One of the more popular posts on Language Sensei involved my use of “Conversation Circles” in class. Essentially the premise involves a small group of students interacting to answer questions regarding a reading that we have done in class. The original exercise is good, and has been effective, but as is usually the case in teaching, I have refined what I do. I have made 3 major changes to this activity…
A “New” Rubric – I continue to refine and hone my rubric for this activity – trying to encourage a depth of conversation beyond what students would normally do. This is a self-evaluated activity – and my students are used to responding to “how did that go?” in class. My new version of the rubric has added a section for the “Everyone” questions that I now include (see below). We preview the rubric before the activity and I ask them to select 2 things prior to the activity – something that they already feel comfortable with and one thing that they want to ‘challenge’ themselves in doing when they start. I ask them to share this with their partner, as saying it out loud increases the sense of personal ownership in how they participate in the activity.
Adding “Group Reflective Questions” – The original activity involved students answering pre-set questions about a reading in the target language. The typical comprehension questions we might ask are there and in the group they ask/answer these questions in the Target Language. (Note – they get a chance to prepare notes for answers and practice with their partner before getting into groups) But the NEW change is to ask a group-focused reflective question after the story question. An example is “Where is Peter from and why is he in Japan?” with the new question “Everyone – where are you from and how long have you been in Canada?”. Another one is “Which manga is Peter a fan of?” and the new question “What manga do you think are popular at this school – and why?”. Students are expected to use their arsenal of ‘follow-up questions‘ to further interaction with their group.
An Expectation of “Depth” – With 8 or 9 story questions, and the new ‘group’ ones, I tell students that this activity is to take at least 45 minutes to do. I want them to push for a deeper conversation – especially on the group questions. They are not to race through the questions but are expected to work hard to dig for details. They are asked to begin with a group (they determine who is in it sometimes, sometimes I set it out). Typically I let them work for about 25 minutes with this group. Then I ask them to find a new group – and to only work on the ‘Everyone’ questions on their sheet. I will admit that one group was so gung-ho on the everyone questions that they were only on Q3 (out of 8) after 25 minutes – no complaints from me!
Small changes with an increasingly big payoff….more changes in the future for sure!