the teacher decides to use the strategy within their teaching and learning planning cycle. This strategy is usually used to support:

Principle 3: Maintain and make explicit the same learning outcomes for all the learners. How can I make the lesson comprehensible to all students? How can I plan the learning tasks so that all the students are actively involved? Do my students understand the learning outcomes?

Principle 4: Begin with context embedded tasks which make the abstract concrete. How can I put these concepts into a concrete context?

Principle 5: Provide multiple opportunities for authentic language use with a focus on students using academic language. Is the language focus on key language? Do I make sure the students have many opportunities to notice and use new language?

Principle 6: Ensure a balance between receptive and productive language. Are the students using both productive (speaking, writing) and receptive (listening, reading) language in this lesson?


Barrier exercises/games

In a barrier exercise, students work in pairs to complete an information gap activity. Each student has information which the other must obtain in order to complete a task. This may be a map, drawing, table, graph, crossword, text or an actual task using real objects etc. The students sit back-to-back or hide their work behind a screen so that it cannot be viewed by their partner. They then cooperate by asking and answering questions in order to find the missing information which they then write onto their worksheet. For example, the student with the complete map tells the other student where to place things on his or her map. The student with the incomplete map can ask questions to help place things as precisely as possible. Once completed they can then compare their sheets to check their work. Each student has information which the other must obtain in order to complete a task.

Taking turns, students ask questions in order to obtain information and complete tasks.

This task allows students to practise new vocabulary, new sentence structures and asking questions. By setting up communication activities like barrier games, students have the opportunity to speak and listen in pairs, rather than risk making mistakes in front of the whole class.

video icon Secondary level: Making Language and Learning Work DVD 2 - Year 13 Economics.

Teaching and learning sequence planning examples:

Primary level:

  • Making Lanterns: Technology Year 7-8 curriculum level 3.
  • Siapo: Visual Arts, Year 5-6 curriculum level 3 (collaborative crossword barrier activity).

Secondary level:

Some possible Teacher Inquiry questions:

  • What do I need to consider when pairing up students for this task?
  • Do some of my English language learners need a speaking frame as a scaffold?
  • Have I told my students what I expect them to learn from doing this task?
  • From listening to paired conversations what can I notice about my students’ use of language to inform my future planning and teaching?
  • How can I use this task as an opportunity for observing/assessing my English language learners oral language level of attainment?


Useful websites:

Published on: 24 Aug 2012