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“The human animal differs from the lesser primates in his passion for lists.”
―H. Allen Smith (1907-1976), American journalist
How can creating top ten lists lead to lively English classroom discussions? What topics can your English students explore with this communicative assignment?
Americans love creating, reading and discussing top ten lists. The simple formatting breaks down larger topics and ideas by summarizing large chunks of information in a friendly, easily digestible manner.
Because of this accessibility, list making has become increasingly popular with most online media outlets (like Buzzfeed) and magazines, particularly over the last decade. Many publications’ year-end issues often expand the technique to create the “top 100” or “100 best” lists. (For example, check out Rolling Stone’s “The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far.”)
Likewise, many English teachers use this format in their classrooms to express ideas and create discussions. List making also helps English students improve their paraphrasing and organizational skills.
Sometimes, however, students will simply create a list without providing clear reasons as to how the material is linked together. Context matters. Therefore, to emphasize the necessity of sharing information clearly and concisely, I often ask students to compile their ten best tips on how to do something. This twist also invites a wider range of discussion topics – from the practical to more philosophical – while respecting both the students’ knowledge and interests.
You might ask your English students to provide their ten best tips on:
- Managing Time
- Succeeding at school
- Learning English
- Editing research papers
- Saving money
- Finding a job/internship
- Staying healthy and happy
- Making and keeping friends
- Traveling to a new city or country
- Advising new university students
- Handling culture shock
These are all topics I have addressed both in my classes and various Compelling Conversations exercises. However, you may go beyond this brief list of recommendations to suit your classroom needs.
How it works
I typically set up the activity in my English classes by first breaking the students up into groups of 3 or 4. Then, I give them 20 minutes to choose their top ten tips on a given topic. Afterwards, I have them provide their reasoning and/or an example for each tip before agreeing on a final order. During the discussions, students often use important clarifying phrases like “this is better,” “I disagree because…” or “what do you think?”
Meanwhile, the teacher circles around, listens in while passing out different colors of chalk for each group. I ask more questions than I answer at this stage. At the end of the activity, I have each group select a student to write the group’s “top ten tips” on the board.
The instructor then goes through the list, asking questions and engaging student groups. Finally, after the instructor leads discussion, the entire class votes on which tips written on the board are most helpful. This additional democratic element takes only a few minutes, and encourages student participation and self-expression.
A Useful Tool
This flexible, communicative activity can be recycled as needed to create engaging, lively classroom conversations. Students enjoy sharing information and telling stories while helping each other make sense of an often-strange language. By giving your English students a chance to offer advice, you also get to learn as you teach!
What top ten lists will your students create? What knowledge will they share?