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Teaching Tips 14

Discussion visitors
Going with the flow
Waiting for....a response


Discussion visitors
This is a nice idea for helping small group work become more productive.

Imagine you have got the class working in groups of fours in a freer speaking activity where they have to solve a problem. They are coming to a conclusion in their discussion, so instead of going into class feedback, allocate one member of each group to visit each of the other groups to see how they have been getting on with the problem-solving. So each group & visitor explains to each other what they have been discussing - rotate the visitors every two/three minutes.

When all of the visitors have been to all of the groups they go back to their original group to explain all they have learned & see if they can add any ideas into their discussion/decision.

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Going with the flow
When developing the spoken skill, most teachers can drill their students & most can do fun roleplays & discussions. It seems to me that a lot of teachers leave out the bit in the middle i.e. what have been called 'bridging activities' - those in between the very accuracy-based & those that are very fluency-based.These type of activities are still accuracy-based but contain an element of choice for the learner.

One of these activities is the underused 'flow chart'. This has been around since the functional approach was in full force as it uses functional headings to guide students through a dialogue. The student has to choose the language to use from the given prompt. So for 'Greet your friend' the student could come out with 'Hello', 'How are you?', 'I haven't seen you in a long time.' etc.

To see some examples of flow charts

They are easy to design but do produce contrived & slightly unnatural sounding dialogues. Don't worry though as the aim is an accuracy one - you want them to practise a specific set of language. Go around & correct while they are doing the activity.

A word of caution when designing the flow charts. Don't make them too complicated as students might find understanding the language used in them more challenging than the actual activity they were designed for! Try the activity out beforehand with a colleague.

Also, the first time you use a flow chart with a group it will be slow going. Go through the chart & elicit the different ways of expressing the instructions & then do an example with a student. All will then have a clear idea of how to proceed. As they do the activity go round & correct/help out.

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Waiting for....a response
Before Christmas I suggested a few ideas on how to use silence effectively in class

Here's a look at silence from another angle. A substantial amount of our teacher talk is taken up with asking the students questions. Among the reasons for these questions are to test their passive knowledge, to check concepts & instructions, to check answers etc. How long do you give your students to actually answer the questions you ask them?

This time is called 'wait time' & has been the focus of research in classrooms. It is particularly apt to look at this in the language classroom as not only do students have to think of an answer but they are also burdened with understanding the question in the first place & when they have an answer, to formulate what they want to say & how to say it. It's not surprising then that the language learner takes longer to answer a question. Do we really give them enough time?

Try a little research yourself. When you next ask questions silently count to yourself as you wait & hang on until you get a response. See how long you have to wait & mentally remember any effects of waiting longer.

A possible effect of this attention to wait time is the contribution of the quieter students. Maybe when we don't hear the stronger students come out with the answer straightaway we jump in & give the answer & thereby shut off the quieter ones who might be just about to offer a contribute.

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