The Insistence Exercise

By Mario Rinvolucri

Person A:  What is it?

Person B:  It’s a single question put by one student to a classmate. The questioner repeats the same question many times and each time the other guy gives a different answer.

Person A:  What is an insistence exercise?

Person B: For the questioner it’s a straight drill.

Person A: What is an insistence exercise?

Person B: Well, as you can hear, I am being led to think about the topic from different angles.

Person A:  What is an insistence exercise?

Person B:  In my role it’s a creativity exercise….I have to broaden my thinking with each new challenge from you.

Person A: What is an insistence exercise?

Person B:  a device for her ( Person A) to drive me crazy!!!!

(The idea of demonstrating an EFL technique while actually using the technique is something I learnt from Tessa Woodward, editor of THE TEACHER TRAINER.)

Something the imaginary people in the dialogue above did not mention is that the questioner should not get the feeling they are a Guantanamo Bay torturer. The questioner should use soft intonations that help the other person to find more and more answers.

Another thing not mentioned in the dialogue above is that with some dialogues you can be fairly sure that Person B will need to work on a specific area of grammar. Here is an example of what I mean:

A: Where do you live?

B: Not far from here.

A: Where do you live?

B: Actually, in a small village.

A: Where do you live?

B: An hour from London.

A: Where do you live?

B: only 50 metres from the edge of a cliff.

A: Where do you live?

B: Across from our village church.

A Where do you live?

B. In my dreams!

It is fairly predictable that the second speaker will initially think spatially in this activity and so will need plenty spatial prepositional phrases. You may want to take note of those used well and those used badly.

Round off the exercise by dictating the correct and incorrect phrases to a board-writing student. Get the class to correct or improve what they now see on the board.

While this activity will initially provoke spatial thought, and therefore grammar, do not curtail it the moment students move beyond the spatial. As they do so their thought can become excitingly creative.

Though the insistence exercise has been around, to my knowledge, for the past 25 years I doubt that it has been developed to its full potential. I remember being amazed by an economist in a young adult class coming up with this mind-scorching insistence question:

How much did the Vietnam war cost?

When we tried it out the students explored at least all of these areas:

  • capital cost for the US, Russia and Vietnam,
  • incineration of people and environment cost,
  • brutalisation cost,
  • cost to American worldwide prestige,
  • cost to the US self-image as a land of intense patriotism,
  • cost to a people when they are forced into fighting an intense civil war,
  • cost to the “domino theory” that stated that if Vietnam were to stay communist all the countries round it would follow suit etc……

This example makes me think that the Insistence questions idea can usefully be used to get a class to brain-storm ideas in the first stage of writing an academic essay. This is a very-time effective way of enriching the set of ideas to be discussed in the essay.

How does the Insistence concept work with 9 year olds? I have never taught at primary level (except my own children). My guess is that creativity tends to flower in this age group.

If you teach this age group why not try this one:  WHO ARE YOU?

My hope is that this short article may stimulate your own creativity and that of your students, and that you may end up sending new ways of using the insistence idea to Philip Pound, our editor, for other teachers to pick up on. After all the EFL MAGAZINE is like a very large, across-the world staffroom, and good staffrooms are the hatching ground of many new ideas in EFL methodology.