Information Gap Activity: Definition & Strategy

Instructor: Jesse Richter

Jesse holds two masters, a doctorate and has 15 years of academic experience in areas of education, linguistics, business and science across five continents.

Information gap activities are commonly used to teach English language learners but may also be used to teach the general population. This lesson defines the term and offers insights about how to implement language gap activities in the classroom.

What Exactly is an Information Gap Activity?

Rily, a middle school English language teacher, recently attended a faculty workshop and heard some colleagues talking about information gap activities. She has heard this term in the past and feels that it may be effective in assisting her English language learners. How can we help Rily to better understand and implement this concept?

An information gap activity, also called a language gap activity, is an activity whereby each student is given a limited amount of information and therefore must work collaboratively with other classmates with their information in order to solve a puzzle, understand a phenomenon, or otherwise make meaning of an academic concept. Language gap activities are commonly used to assist English language learners but may also be adapted and applied to other populations. Rily is interested in embracing this strategy in her teaching.

An information gap activity is similar to a game of Scrabble: There is a limited amount of information and resources available to solve a puzzle.

Benefits of Using Information Gap Activities

Language gap activities have a number of benefits. Let's take a look at some of these:

  • Promote a student-centered classroom
  • Increase intrinsic motivation
  • Inspire critical thinking skills
  • Promote peer-to-peer collaboration
  • Are conducive to using authentic materials
  • Assist to increase student talking time

Examples of Information Gap Activities

Using Technology

Although some schools have strict policies prohibiting the use of cell phones and other devices, it is possible to take advantage of these technologies for information gap activities. For example, Rily could split students into A and B groups: the A group may be given one website and the other B group may be given a different website. Both websites would provide information on the same topic, but the two websites would include different aspects of this information.

For example, the A group might have a website on how cats have been domesticated over time and the B group would study a website on how cats make great pets. You could then put one student each from the A and B groups into pairs, or the entire class could work together, to discuss and interpret the information. This would create a room for debate and conversation about the relationship between cats and humans. Embracing technology in this way ensures that students have something tangible to work on rather than using their devices for non-school-related purposes.

Worksheets may be substituted in these situations. Rily could print two related stories on paper to make physical activities when technology is absent.

Audio and Video

One handy strategy is to use video clips such as TV show introductions, trailers, and even music videos. The idea is to sort the class into A and B groups, then let one group listen to the audio of the video (without being able to see it), and then switch groups, mute the audio, and let the other group see the video (without being able to hear the audio). Then bring everyone back together and ask them to figure out what happened in the video. The A and B groups must work collaboratively in order to fit all of the puzzle pieces together. This can turn into quite a lively discussion and really helps to spark the imaginations of students!

Traditional Puzzles

Consider the traditional puzzle: there are many pieces that must fit together perfectly in order to build a picture, a concept, or a story. This may easily be implemented in the classroom using paper. For example, a short story can be printed on a few pages of paper, then the paper is then cut into an appropriate number of pieces. Next, those pieces are distributed to students, and finally, students must then come together as a whole team in order to connect the dots.

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