Posted 21/11/11
This activity makes use of a technique that, until I think of a better name for it, is called an organic gap fill. That means that everyone in the classroom lives the text. There is no paper and there’s no drag and drop.
  • Language level: Intermediate (B1) +
  • Learner type: Young learners; Teens; Adults; CLIL
  • Time: 50 minutes
  • Activity: Organic gap fill; Videotelling
  • Topic: A predator and prey relationship
  • Language: Present narrative tenses; Collocations
  • Materials: Video clip
Breathing holes pdf [downloaded 4638 times]

Lesson plan outline

  1. Tell students that they are going to hear about a special kind of relationship. Write the following on the board and ask students to guess what the missing letters are:
  2. A p _ _ _ _ _ _ _ -p _ _ _ relationship.

    (Answer = a predator-prey relationship)

  3. Put students into pairs. Ask each pair to think of as many predator-prey relationships as they can and ask them to make a list. In order to give this a competitive edge, set a time limit and see which team can think of the most.
  4. Ask for feedback.
  5. Tell students that they are going to see a video clip from a nature documentary which involves a predator-prey relationship. Tell students that you are going to give them a number of phrases that the narrator uses. One by one, write the following phrases on the board in the order shown.
    • right next to a breathing hole
    • a very long wait
    • worth the wait
    • to listen out for
    • as long as
    • keep it going for a week
    • no way of knowing
    • in use at any one time
    • strike lucky
    • when the bear stops

    After writing each phrase on the board, drill its pronunciation, ask students to copy it into their books, and ask if they can guess what the two animals are.

    Note: The term ‘breathing hole’ will give them a clue. When students get to the last phrase, they find out that a bear is involved. Will they realise that it is a polar bear?
  6. Tell students that the animals in question are a seal and a polar bear. Ask them if they can tell you where the story takes place (Answer = the Arctic).
  7. Tell students that you are going to read them the video text from the nature clip. Tell them that this is a gap fill. When you pause, they will have to supply the correct phrase to fill the gap.
  8. Read out the text. Each time you come to a phrase in bold, pause and elicit the missing words.
      Underwater, there is a certain sound that the seal needs to listen out for: Pad-pad-pad-pad-pad. That is the sound of the polar bear walking across the ice. The seal is safe as long as the bear keeps moving. The problem starts when the bear stops. The problem for the seal is that the bear could be standing right next to a breathing hole. The seal has no way of knowing. The seal can have as many as 12 breathing holes in use at any one time. But which is the dangerous one? The bear’s best strategy is simply to choose a hole and be prepared for what could be a very long wait. But it is worth the wait. The fat from one seal will keep it going for a week. And every week or so, it will strike lucky. Before it surfaces, the seal has one last check for danger because once it begins the ascent it is it committed. It is too buoyant to change direction at the last minute.
  9. Note: Manage students so that they don’t all shout out at once. Encourage them to think about the grammar and logic of their answers. Nominate students when possible or ask students to put up their hands.
  10. Clean the board and ask students to close their books. Repeat the reading and this time students will have to make use of their memory to fill the gaps.
  11. Find out who wants the polar bear to catch the seal and who wants the seal to escape. Ask students to give reasons for their answers. Students could be put into pairs or groups to discuss this. See Follow Up 2 below for additional discussion fuel.
  12. Show the video clip.

Follow up 1

Ask students to reconstruct the text as accurately as they can remember it. In doing so, they should incorporate all of the phrases that were written on the board. You can give students some flexibility of structure (order of ideas, for example) but they should incorporate all of the phrases without changing them in any way. Once this has been done, invite students to be the narrator of the video – allow them to read out their texts as the clip plays with the sound down.

Follow up 2

Use this activity to introduce a project on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) red list of threatened species. It divides threatened species into three categories according to their risk of extinction.

  • CR Critical endangered (most serious)
  • EN Endangered
  • VU Vulnerable

The polar bear is classified as a vulnerable species. The ringed seal (which features in the video clip) is listed in the (sometimes) ambiguous Least Concern category (see below). If a species is listed as Least Concern, it means that it has been evaluated but doesn’t belong to any of the other categories. It does not necessarily mean that it is thriving.

Other abbreviations used:

  • EX Extinct
  • EW Extinct in the wild
  • NT Near threatened
  • LC Least concern

Posted 21/11/11

13 Responses to Breathing holes

  1. paul says:

    Hi Jamie,

    I’ve just tried out this activity along with ‘The Blue Whale’ lesson, and they work wonderfully well together. The BBC wildlife documentaries are always abundant with interesting language for the students; the exceptional quality of the filming, the musical score and commentary make up for some memorable moments in and outside class. Anyway, both activities certainly left my young adult intermediate group gobsmacked!
    Thanks a million.

  2. Jamie Keddie says:

    What a great word. And what a great aim for a lesson plan. Imagine if you wrote that on your lesson plan under aims: to gobsmack my learners! Why not? Much better than to ‘teach the second conditional’.
    Yes – I agree that good material like this can do the gobsmacking for us.
    Thanks for the comment Paul and congratulations on the good lesson
    Jamie :-)

  3. Jonny Lewington says:

    What a great idea – the ‘organic gap fill’! I used it for this lesson, it was amazing! But I’ve also used the activity for different lessons, it’s a really good type of gap fill which really gets them all thinking, is easy to prepare and do, and resource light.

  4. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks Jonny
    Actually the current activity (Elf story) uses the same device. I started calling it a Storytelling gapfill. Organic gapfill sounded too rude I think!
    Jamie :)

  5. Dmitria Sokolow says:

    I think you are using the CLOZE Method – when you have a blank space, and the students verbally or in print, fill in the gap. THis is a good practice for comprehension, prediction, and prior knowledge of the topic. I like the way you have the students use their lists to say the phrases VERBALLY. Great use of learning styles – written, verbal

  6. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Dimitria
    Glad you like the activity!
    Jamie :)

  7. Jerkson says:

    I’ve used this lesson and so many others of yours about a dozen times to much success.
    Thankyou – not only have you saved my bacon once or twice, but more importantly you’ve taught me so many new ways to approach the activities we use in our classes. Legend.

  8. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Jackson
    It is very nice of you to say so! Really to hear from you.
    Jamie :)

  9. Irina Tazetdinova says:

    Hi Jamie,

    I attended your presentation a while ago when you were in Toronto at TESCO conference and really liked the activities and the way you deliver your lessons (very interactive), but for some reasons, I wasn’t able to use any of the ideas in my class. Now I feel I’m getting bored with what and how I’m doing my lessons (although the students say the opposite) and feel I’m ready to try your ideas. I still remember your brilliant lesson on importance of smiling back, where you showed a video “A woman with a big heart” and about recycling (bottles got separated at the recycling station). I think they will fit perfectly into my themes about Culture and Environment. Could you please send me the URLs of those youtube videos?
    Thanks in advance.
    Irina Tazet

  10. Daniel says:

    Thank you, very useful website!

  11. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Irina
    Nice to hear from you. Glad to hear that you are trying new things. Embracing storytelling is one of the best ways of developing as a teacher I reckon.
    The two activities that you mention are in my new book, ‘Videotelling’ (see here: I see that you have subscribed to my newsletter. I’ll be sending out news about the book before it launches. And I’ll email the links to you now.
    Have a great holiday!

  12. Wonderful idea, the Storytelling gapfil.

    Thanks for sharing all these wonderful things with us, Jamie!

  13. Jamie Keddie says:

    My pleasure Edward
    Thank you for the nice comment
    Jamie :)