I have a love- hate relationship with warm-ups. There have been times in my life where I had to do a warm-up in my class otherwise my ex-boss would get mad (I LOVE my ex-boss and we are still friends). Later, I realised that a warm-up planned for 10 minutes can easily stretch to 45 mins and basically ruin the entire lesson. I started going straight to the point as soon as the lesson began, saving much of the precious class time. These days, I just go with the flow and let things happen.
Mind you, all this applied to the EFL context. I have a feeling that students start to have conversations faster and easier in English, so you don’t really need a warm up. Just come to class with an input and have a bit of a chat. With Czech, however, things aren’t as simple.
Every Czech lesson is filled with a myriad of grammatical explanations and exercises. You as the teacher soon find out that you need some activities to tie the loose ends in pronunciation, grammar and the basics of the language. I am proposing two activities which address two pervasive language points and can be applied to beginner to intermediate level students.
Obviously, these activities needn’t be used only as warm-ups, but also as short activities whenever needed.
The Morse Code
This is a pronunciation activity dealing with the correct pronunciation of the short and long syllables. In Czech, the short syllables are unmarked by an accent. The long syllables are marked as: á, é, í, ý, ó, ú/ů. Their length is slightly longer than in the English long syllables. What is important, this has nothing to do with stress. The stress comes on the first syllable (Američan) or the preceding preposition (na americké ambasádě), but only the vowels marked with an accent are pronounced as long. This poses a great problem to learners whose L1 is English, Russian, Vietnamese, French, Romanian, Turkish – just to name those that I have experience with.
What it means for the teacher is you need to practice it constantly, and for much longer after it had been explained in the first lessons.
I use the Morse Code – a dot for the short syllable, a dash for a long syllable. I start with receptive exercises (geographical names are great because the students are familiar with them, e.g. names of streets, metro stations, famous places in Prague, etc.). The students either have Lego blocks (long and short ones), or long and short cards, or just write what they hear in the form of the Morse Code. For instance, Václavské náměstí is transcribed as:
In the first stage, you want the students just to tell the short from the long syllable, so you name words and expressions one by one and see if they can code them correctly. Next, students can start repeating the words as they transmit them. Do insist on the correct pronunciation at this stage. Do not let the learners get away with something in between short and long. When everyone is confident, you can turn it over to them. Depending on the size of the group, they either name some Czech words to you or their partner. As the final stage, students can code some words and pass them on to another pair to translate the code. Let’s have a look together: What could be this famous Czech monument?
The Infamous Second Position Rule Activity
Czech has a flexible word order – except for the Second Position Rule, which says, in layman’s words, that all small grammatical words are placed in the second logical position in the sentence.
For example, the sentence: I had a look at it yesterday evening.
Včera večer jsem se na to podíval.
(Yesterday evening / jsem – past tense auxiliary / se – reflexive pronoun / at / it / looked)
There is another way you can change the word order with only little difference in meaning. Observe:
Podíval jsem se na to včera večer.
Note, however, that the words jsem se na to are always kept together, in the same order, and are placed in the second LOGICAL place in the sentence, i.e. not after včera, but after včera večer.
This rule, again, might be comprehended by learners, but takes a long time to master. We Czechs do it naturally, without even being able to explain it. To practice it, a multitude of controlled oral drills are best to be done by inserting a word at the start of the sentence:
T: Šel jsem tam. (včera)
S : Včera jsem tam šel.
From time to time, it is useful to do a more systemic exercise. Here is my card activity, which is best suited to a larger group of students. I have done it successfully with a class of fifteen-some students.
To prepare, take small cards. Let’s say you have 8 pairs of students. Prepare eight sentences which are suitable to practice with – I often use those from the coursebook. For example: Ještě jsme si ho neprohlédli .– We still have not had a look at it.
Write each word on a card and add the number of the sentence (1). Put all the cards in an envelope. Do the same with all the other sentences. In class, explain to students that they have to put each sentence together as a pair, write it down in their notebooks with the respective number, put ALL the cards back in the envelope and pass it on to another pair.
When everybody has finished, call the sentences by numbers, write them down on the board and establish correct versions – which will be possible, due to Czech’s flexible word order. This consolidation stage is really important. With 8-9 sentences, the whole activity can take up to 30 mins, so make sure you have enough time.
And here is a short sentence for you to put together:
Thanks for reading and as always, I’ll be happy to read your thoughts, warm-up ideas, and comments!