An information gap activity is a great teacherless activity that is common in many ESL classrooms. Information gaps create a need to communicate. Each partner in the activity has a piece of information that the other(s) need and vice versa. Information gaps can be done in pairs, or as a class (with each person in the class having different information).
Information Gap Grid
Often in higher levels these might be done with text, it’s a great way to break up an article or a reading and make it more interactive, but for beginners I like using pictures. You can easily use clip art. I make a table and label the boxes A, B, C, D and 1, 2, 3, 4. Students then ask for the missing information – “What’s A1?”, “What’s D3?”, etc.
An information gap grid practicing fruit and vegetables would look like this:
This is one half of the information gap, let’s say partner A. Partner B would have the other half, 1B, 1D, 2A, 2C, etc. In this case, I made partner A all fruit, and might make partner B all vegetables. With an activity like this, you can instruct students to draw a picture in the empty spaces on their grid, or write the word. If they hear the word “cherries” and can draw a picture, that tells me they understand what cherries are. However, sometimes you might want them to practice writing, and therefore writing the word would be better.
Another type of information gap would be an activity where each student has different information and you want them to practice a specific structure, such as “How much is/are…”, or “Where is the …..?”, or “What time does the bus leave?” You can find many of these types of information gaps in Out & About Student Book. For example:
Pages 41/42 – asking about jobs – “What does he/she do?,” “Where does he/she work?”
Other examples include:
Pages 81/82 – asking for things at the supermarket – “Where is/are the…?”
Pages 97/98 – asking for prices of fruit and vegetables – “How much is/are the…?”
and many more!
Information Gap Whole Class Activities
Information gaps can also be whole class activities, but these take more time to create. In a whole class information gap, each student would have a discreet piece of information, and everyone would need to speak to everyone else in order to complete the task. Often in higher level classes, if I want to pre-teach students a lot of vocabulary before a reading or listening to a song, I’ll give each of them the definition of a word and tell them that they are the expert on that word and they need to teach their classmates. It is more interactive, and more interesting than sitting and listening to me explain each word.
For an example of a whole class information gap for beginners, see page 94 of the Out & About Student Book – there are sixteen grocery items. Each student has a price for one of those items. They must ask one another – “How much is…?” or “How much are…?” They practice either giving the price or saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”
Information gap activities can take a little more time to create (which is why I love it when they are already in my textbook), but they are a great way to get students who have very limited language skills interacting and practicing useful language. Like any good teacherless activity, an information gap frees you up to walk around and help, and puts students at the center of control.
How about you? In what other ways can you use information gap activities to spark conversation in your beginning-level class? Leave a comment below.
Rick Kappra has been teaching English as a Second language since 1983, beginning as a volunteer working with refugees in Philadelphia. He has taught in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Korea. Currently he is an ESL instructor at City College of San Francisco, where he is also the Civic Center Campus ESL Coordinator. His goal as an instructor is to create more opportunities for students to engage with one another in fun, meaningful exchanges. Finding that most ESL textbooks did not provide enough opportunities for interaction led him to co-author Out & About with Amy Hemmert. Rick and Amy also co-authored Out & About Photocopiable Resources for Teachers – one of ALTA’s best-selling resources for beginning ESL classes.