Communication is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, goals for English language learners, which means that it should be the goal of the language classroom. However, authentic communication is hard to mimic in the confines of the classroom, especially more formal classrooms that can feel academic or stark. Information gap activities are great for structuring communication in an authentic way.
An info gap activity is simply an activity where Person A knows something that Person B doesn’t know and vice-versa. There is a gap in information between the two students. They both have information that the other needs.
The goal of an information gap activity is to practice speaking, not to learn new information. However, there are many benefits to these activities and students can have opportunity to practice skills and language that they’ve been taught. When designed in such a way, students can practice fluency, vocabulary use, descriptive language, explaining concepts, asking for clarification, etc.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to an information gap activity is that it closely mirrors authentic communication. The reason that most communication happens in real-life is because there is an information gap, which is what provokes us to speak, read, or write. Why else would we read the newspaper, if not to learn about current events that we don’t currently have knowledge of? Why else would I write a letter, if not to give my friends and family information about my life that they don’t currently have? Likewise, Parents call their child’s teacher in order to give them information about the child or to ask for information about their academic progress and behavior.
Using information gap activities in the classroom can lead to more engaging and purposeful activities. By creating a gap in information, you're creating a need for what the other student has. This can cause your students to actually pay attention to the information that is being shared, instead of asking questions or engaging to simply get a participation grade.
How to Build Your Own Information Gap Activity
These are all excellent reasons to use an information gap activity, but how do you build you own? What are the key components for this type of activity? They’re quite simple to create, easy-to-use, and extremely versatile. You can use them for any proficiency level and any type of class. Since they mirror real-life conversations and communication,each and every type of learner, such as business students; university students; newly-arrived refugees or immigrants; and doctors, can all benefit from an information gap activity.
The first step to building your own information gap activity is to provide unique information to each student in the group. This "unique information" can be something simple like a picture, or something more complex like a newspaper article. The second step is to structure the sharing of information between students. Decide whether students will be working in pairs or small groups, what they need the information for, and how they should go about sharing information. It’s that simple.
Another thing to keep in mind is that since information gap activities focus more on fluency than accuracy, it’s best to let students speak without interrupting or correcting them. If you are monitoring and find that your students are using poor grammar or asking problematic questions, simply make note of those instances and review them after the activity is done.
Now that you know how to build your own information gap activity, I've provided a few examples below. Take note that each activity below would work for a different proficiency level, different language skill, and/or different type of class. Information gap activities are truly diverse and versatile!
Information Gap Activities
What's In Your Room?
Provide a picture of a room with objects in it to Student A and provide a picture of an empty room to Student B. Instruct them to fill it in without looking at Student A’s picture. To do so, Student A must describe the picture and Student B must ask questions for clarification.
What's Your Perspective?
Find two articles on the same topic from different perspectives. You could use an article for higher education and an article against higher education, or an article about the benefits of ebooks and an article against the use of ebooks. Give one to Student A and the other to Student B. Have each student independently read the article. Then, have your students discuss the articles. You could give them a list of questions to ask (and, in turn, answer) or let them have more freedom with the questions they ask in order to fully understand the perspective of the other person's article.
Put students in pairs and instruct Student A to get to know Student B for 5 minutes. If it's the first class, this activity could do well more open-ended, but if the students already know one another you may want to provide questions so that students are learning new things about each other. When the time is up, have Student B get to know Student A for 5 minutes. After both students have had time to share, ask Student A to introduce Student B to the rest of the class and vice-versa.
Have students write down 2-3 celebrities or characters on individual strips of paper. Then, put all of the strips in a hat, jar, or bowl and have students pick one out. Instruct them to not look at the paper, but to simply hold it up to their head for other students to see. Then, the students must walk around the classroom and ask one another yes-no questions in order to guess which celebrity or character they have.
Hi, I'm Just Calling to...
Find two different lists of prices from either a restaurant menu or a specific service (house painting, mail delivery, tutoring services, etc). The two lists could be in the same field (such as medical services or tuition rates) or from two different fields. Student A gets one of the lists, Student B gets the other. Instruct them to pretend to call the other students’ service and ask for information and prices. You could either provide a grid to the student asking questions for them to fill out with prices and information or have the students simply ask questions. Providing a grid will structure the activity more and make sure that they’re actually asking for and understanding the information that they're being told.
As you can see, information gap activities can be a lot of fun for students. It gives them a purpose for speaking and communicating with one another instead of simply reciting a role play, though those activities are good for their specific purpose.
Info gap activities are easy-to-use, and they’re very easy to tweak and modify for your own goals and circumstances. You can use these types of activities to practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening. They can be used to work on vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, etc. Simply being aware of info gap activities can help you create an activity that will engage your students and provide a reason for speaking.
I Want to Hear From You!
How have you made communication in your classroom more authentic?
Do you ever struggle to get your students to engage in speaking activities?