One of my challenges this year has been to get my student to speak Spanish for their own good rather than a requirement I place upon them. Also, if you are like me you have noticed how easy it is to get in writing practice and how challenging it is to get in quality speaking practice, and even harder to get in the kind of practice that reduces the threat level and allows you to give good feedback to your students. So, in the search for the "magic bullet" activity that will do all of that for me I started tinkering with something I call the Conversation Circle.
This is how it started:
First, I put all the desk in a huge circle and create a seating chart with the students names on the seat where they are sitting. The first two times we did this activity, I told them they had to speak 5 times for 100% on a participation grade. I would tally their speaking points on this seating chart and convert this into their grade.
Second, I create a topic or theme for the day (related to the unit we are studying and its learning targets) and before beginning I have the students prepare their own questions to ask each other during the conversation to sustain the talk without my having to get involved.
- No question can go unanswered.
- Yes, no, why, and "and you?" or other one word answers don't count as participation
- For larger classes at least three people have to answer the question before a new question can be introduced.
- Questions can be directed to the whole class or to individuals
- No English allowed, ever (unless I need it for coaching purposes or they have to use it for specific questions or clarification)
- While it was a bit awkward for them to be in control of the action, they demonstrated a higher level of thinking because when someone asked a question or responded with language that was confused they either expressed their lack of understanding by using the target language or by making corrections for their classmates using the target language.
- At least 85% of the students were actively involved, while the other 15% chose not to participate at all. This I knew would have to be addressed in another way.
- At the completion of the activity many students expressed their excitement for what happened and requested that we do it every week. (How often does that happen?)
- When I questioned students about why they liked or valued this activity, many agreed that it made them really think about what they were saying and what was being said to them.
Two of my classes are smaller or less outgoing, so the previous setup was fine and had no problems, but two of my classes required some adjusting to make the experience successful.
One class has 30 students in it and another was a class whose make up is a group of best friends who are always socializing and playing in class, so there was no way we could just allow the conversation to be organic, so we developed a circular system of responding. A question would be introduced and moving clockwise, the next person in the circle who wanted to respond could. Three students had to respond before a new question could be asked, so after the third person either another response was given or a new question was posed to the group. This worked really well, got more students involved and was, in the students' opinions, generally more fair.
Working to Perfect the System
Recently my students took a speaking assessment which took place after two uses of the conversation circle. After the assessment, I asked them for some feedback in a survey. One of the questions was, "What have we done in class that prepared you for this assessment?" Many of the students mentioned the conversation circle, but commented that they didn't like the tally marks because they encouraged students just to get the marks rather than thinking about what they were saying or engaging other students in the conversation. (Yes, the students really said these things! Amazing, right?) That night, their comments inspired the skeleton of the rubric you see here. The next day in class we had some down time after the day's activities, so I asked them to look over this template and work in groups to draft out the criteria they would want to be graded by during the conversation circle. The only stipulation I gave them was that the criteria could be rated with the following point values: 2 points, 1 point or 1/2 a point. The point values would be chosen on the importance of the criteria they created and they could decide that weight.
Student Created Criteria
Here are some examples of the criteria the students drafted:
- Using new vocabulary
- Using new and old vocabulary so the old is not forgotten
- Asking questions
- Involving other students in the conversation
- Using elaborated sentences
- Using more than one tense: present, past, commands, etc...
- Staying on topic
Current Status of the Conversation Circle
Now that I have the template and the student input, I will be analyzing the criteria they drafted to create the final product. The idea and the student input was so great that I wanted to share the idea in hopes of getting more input from my fellow language teachers.
The students love this because they realize how necessary it is for them to "create" with the language to make themselves understood as well as focus to really listen to each other. This activity or strategy puts them first in every possible way: practice, communication, assessment, coaching, and evaluation. Look it over, give it a try and let me know what your thoughts are.
Conversation Circle by Amy Lenord is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.