Posts Tagged ‘conversation class’

Shimer_College_student_and_professor_in_conversation_2010

Some of my students are great conversationalists who thrive talking to new interesting people, but for others having to maintain a conversation with someone they don’t know that well is a truly daunting task. I personally am more of a quiet type, and I deeply sympathize with people who have this problem. I remember, when I first started out teaching, being positively terrified by meeting some of my students on the underground: inexplicably, having chatted with them effortlessly in class, I completely froze and didn’t know what to say the moment we stepped out of the classroom.

When it comes to intercultural communication, the issues of shyness and not knowing how to break the ice or fill the awkward pauses may be additionally complicated by the fact that different cultures might expect different behaviour during the conversation. For example, in her IATEFL presentation on The Pragmatics of successful business communication, Chia Suan Chong gave a very interesting example of how politeness and the wish not to interrupt may be interpreted as lack of interest:

Allyson: You won’t believe what happened to me today!
Jun Sook stares at her and doesn’t say a word.
Allyson: Right, if you’re not interested, then I’m not going to tell you!
Jun Sook: Huh?

Russians make another good example: we use back-channeling (i.e. small noises and comments that show you’re listening and interested, like ‘Mmm?’ and ‘Interesting’) a lot less than English or American people, and a typical reaction when some of my students notices the question ‘Really?’ in a transcript is to giggle and ask, ‘How come she doesn’t believe him?’ We also have quite different body language, so a lot of my students avoid making eye contact, and hardly use any gestures when they speak.

A few weeks ago a team of engineers at my company needed to entertain a customer (something that they normally don’t do) and I needed to teach a short course designed to help them brush up their English and conversation skills. Here’s one of the lesson plans that was part of the course. It is designed to help learners maintain conversations more easily by

  1. asking a range of follow-up questions more skillfully and
  2. using some ‘active listening’ techniques, namely, showing interest verbally (through short interjections and comments) and non-verbally, through eye contact and body language.

Levels: B1/B2
Length: 90 minutes
Materials/equipment:

  • an editable Worksheet
  • a projector or a laptop to show the video
  • a deck of cards (you’ll need around 8 cards for each student – printed out cards will do)

If you don’t have Microsoft Word, download the .pdf from Slideshare:

Teacher’s notes

Warmer:
Task 1. S/s discuss in pairs for 3-5 minutes. Brief feedback.
Task 2. The purpose of tasks 2 and 3 is for the students to notice the differences between the way they show interest / encourage the other speaker to continue and the way Americans do that.
For task 2, split s/s into groups of three or four. Two people in each group are talking (Task 2), the remaining students are analyzing their conversation (Secret task on last page). Allow 2 minutes for Student As to read the task, then let Students B and C talk for 3-4 minutes.
Task 3. Elicit from Student As what they were looking out for and board the questions. Conduct brief feedback, then focus the class on the first three questions: (1) How do they use their hands? (2) Do they make any eye contact? (3) How do they show that they’re listening? Explain that you’re going to watch a short video of two IT professionals discussing their work. Explain that the topic is quite technical and that the students’ task is to ignore what the speakers are saying and concentrate on questions (1), (2) and (3). Play the video.

[youtube https://youtu.be/RvCVhmgQLEU&start=156s&end=255s]

Suggested answers:
(1) How do they use their hands?
They use hands a lot to illustrate what they’re saying

(2) Do they make any eye contact?
 They make eye contact occasionally, but they don’t look each other in the eye for more than a few seconds.

(3) How do they show that they’re listening?
Non-verbally (they’re sitting half-facing each other and they nod a lot)
Verbally (they use ‘small noises’ (Huh-huh), make short comments (Right), and at one point ‘echo’ by reformulating a key word (3:28: ‘They’re still on the same visit’/’The same session’).

Play the video again, this time stopping after each example of back-channeling and asking the students to repeat it.

Task 2′. Get the students to repeat the same task in new pairs – this time nobody is doing the secret task and the objective is to (1) use more interesting gestures while you’re speaking and (2) show interest by body language, small noises and short comments. 

Task 4. The aim of tasks 4 and 5 is to extend the students’ repertoire of short comments used to show interest and to give them controlled practice coming up with follow-up questions. Refer the class to Task 4 and ask them to sort the reactions. Conduct brief feedback.
Follow-up: Elicit answers to the following questions:
1. What word makes follow-up sound more friendly/conversational? (So).
2. What words make comments work more natural/conversational? (So, then).
3. What is the structure of the comments? (Short reaction, e.g. ‘Really?’/’Yeah’/’Exactly’ + a longer comment).

Key:

One- or two-word comments / echoing key words. Follow-up questions Comments that work as follow-up questions Comments about yourself
5 years?Interesting.
Right.Was it?
Yeah.
Really? What was that like?Why did you decide to leave your start-up?
So, were you working on the same project back then?So when exactly did you start with this?
So you know the company pretty well then.

So you have been working here for quite a long time now.

Really? That’s interesting because…

Yeah, I had a similar experience. I ….

Exactly. I think…

Refer the class to Task 5 and ask to come up with more short comments / follow-up questions and comments (do the first line together, then allow the students to work in pairs).

Task 6. Distribute cards to students and put them in new pairs. Explain that in this task they’ll chat about the questions and they’ll need to use the cards to know how to react: by showing interest using body language, by asking follow-up questions, by making comments that serve as questions or by making comments to share something about themselves.

Task 7. Either as a follow-up or for homework, get the students categorize the questions in Task 6 and come up with more questions. Use those questions for another revision/communication activity next time.

For homework, share the links to the following two resources:
Quora thread Meeting New People: What is the best way to start an engaging conversation with a stranger?
Lifehacker thread What’s Your Best Ice Breaker When Meeting Someone New?

Ask the students to read them, choose their favourite tips and share them, either in the next lesson or on your facebook group/blog, if the group has one.

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Another one in a series of fluency-related posts – more links here: contents.

One of the most widely known classroom activities that target fluency is Paul Nation’s 4-3-2 technique: students tell the same story (or do the same task) under progressively stricter time constraints. The idea is that students are pushed to perform faster and are forced to restructure the ‘routines’ they use, and so the ‘formulation’ phase of speech production speeds up.

With my B1-C2 level students I use a slightly more complex procedure. Students find interesting articles online in order to share them in class, but instead of just reading and retelling them them to their classmates using more or less what linguistic resources they currently have, they actively mine text for collocations. This tweak to the activity seems to tie in nicely with a lot of insight into fluency described in the previous post. A variation of this technique which I think really does help to teach functional language at lower levels/to students preparing for exams such as IELTS is described here.

The full version involves some homework on the part of the students and takes around 80/90 minutes of classroom time, although there are some shorter alternatives that do not require homework.

Homework stage:

  • Students choose an article on the internet
  • They mine the text for sets of related expressions (big thanks for this technique to Mark Rooney and Ewan Dinwiddie, in whose Delta Module 2 lessons I first saw it) and organize these expressions into a mindmap. For example, in this online article on education, one predictably finds lots of expressions connected to studying (e.g. ‘grant you a college degree’, ‘take a year-long course’ and ‘broaden your knowledge’) and the internet (e.g. ‘without ever leaving your computer’, ‘bring free education to the masses via the internet’ and ‘available under open licences’), but on closer look lots of other related sets emerge, e.g. ‘quality’ (‘top-notch education’, ‘featured courses’, ‘which few you might want to steer clear of’), ‘quantity (‘it can get quite overwhelming’, ‘over 22 universities in the US alone’, ‘courses on tons of subjects’) and so on.

Classroom stage:

  • Students attempt to recreate their mindmap from memory (~10 minutes) and then look through their original mindmap and, ideally, through the text to see what’s missing (~5 minutes) – they won’t remember more than 30-40% at this stage, but this ‘test’ stage primes them to benefit more fully from revising the map
  • Students practice pronouncing expressions from their mindmaps as fast and fluently as they possibly can (this can be tied in with work on connected speech, e.g. they could be asked to look for instances of linking/weak forms and practice pronouncing those)/resolve any queries regarding pronunciation with the teacher’s help (3-5 mins); I also share this resource that automatically transcribes lists of expressions, so that students can check pronunciation at home
  • In pairs, they retell their article to a partner trying to use the expressions from their mindmaps – there’s always some discussion going on, but this is primarily a monologue (6.5 minutes/each monologue for average-length articles)
  • They look at their mindmaps to see what they forgot to mention/what expressions they didn’t use and why (5 minutes)
  • In new pairs, they retell their article (5.5 minutes/monologue)
  • Having briefly looked at their mindmaps again, in new pairs they retell their articles in 4.5 minutes

For this activity students are normally seated in two circles facing each other (so at each stage those sitting in the inner circle move to the next partner). By the end of the activity those students who sit in the same circle haven’t heard each other’s stories, so they can pair up with someone from the other circle and share what they’ve heard/what they liked the most or found the most surprising (this normally takes another 10 minutes or so).

Here are a few mindmaps produced by my students. What I’ve been noticing is that over time students start producing much better quality maps in terms of expressions they notice.

Image

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In my experience, for the activity to be a success, the following factors/steps are quite essential:

  • [a shorter version] start with shorter texts or integrate this with jigsaw reading (lists of places to go to/things to do/films to see etc lend themselves to this, e.g. in a recent class, my B1 students read one tip each from 10 Things to Do in New York City, shared these tips mindmapping between changing the partners and in the end decided which of those they’d like to do the most).
  • [introducing the activity: a lesson plan] try the whole procedure out in class, training the students in sub-steps: first introduce the idea that texts contain sets of related expressions and give them practice in identifying these; then give them practice creating mindmaps; then run the whole activity (mining the text for expressions + minmapping + recreating the mindmap + retelling the text) on the same text together – I’ve used coursebooks texts and also the first two paragraphs in this text, which was more than enough material for a ninety-minute class of B2 students.
    I usually try to first draw the group’s attention to the fact that they don’t remember the expressions from the text; to do that, I ask them to close the text and shout out words and expressions that were there; I board their suggestions and then I ask them what sets of related expressions they see – this helps to introduce the idea of lexical sets and a mind mapping; I draw the draft mindmap and ask students to copy it and to complete it with more expressions from the text. Here’s the draft mindmap we created for the text on education linked to in the previous paragraph:
    Image
    After that, the students finished their mindmaps – an average one looked something like that:
    online courses final
    Having done that, they recreated them and retold the text to each other, I then split them into groups: these groups read different paragraphs from the text, repeated the cycle of mining for vocabulary/mindmapping/recreating the mindmap etc helping each other, and then they retold these paragraphs to people from another group
  • [collocations – NOT unknown vocabulary] This activity works great with collocations, but only as long as they don’t contain completely unknown words. If they do, I’d suggest using the keyword technique to learn them first.
  • [safety net] I haven’t needed this yet because my students normally do find and read the articles, but probably it’s a good idea to keep a few interesting print-outs to hand. In that case students who come unprepared can read an article to share while those who did prepare are reproducing their maps; I also ask my students to share the links to the articles they’ve found, as well as photos oftheir maps, in a dedicated thread on a class blog – so I know whether they’ve prepared or not
  • [making the activity methodologically meaningful for students] It’s important to let the student know the rationale behind the activity and explain that they need to speak faster and faster – otherwise they will just skip some parts
  • model the activity: tell the students a story based on an article, encourage them to ask questions/interact with me/clarify unknown vocabulary; share sources (e.g. http://www.economist.com/science-technology, www.theguardian.com/,  http://www.newyorker.com/ for longer articles and lifehacker.comhttp://www.quickanddirtytips.com/ and  http://coolamazingstuff.com/ for shorter/more fun articles and lists)
  • [personal experience] it was very important for me to try out the entire activity on my own first, so that I knew of the likely difficulties and was able to reassure those students who thought it was impossible to recreate the maps; it is impossible to remember more than 30-40% on the first try, but after a couple of retellings it becomes pretty easy. What I did was pretty extreme, as I tried the activity with a 3-page article from New Yorker on a ramble through the city, and although there was no real plot in the article and although there were over 60 collocations on my map, third time I tried I could retell it using a significant proportion of collocations
  • [catering for tastes] some students don’t like mind-mapping – it’s ok to be flexible, as expressions can be organized into short lists, for instance
  • [revision] encourage the students to revise their mindmaps for a few days and store them safely/upload them to a group blog

Some of the articles my students have brought to class (might be useful to get the process started):
3D printers get cheaper, faster – and more mainstream

Apple iPod creator launches intelligent smoke alarm

Dark energy A problem of cosmic proportions

‘My iPad has Netflix, Spotify, Twitter – everything’: why tablets are killing PCs

Why Do Our Best Ideas Come to Us in the Shower?

Brain-to-brain communication is not a conversation killer

Shodan: The scariest search engine on the Internet

Male brain versus female brain: How do they differ?

A few words on why I think this activity makes sense in view of fluency research

In my previous post I wrote a lengthy overview of what factors are known to influence fluency and how these are mapped to the stages an utterance undergoes before being said. To sum it up  very briefly, one needs to

  • conceptualize/macro-plan: come up with what to say and how to structure it
  • formulate: micro-plan the utterance, retrieve vocabulary in chunks (as opposed to individual words), automatize grammatical processing
  • pronounce chunks fluently
  • monitor after saying the utterance

A regular 4-3-2 activity supplemented with mind-mapping

  • promotes out-of-class reading and gives the students practice in discussing some general interest stories, which might conceivably help with coming up what to say
  • encourages students to notice vocabulary in texts, write it down, and test themselves,  and provides students with a cognitively engaging exercise of identifying lexical sets present in the text (I personally don’t feel bored after a whole hour of doing that), all of which improves retention; promotes learning vocabulary in chunks, which leads to fluency gains
  • helps students to automatize grammatical processing through pushing them to perform faster and faster
  • encourages them to pronounce chunks naturally through the pronunciation practice stage, which improves perceived fluency

In the next post I describe how I use this activity with lower levels to help them with functional language used in social encounters.

A few interesting references
To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test – on the effect recalling and subsequently re-reading a text has on retention
Nation, P. Learning Vocabulary in Lexical Sets: Dangers and Guidelines  – Learning vocabulary in lexical sets (e.g. ‘apple, pear, plum’) is counter-productive, learning thematically related words (e.g. ‘frog, pond, green, slimy, hop, croak’) produces the best results.

St. Valentine’s day is approaching so here’s a lesson plan on the topic of love and friendship. Students warm up by playing a word game (stages 4-5) that

  • encourages them to think deeper about what they read into a range of concepts related to love and friendship and
  • pushes them to recall vocabulary on these topics

The lesson ends in a discussion activity (stage 6).

Level: B1-C1
Length: 30-60 min (depending on whether you do the discussion activity)
Focus: speaking (a conversation class)
Materials: Worksheet

Stage One. Tell the students that you’re going to show them several photos and that you found all of these photos with one search on Google. Ask them to guess the search term. Board all their suggestions. (My search term was ‘St. Valentine’s day’, but anything topic-related will do.)
Image
(Collage produced using http://www.fotor.com/features/collage.html)

[Optional] If the students came up with the topic of St. Valentine’s day and it seems to be relevant, ask them, ‘What other words do you associate with this topic?’ (board all suggestions, positive ones alongside negative ones, e.g. ‘commercialized’).

Say ‘I’m thinking of one of these pictures. I’ll tell you my associations – guess which picture I’m thinking about (this is the picture of three hands).
Associations:

  • unity
  • support
  • friendship
  • vow (for a B2-C1 class)

Get the students to quiz each other in new pairs: one person chooses a picture and says their associations, the second guesses which picture is being described; listen in an board some of the students’ associations. FB: By this point there should be more than 20-30 words on the board (some possible associations: stained glass/ saint/ candies/ newborn/ aisle/ unity/ loyalty/ smooch/ swans/ merchandise). Refer the s/s to the board and ask them which words can be associated with more than one picture. 

Stage Two.


Tell the students that you’re going to play an extract from a song. Tell them that the title of this song is an emotion and that their task is to guess the title. Play one or two times without the video (black out the projector by pressing B); when the s/s understand that the title is ‘love’ either cirle it if it’s already on the board or  board it. Say: the title is spelled incorrectly now. How to spell it right? Play one more time if necessary (the singer says how he interprets each letter in the word ‘love’, so it should be spelled L.O.V.E.)

Stage Three. Board and ask the student to copy the following 4 lines (alternatively, print them out beforehand)
L ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ look at me
O ______ ______ ______ only one ______ ______
V ______ ‘very very ______’
E ______ ‘even more ______ ______ ______ ______ ______’
Ask them to try and remember what goes into the gaps; and then play the first line and ask them to predict what should be in the second line; play the rest of the extract. Say that you’re going to interpret the rest of the words on the board in the same way. At this point, add full stops in some of the words in a different colour.

Stage Four. Say that you’re going to give the students an example: that you’re thinking of a word and that you’re going to give them letters from that word in random order but that you’ll say how you interpret each letter. The students should try and guess the word before all letters have been revealed (allow 30 seconds thinking time after giving each letter & its interpretation – use a timer. If the class guesses the word (‘smile’) earlier than all letters have been revealed, encourage them to come up with associations for the remaining letters.

L is for ‘universal language
S is for the way it can start a friendship
E is for emotion and positive energy that you share // add ‘encouragement’ with advanced students
M is for mouth
I is for intrigue, inspiration and interaction

Tell the students that now they are going to challenge each other in the same way. Ask them to work in pairs or groups of 3 and choose more words from the ones listed on the board. Their objective is to find associations they both share and, if they come up with more than one association for the same letter, they should discuss which association is more interesting. Allow 10 minutes – or more if the discussion is lively.

You could play the song while they’re working.

Stage Five. Students play the guessing game – either as a whole group/ in groups consisting of two pairs from stage five / in new pairs.

Stage Six.
Project/print out questions for students to discuss. Ask each person to pick 4-5 questions. Optionally, after some of the pairs have finished, regroup the students.

    • What do you look for in friends? Do all your friends have something in common or are some of them very different from others?
    • Do you think your friends who don’t know each other would get along? Why/why not?
      Tell your partner about two friends who you think wouldn’t get along/would get along especially well.
    • What was your best friendship? Are you still friends with him or her? What is your first memory of that person? What is your happiest memory of that person?
    • What qualities do you admire in other people?
    • What behavior of others hurts you most? When you have upset someone by your actions, what do you try to do?
    • Who are the best/the most inspiring/ the most unlikely couples/friends you know?
    • What’s your attitude towards Valentine’s Day?
      Do you think it makes single people feel lonely?
      Do you think Valentine’s Day is too commercial or consumerist?
    • Do you remember giving someone a very heartfelt gift? Who did you give it to? Why did you feel so strongly about this gift?
    • Have you received any gifts that you still keep and would be very upset to lose? Who and when gave them to you?

Monitor to collect instances of topic-related language that could be corrected/upgraded; content feedback; language feedback.

(some of these questions were taken from http://iteslj.org/questions/friends.html & http://iteslj.org/questions/love.html & http://iteslj.org/questions/valentine.html)

___________________
If you’re short of time, you can skip Stage 1 and prepare words for stage five yourself. Cut them up into unique slips if you want to conduct stage six as a whole-class activity, or print a list for each pair (two different lists in total) if you’d like to re-group the students.
Here are some suggested words:
Intermediate:
Pair A:
F.R.I.E.N.D.
G.I.F.T.
B.E.A.U.T.Y.
F.A.M.I.L.Y.
S.E.L.L.

Pair B
S.H.O.P.
H.E.A.R.T.
K.I.D.S.
F.L.O.W.E.R.

Advanced:
Pair A:
F.R.I.E.N.D.
G.I.F.T.
B.E.A.U.T.Y.
F.A.M.I.L.Y.
L.O.Y.A.L
P.A.S.S.I.O.N.
R.O.M.A.N.C.E.
B.R.E.A.K.U.P.

Pair B:
H.U.G.
K.I.D.S.
H.E.A.R.T.
F.L.O.W.E.R.
V.O.W.
T.E.N.D.E.R.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T
S.H.O.P.
P.A.I.N.
_______________

Links to the photos used in the collage above:
http:// upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/ff/THREE_BEST_FRIENDS.JPG
http:// fc00.deviantart.net/fs70/i/2010/179/3/3/Love_by_abbachibi.png
http:// farm8.staticflickr.com/7056/6879313937_8d870f75a4_o.jpg
http:// upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ae/Smooches_(baby_and_child_kiss).jpg
http:// farm5.staticflickr.com/4011/4318704741_66b9f68e3d.jpg
http:// farm4.staticflickr.com/3485/3277822794_e241b513dd_o.jpg
http:// upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b0/Valentines_Candy.jpg
http:// farm5.staticflickr.com/4074/5444493797_bc43115ce4_o.jpg