Not many people enjoy speaking to a large group. Having to make a presentation in a foreign language can be particularly daunting. For some, the stress is reduced by making the task a joint effort, that is, having a partner or a small group to share public speaking time. Some also enjoy assuming an assigned role because it feels less exposing and therefore less intimidating compared to general conversation where personal views are expressed. Consider, then, the potential of infomercials. Yes, those silly TV ads that either make you laugh at a ridiculous invention or think: “Neat! I could really use a thing like that.” Having students create and act out infomercials for the class targets multiple skills: writing, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and listening.
I once tried this activity in the context of a conversation class with high intermediate students. I admit that the sight of the video camera initially alarmed a few students, but the activity brought about laughter, collaboration, and heightened awareness of each individual’s strengths and weaknesses in speaking. Here are the steps I used:
[Note: Video camera and TV needed.]
STEP 1 – Gather several gadgets. I brought in unusual kitchen gadgets, from an apple slicer to a manual ice crusher to a set of corn cob holders. Check your tool box and your medicine cabinet. Look for things that are convenient but not really necessary.
STEP 2 – In class have students break into pairs. Place all gadgets in a central location and have each pair select one gadget.
STEP 3 – Working with their partners, students will write a script for an infomercial to advertise their product. Provide a model. You can use an online video from AsSeenOnTV.com or perform an ad of your own creation. Highlight useful structures and expressions. For example, many TV ads begin with an attention-getting question. The ads often end with use of the imperative: Buy now! Hurry! Don’t miss this special offer! Give a time frame of 30-60 seconds.
STEP 4 – Allow adequate rehearsal time. Provide assistance as necessary, guiding their choices in grammar and vocabulary and coaching them on pronunciation.
STEP 5 – Each pair will present their ad before the class, and each ad will be videotaped. No corrections should be made in this stage.
STEP 6 – Play back the ads for the class. After each ad is seen, pause and invite student feedback. Then offer your own comments and suggestions.
STEP 7 – Taking all feedback into consideration, students may have a second chance to act out their ads. Then have a second viewing session and note improvements.
SUGGESTION: Do you have some extra time? Give each student a budget and let them place orders (on paper so it’s anonymous). See which product advertised won the most orders.