Problem-solving activities in lessons

Problem-solving activities in lessons

Problem-solving is one of the activities most common in the task-based learning approach. They can be used with any group within plenty of contexts.

Basically, problem-solving is any question with a number of possible options or ‘problem’ and a chosen through a discussion answer or ‘solution’.

Types of problem-solving activities 

Problem-solving activities can be just ‘theoretical‘, when students discuss and present the solution, or ‘practical’ when they come up with an idea and try it out at work (e.g. which objects sink and which swim). Such practical activities can be more physical when students actually have to move more.

Problem-solving activities can also serve different purposes in the lesson both linguistic such as agreeing, disagreeing, introducing ideas and social such as ice-breaking, team-building, etc.

Let’s have a look at some ‘Physical’ problem-solving activities first, which can be great for English summer camps. For each of these tasks, you need teams of equal numbers.

#1. Group photos

Students pick out a card with a sentence on it which they have to show as a photograph, e. g. ‘an unhappy wedding’, ‘a cunning kid’. For higher levels, it can be ‘posturing’ a proverb or statement.

They have a set amount of time to reproduce. The other teams have to guess what is in the photo. The team that has the closest guess gets a point.

Variations: Offer your groups to create a live photo –  when each person has to make one moment/‘a rewind photo’ -they have to show a picture a moment before/ – ‘a sound photo’ – each person had to add a sound/ ‘a talking photo’ – each has to say a comment

# 2. Line-ups

Have your groups line up according to their hair colour – from fairest to darkest, shoe-size, height, the month of birth, etc.

You can find more activities here.
Theoretical linguistic problem-solving activities

These activities are more productive in terms of language.

There are four basic steps in problem-solving:

  • define the problem
  • generate possible solutions
  • evaluate and select possible solutions 
  • implement solutions

And here are some examples:

# 1.’Menu’ Problem-solving for vocabulary

Target Language – food. 

As a lead-in, you can ‘visit’ a new restaurant and see its menu.

Step 1. The teams have to open up a new restaurant and they need to come up with their own menu. 

Step 2. First, they brainstorm various kinds of dishes, starters, main courses, beverages.

Step 3. Then they decide on the type of cuisine they have and the dishes they offer. 

Step 2. Finally, the teams present their menus.

Variations: Students create a room/ restaurant design. Think of the style, its inhabitants’/visitors’ age, hobbies, kind of furniture to suit.

#2. ‘Travel-tour’ problem-solving for future plans

One of the interesting ideas for developing problem-solving activities can be eliminating ideas which can be led via a few stages like in the following task.

Target Language – grammar, future plans.

Step 1. The teams are provided with a map of the world and they have to decide on a world tour. They have unlimited time and an unlimited number of countries. They have 5 minutes to do that.

Step 2. They brainstorm ideas for their route, taking everybody’s opinion into account.

Step 3. Pick the countries that appeal to most people in the group.

Step 4.  Afterwards, the teams present their routes. 

Step 5. Next, they have to come up with just 12 days and 12 countries. The cycle repeats. Another presentation comes afterwards. 

Step 6. Then, 7 days and 7 countries. 

Eliminating is always a tough choice to make and is really thought-provoking.

Variation 1: Students have to pack a holiday suitcase – decide on the time of the year. country, type of the family, type of holiday. The procedure is the same.

# 3. “A City Tour” 

Target language – function, recommending, agreeing, disagreeing

Step 1. Students have to decide on the type of the tour they would like to take up on holiday in London (destination can vary): a bus tour, a boat trip or a guided tour

Step 2. They have to come up with a number of advantages and disadvantages of each.

Step 3. In their groups, they have to go for one most favourable option and prove their choice

Step 4. Present to the rest.

How to make your own problem-solving activity?

There are a few tools you can use while making up your own problem-solving activities:

  1. Raise a question or a problem – it must be something thought-provoking to your age group and interest
  2. Provide a number of choices or get them to brainstorm their own ideas.
  3. Get them to evaluate the ideas, think of their pros and cons in this particular context.
  4. Have them to pick one of the ideas as the best.
  5. *Optional. Add some narrowing or limitation.

Practising these kinds of task can come really handy once you are planning to take Cambridge exams, e.g. PET Speaking Part 2, FCE and CAE Speaking Part 3.

More Follow-ups and Creative ideas for homework with problem-solving activities can be found here

Have great lessons!


Мария Нифонтова

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