This activity works from the concept that utilizing language is very much like building a little house (or “shack”) for our communicative message to “live in”. Just as with a real house, the quality of the building determines both how welcoming it ‘looks’ from the outside and how structurally sound and therefore ‘reliable’ it actually is. To build this little language shack, we need materials and a builder’s skill. The materials are planks (the substantial pieces, representing content words and meanings) and nails (the little pieces, helping us link the language together to make it sound). The builder’s skill is represented by the language user.
This little activity was first designed and utilized in a content-based learning course, where students were absorbing plenty of communicative content but not really trying hard enough to express it with grammatical accuracy. After some experimentation and adaptation, it became a handy supplementary activity to ensure that students were doing some work on form in conjunction with reviewing their knowledge of the content studied. The activity essentially works off the idea of the ‘gap-fill’ concept, but is more or less orientated around dividing students’ attention between two kinds of ‘gap’ – one that requires a knowledge of content-based vocabulary along with correct grammatical endings or inflexions, and another that asks students to apply function words to make the content slot together into accurately expressed sentences. Six separate applications are outlined alongside examples of how to put together the texts/materials.