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

Barrier exercises

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. 

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.

Using two slightly different pictures as a barrier exercise

  • The students work in pairs.
  • Each member of a pair is given a picture, which the other member cannot see because of a barrier such as a low cardboard screen on a desktop which is put between the two students.
  • The partners then talk to each other to determine differences and similarities between the two pictures.

Using a crossword as a barrier exercise

Adapt a crossword so that each student has some of the answers and some of the clues and each student must find the missing clues/answers by asking their partner.

Watch this video to see a teacher using a barrier exercise in a year 13 economics classroom

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:

Published on: 18 Dec 2017