Using pictures to study Sentence Transformations

Courtesy of eltpics

Courtesy of eltpics

It doesn’t matter how often I go to Cairo, I´m always struck by the beauty of the Pyramids.
No matter how many times I go to Cairo, I´m always struck by the beauty of the Pyramids.

Some people say that there’s no place for an exercise like Sentence Transformations in an assessment of English ability, but there it is and it’s not going anywhere (although it will be shorter for FCE students from 2015 – hooray!). In my experience, it’s the task that most students like the least, and that’s because it’s difficult. However, the same sorts of transformations come up again and again and so frequent exposure to the activity or revision of past activities can only help. In this activity students revise past transformations exercises by looking at pictures. Everyone likes looking at pictures, right?

I felt that my three CPE students would benefit from reviewing a Transformations exercise we had recently done at the start of their next lesson, but I didn’t want to resort to the standard slips of paper with the question on one side and the answer on the other. The reason being that it’s not especially collaborative and it would be rather a dull/hard way to start the class. So I tried using pictures. I found a picture that could relate to each pair of sentences, and asked them to look at the pictures together and try to remember any of the sentences (the original one or the transformed one). They groaned and laughed but pulled together to come up with a great set of sentences. The activity provided them with occasion to tell each other what they never remember or how they always remember a certain thing. Once they’d done as much as they could, I showed them the original and transformed sentences and there were whoops and groans once again. Where they had come up with something slightly different from the given answer, we were able to discuss other acceptable options and some unacceptable ones and what made them so.

Courtesy of elt pics

Courtesy of eltpics

The first violinist decided to pay no attention to the conductor.
The first violinist took the decision to take no notice of the conductor.

 My students enjoyed doing this and I think there’s something someone somewhere has probably said about the benefits of using an image to draw language from your brain instead of deconstructing and reconstructing parts of a sentence.  In this case they’re not only using the image to produce language but to recall their own mental processes. If these were successful in the first place, reconfirming that fact could help the process knowledge to get stored, or automatised, and if they were unsuccessful, it’s a chance for the student to rethink it and correct it.

I would really recommend doing this activity, but I think it’s less daunting with fewer pictures. I tried this again with my FCE class and if I did it again, I would choose just 4 sentences to focus on.  If you were to use this idea as a routine quickie revision-warmer at the start of class, you could use just one picture.

[Transformations taken from an old CPE exam]

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10 comments

  1. […] It doesn't matter how often I go to Cairo, I´m always struck by the beauty of the Pyramids. No matter how many times I go to Cairo, I´m always struck by the beauty of the Pyramids. Some people say …  […]

  2. I love reading your posts. Keep them coming!

    1. Aw, thanks. I feel this was not one of my most coherent! They will keep coming!

  3. Benjamin · · Reply

    I love reading your posts. Keep them coming!

  4. […] Non importa quante volte vado al Cairo, sto sempre colpito dalla bellezza delle Piramidi. Non importa quante volte vado al Cairo, sto sempre colpito dalla bellezza delle Piramidi. Alcuni dicono …  […]

  5. Benjamin, I love YOUR posts.

  6. Silvana Moreira · · Reply

    I love reading your posts. Thanks for sharing with us your knowledge.

  7. Wow, what a great idea! I’m looking forward to using it in class! Thanks!

    1. I’m glad you like it!

  8. […] Emma Gore-Lloyd has a range of Cambridge exam activities on her blog.  One of my favourites uses pictures as a prompt to remember pairs of sentence transformations. […]

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