Activity Corner: Quick-Switch Conversations

Callanish Stone Circle(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

This activity works best with at least ten participants. It’s a great communicative activity, and makes use of a lot of speaking and listening.

Its logistics are inspired by speed dating, but it’s classroom-appropriate.

In this set-up, students are organized in such a way that with very efficient movement, students can switch conversation partners quickly. If you have enough space, students will form two concentric circles. If you have limited space,  they’ll form two lines instead.

It really lends itself well to fluency practice, because it’s very high-energy, fast, and noisy – not conducive to careful concentration!

Since partners are switched so quickly, it also lends itself to repetitious practice.

Process:

  1. Decide what you want the students to practice. See below for ideas. This is a flexible exercise – make it work for you!
  2. Write prompts on cards if needed. For repetitious practice, just write the one prompt on the board.
  3. In class, describe what students will be practicing. “We are going to do an activity to practice ____.” Maybe even write the purpose on the board.
  4. Explain that in this activity, you will have many fast conversations with many people. When you hear the signal, you will get a new conversation partner.
  5. Model, especially less advanced classrooms. (see below)
  6. Help students get into formation! This will be two concentric circles or two lines. Either way, the students in one circle/line will face the students in the other circle/line.
  7. Remind them of the purpose. Remind them of the signal sound. Remind them which circle/line moves.
  8. Sound the signal and have everyone start!
  9. Stay nearby to watch, listen, and prompt.
  10. Keep signaling the partners to switch as appropriate.

Example:

Click for an example where we practiced a verb tense and adverbs of frequency. We had 23 students in Intermediate community English and we used prompt cards.

Below is an example of how to use this for repetitious practice, plus how to model the activity.

In a beginner class, I wanted students to practice introducing themselves again and again. We had already practiced dialogs and vocabulary from the textbook – we just needed to get more comfortable now.

For this class, I definitely had to model the activity. After I explained the purpose and what we’d be doing, I brought four volunteer students to the front of the room and had them stand along the board. I wrote “Hello! My name is ____” on the board and then introduced myself to the first student until my signal went off (I set my cell phone alarm for 15 seconds for this example). As soon as it went off, I stepped sideways to the next person and began again with the prompt. I repeated this with each of the four students up front.

Next, we needed the students to be in formation. I helped six form the inner circle. Then I asked the other six students one by one to stand in facing a specific student. I told them specifically, “Ahmed is your first partner,” “Amal is your first partner,” to try to make the abstract concrete.

Since this was a beginner class, I also had them practice changing partners. We were in a smallish space so I had only the inner circle move. I had my signal go off and the inner circle students all stepped to their left. I had the signal go again and the inner students stepped to the left again.

Then I reminded them that we were practicing introducing ourselves. The outer students would begin. “Hello, my name is ___. What’s your name? Nice to meet you!”

“One, two, three, talk!”

When they went all the way around, we switched to having the inner students initiate the conversation.

This was a lot of set-up time! It was also a lot of repeating the same thing, but the interesting format made it pretty fun and less like a drill.

Content Possibilities:

  • a grammar form
  • general get-to-know-you conversation
  • a specific piece of conversation (i.e. introduce yourself, ask where mens’ shoes are at the store, etc.)
  • vocabulary words
  • prompts can be pictures or objects (or words, of course)

Photo Credit: Andrew Bennett on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Quick-Switch Conversations, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

Three-Phase Lesson Planning

8543315720_4c4676260bOne elegantly simple way to lesson plan is to go through these three phases:

  1. I do it
  2. We do it
  3. You do it

In other words, first you introduce what the students will be learning. Then you all practice it together. Lastly, students have the opportunity to practice it more independently.

I want to be clear that I did not invent this. I learned about it in several conversations and trainings. It’s not the only way to lesson plan – just a really helpful tool to have at your disposal.

Five things I love about this lesson planning lens:

  1. “Do.” In a language classroom, we are using the language to do things. We should not just be learning about the language.
  2. Teacher Talk (or TTT) is in its place. It serves phases two and three. It introduces and then steps aside. It is not the point.
  3. Metacognition. Students need to have ownership of their own learning. One way we can support this, even within the confines of a syllabus-led class, is to be up front about the strategies we use. This lesson plan is an easy one to communicate.
  4. Buy-in. Some students might not think that group work or fluency activities are “serious.” Particularly adults accustomed to a non-communicative way of language learning. Showing that this is an intentional part of a methodical plan can help them try it out with an open mind.
  5. Over-thinker support. I am a classic over-thinker. There are lots of detailed lesson planning suggestions out there, and they rightly point out the bazillion factors you should consider in your lesson plan. This one helps me take a step back and see in broad strokes if I have a pretty good plan or if I’ve been rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Does anyone out there use this lesson planning method?

Photo Credit: Tim Green on Flickr

You’re reading Three Phase Lesson Planning, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Chain Drill, Then What?

824790108_cfa46756ed_nOne super fun grammar activity to use in class is called the Chain Drill. Basically, students take turns in order asking and responding to the same formulaic prompt. Each student’s turn connects to the next, like links in a chain. Read more about chain drills here.

I love chain drills. I love how they get students up out of their seats, and how they are accuracy practice that also engage students’ speaking and listening.

After a chain drill, we’re all smiling, we’re all energized, we’re usually all feeling a step closer to mastery… and then I sometimes lose that momentum.

So… here are three ideas for how to follow a chain drill in class.

1. Another Chain Drill

…but let the students construct it! This might be a good choice if the class is accustomed to chain drills already. It also might fit well in a session that had several grammar points, such as a review day. Have the students decide what point to practice, what the structured piece of grammar is (i.e. were/was, is/am/are, forming Present Continuous, etc.), what the context is (i.e. “How old _______?”), etc.

2. Structured Dialogs

Have some related scenarios ready. Have students pair off and practice some dialogs that are closely related to the point you practiced in the chain drill. It’s similar, but with more opportunities to speak.

3. Fluency Practice

If it went well, why not let the students build upon their high energy and success and practice using the grammar in a less structured way?

This is a fairly general idea, and the details depend heavily on what you’re studying. For example, if you’re in a jobs unit and practicing questions like, “What do you do?,” you can have students interview each other about their own jobs. Perhaps record short answers in a grid?

 

A chain drill is a great activity, and I recommend seeing it as one step toward additional communicative practice.

 

Photo Credit: rachaelvoorhees on Flickr

You’re reading Chain Drill, Then What?, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner: One-Question Surveys

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

In a One-Question Survey, each student has one slip of paper with a single question on it.  These questions are generally related, often by content.  They’re generally yes/no questions.  Each student is to ask each other student their question and tally up the results.

This is similar to my beloved Grid Activity, but with a One-Question Survey there is little writing, no record of how an individual answered, and it’s a much faster process.

The purposes can be to have students practice asking the same question repeatedly to work on their pronunciation and/or fluency, to reinforce key points of a lesson (i.e. vocabulary, grammar, content, etc.), or to gather data to aid in a math, Excel, writing, or conversation lesson.

Process:

  • Decide on your purpose.
  • Based on that, write as many different questions as there are students.
  • Model the process of asking the same question to everyone and tallying the results.
  • Give each student a different question.
  • Tell them to ask everyone, answer only Yes or No, and keep a tally of the results.
  • Debrief as a class.  How depends on your purpose.  Leave plenty of time for this – it’s the real meat of the activity.

Example (from Level 3):

Yesterday, we used a One-Question Survey in my Level 3 class in the context of our unit on cars and driving.

First, I modeled.  I took a slip of paper out of the pile in my hand and told them, “This is my question.  I’m going to ask everybody, including myself.”  I wrote it on the board, asked each student, and kept my tally on the board.

Then, I told them it was their turn.  I handed out questions we had talked about during the unit, such as “Have you ever gotten a ticket?”, “Do you speed?”, and “Do you cut people off?”  You can see we used all sorts of grammar.  This was for two reasons: a) it’s Level 3, so they already know a lot of grammar, and b) our focus was not on a grammar point, but on the content and vocabulary.

I asked them to ask all students, including themselves, and also to ask me.  I said that the only answers should be “yes” or “no.”  And I asked them to keep a tally.

When they were finished, we went through the questions and put them into an Excel spreadsheet that automatically calculated percentages for us.  This was to reinforce some of our computer lessons from last month.  At this point, it was time to go home.

Next time, I’d be more careful to make sure that each student understood his/her question.  In a few cases, students thought they understood, but they were mistaken.  We easily cleared this up during the debriefing time, but it would’ve been more powerful if students could have accurately explained to each other during the survey time itself.

Next time, I’d also like the debriefing to be more than just an Excel demo.  It could be a full-out Excel lesson, or even better, fodder for a conversation and/or writing assignment.  So, I recommend leaving plenty of time to work with the survey results.

Other content possibilities:

  • Warm-up: have students ask innocuous personal questions.
  • Graphs: use the data to practice graph-making, either analog or with Excel.
  • Academic writing: using the survey results, students can summarize, compare and contrast, predict based on, and explain the data.
  • Grammar: all questions should use the same structure.
  • Content: cut up a practice test with multiple-choice questions and have each student tally up answers A, B, C, and D.  Look at the results as a class.  Go over right answers and identify weak spots together that the students should study.
  • Google Docs: send students to the same Google Spreadsheet and have them enter their data simultaneously.

Journal: Complicated Fluency Activity!

Sorry for the unannounced hiatus last week.  Family emergency.

Students: 18

One thing that went well:  The complicated fluency activity actually went pretty well!  The purpose of it was for students to practice taking and leaving messages in small groups.  There were six groups, different roles in each group, and message scenarios – in other words, there was plenty of room for chaos. Modeling it took a little time, and getting it organized took a bit more time.  However, it turned out to be pretty doable, fairly engaging, and long enough to justify the time investment of getting it rolling in the first place.  I’m thinking about modifying it a bit for tomorrow and then re-using it.  We’ll see.

One thing to improve:  This class frequently hesitates to volunteer to put answers on the board.  It can be kind of painful.  I need to be more creative about answer-checking.

One surprise:  Well, in retrospect it’s not at all surprising.  You know those little phone message form things that lots of offices use?  With little check boxes for “Call back” or “Returning your call” and teeny tiny lines to write messages on?  I have an irrational dislike of them.  Maybe it’s because I don’t like to write very small, or maybe it’s my dislike of forms in general, but I’m much happier taking notes on blank paper.  My class, however, was pretty enthused about the forms in the textbook.  This shouldn’t have surprised me: the check boxes allow for less writing, and the form supplies built-in reminders about what to write down.  So at the break, I quick made them some phone forms.  Note to self: just because I dislike something doesn’t mean the class does!

Journal: Hello, Metacognition!

Metacognition just means “thinking about thinking.”  Or in the case of my class yesterday, learning a bit more about how they learn.

It was time to revisit our revised learning schedule (longish computer time twice a week, and a longer lesson twice a week ending in conversation) after a one-week trial.  The students were telling me what they liked, what was so-so, and what was terrible about this new schedule.

We did decide to stick with it for another four weeks and then revisit it again.  But along the way, one of the students said that she thought conversation time was terrible because during it, they speak broken English instead of correct English.

At this point, I took a risk.  I reminded them that I’m a student, studying to get my Master’s in teaching ESL.  People study students and how they learn.  I taught them something I learned.

There are two different speaking skills: speaking correctly, and speaking fluently.  It was easy for them to understand the former; I demonstrated the latter and explained that fluent meant smooth, easy, and with not much thinking.

I drew a line between the two on the board.  I told them that you can’t practice both at the same time.  They are different.  They can do both in Spanish and Korean and Chinese because they’ve known them for a long time.  But when you’re learning, you can’t be correct and fluent together.

I told them that if we only study speaking correctly, after five years they’ll sound like this: “Excuse me……………..where…………..is- no are………………..the………………………pants.”  (It sounded even more awkward than it looks!)  It’s correct, but it’s not comfortable and it’s not fluent.

So it’s actually important to make some mistakes in conversation time, because that means you can practice being more fluent.  I explained that in every lesson, I tried to give them time to practice being correct and time to practice being fluent. 

I know my class pretty well, and I wasn’t seeing baffled bewilderment on their faces, nor was I hearing distracted side conversations.  I should have checked for understanding better than I did, but I have reason to believe that they were with me.  Very cool.

Later, when we moved from an accuracy activity to a fluency activity, I pointed it out.  I used my hands to show them that in the first activity, I wanted high accuracy and low fluency, but in the next activity I wanted more fluency so they could worry about accuracy a bit less (not zero though!).

Maybe this was the key to overcoming my natural hesitance to use a lot of fluency activities: the class now knows some learning theory too, so I have to be sure I don’t lean too heavily toward accuracy!

Journal: Bearing Less than Uplifting News

So, sometime between last night and this morning, there was a third reactor blast in Japan.  Needless to say, I felt that it was important to talk about it today too.  Instead of trying to use Google Images, I used a primitive form of visual expression called “Emily attempts to draw on a chalkboard.”  My nuclear reactor was kind of lop-sided, but at least it was simple.  We talked about the water level going down, the explosion, the crack in the reactor wall, and the evacuation.  It was all based off of this BBC article from this morning.  I think today’s lesson/discussion went much more smoothly than yesterdays, which is heartening!

So then I get to class and realize that I need to give them a standardized reading test today and that I want to give them a unit test Thursday before Spring Break.  I’m a horribly mean teacher!

Despite harping on bad news all morning, what with Japan’s challenges and the epic bout of testing this week, I feel like it was a good class.  We did some controlled practice with giving and asking for directions at school, and then did a nice fluency activity asking for directions in a store.

Journal: Speed Dating?

Today we had 23 students.  I finally used Google Voice to get a local phone number, and today I repeated my Day 1 speech about good attendnace, wait lists, and how important it is to contact me when you’re absent.  Now the students have a local number that will call my non-local cell phone, and they also have my work Gmail address in case tehy’d prefer to email me.

We’ve been doing grid activities every Tuesday morning for warm-ups.  They really had the hang of it last week, so today I made it more difficult by having students fill in the questions at the top of their columns.  It was an extra step in the directions, and the variety of questions confusion about who was writing down what answers where.  We got through it slowly with everyone on board, and when we do it again next week, it will be much smoother.  And once it’s smooth… I have a new warm-up tool that I can weild as I see fit.  Mwahahaha.

We hammered in the form and function of simple present today, and as a final fluency activity I borrowed what I’m told is a speed-dating set-up: two concentric circles of students, the inner circle facing the outer circle.  Students were “partners” with the student directly facing them from the other circle.

I gave every student a verb card, which they held in front of themselves.  Students were to make up a true sentence using an adverb of frequency for their partner’s verb.  For example, if my partner’s card was “go running,” I would say, “I go running sometimes” while one of the elderly ladies in the class might say, “I never go running.”  Then my partner would make up a true sentence based on my card.  Then, the middle circle rotated one person to the right and we all had new partners.  Since there were 23 students and 1 teacher, we each went through 11 partners, so there was a lot of practice!

I think it worked well because it was the second day of a pretty familiar grammar point and because I modeled the process with student volunteers.

I have never seen this class, or perhaps any other, be so enthusiastic after an activity ended.  When I asked them how they felt about the English and about the activity, there was a huge, loud, resounding positive reponse.  Woah.  I guess we should do that one again!

Before signing off and racing to my volunteer gig, just a quick note to check out the homework blog.  Since I had more students than computers, I had a couple of volunteers go computerless and write about their typical day using the target grammar.  Then, I recorded their voices reading their stories on my phone (thanks for the Christmas present, honey!  It’s so shiny and useful!), uploaded the audio files to Dropbox, and put links in the homework blog along with comprehension questions.  Very fun!

Journal: Very Pleased!

Today there were 21 students.

For a warm-up, I gave out piles of four scrambled sentences.  Students worked on making four proper can / have to sentences out of them in groups of 3 or 4.  It was part grammar, part riddle: even if they created two grammatically perfect sentences, they might have to switch words in and out of them to be able to make all four correct sentences simultaneously.  And the thing is… they did it!  It was really challenging, but they were ready and willing and they did it.  I was really happy with their work, and I hope they could tell!

We then did some work with personal calendars.  I showed them the three-day view of my Google Calendar on the screen and we did some calendar reading comprehension.  I then had them write lists of what’s on their schedules today, tomorrow, and Saturday.  Next, they drew and filled in their own calendar grids modeled after mine on the board.

That’s when our fluency activity kicked in.  Everybody had to have a minimum of five conversations with other students based on their real life calendars.  It was more or less to this effect:

A.  Can you go ice skating tomorrow at 3?
B.  Sorry, I can’t.  I have to cook dinner for my family.
A.  How about at 1?
B.  Sure!  That sounds good.

I was pleased that they were grammatically ready enough and that we worked with their real lives.  I asked them how it felt to use this language, comfortable, so-so, or uncomfortable.  Nobody said they were uncomfortable, and they seemed in good spirits.

Now we’re about to work on the most recent post from the homework blog together – my very first homemade audio post!

Journal: Moving to Fluency Practice

Today I had a total of 23 students attend class, though we were a class of 20 as class ended at noon.

One interesting challenge that’s come up is that my enrollment cap is thirty, but there are only 21 computers in a computer lab.  So far I’ve never had more than 21 students at computer time…

Anyway, we were very grammar-heavy in yesterday’s class, focusing in on the structural similarities and differences in using “can” and “have to.”  I really wanted to get beyond the form, meaning, and even pronunciation fo  of the words and into usage.  To do this, I needed to design a fluency activity.  This means I had to set the stage, step aside, and let them use the language. 

To set the stage, they needed a quick vocabulary review of different activities.  I tend to struggle with vocabulary, but I was pleased with how this one turned out.  By the end of this activity, they had gotten up out of their seats, reviewed the vocabulary, demonstrated some level of understanding by putting it on a spectrum, and put a huge word bank on the wall to prepare for the upcoming writing activity.

Here’s what we did:

  1. At home, I wrote 22 activities on 22 notecards in dark ink.
  2. I wrote on the board, “Shh!  Do not read the cards out loud!”  I drew a picture of a card and wrote “secret” on it.  I explained verbally too.
  3. I asked a student in the front to tape a card to my back.  Naturally, someone read it out loud.  🙂  We repeated the directions and laughed.  I demonstrated that I could not see it, but everyone else could.
  4. I taped a card to each student’s back.
  5. First, students walked around silently, reading each other’s backs.  I demonstrated first, and gave them 5 minutes.
  6. Second, each student had to figure out what was on his/her back, still with no talking.  I demonstrated the charades game and told them they had to act.  I gave them about 7 minutes.
  7. After they’d figured out their cards, I had them tape them to the top of the blackboard, organized from great exercise through no exercise (for example, play basketball and talk on the phone were on opposite ends of the board). 

I was very happy that it was quick, interesting, and a nice transition piece.

The writing activity was to write three invitations using “can.”  For example, Can you play golf on Saturday morning? 

We then used these invitations to begin the part of lessons that tends to make me nervous: fluency practice.  For fluency practice, the teacher sets the stage and then backs away to let the students actually use their English.

Students paired off.  Using their written work either as a script or as inspiration, they invited each other to do things.  The invitee made up an excuse using “have to” (i.e.  Sorry, I have to teach class then.).  Then we changed the rules so that the invitee had to accept (i.e. yes, sure, good idea). 

Tomorrow, we’ll do a small amount of accuracy practice, probably sentence scrambles.  We’ll spend much more time making calendars and having some real conversations about them with even less of a script than we had today.  We’ll see what happens!