Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Conversation Circles

My upper level classes regularly have conversations in the target language about various topics. The most challenging part for me is how to encourage everyone participate in the TL discussion on a fairly equal basis.  The majority of the students participate without hesitation even when they see that I am not tracking their participation.   

Two weeks ago, I read Amy Lenord's post on Conversation Circles (find it here).  I implemented some of her techniques last Monday, April 15, and again during today's Conversation Circle.  These inlucde:

1. I wrote the names of the students on index cards and put the names on the chairs. Their new "assigned" seats were waiting for them when they entered the classroom.
2. Students had to write at least 2 questions before starting. 
3. I  wrote the rules on the board in Spanish (see Amy's blog), and also told them I would try my best NOT to be part of the conversation. 
4. I keep record of how many times students contributed to the

Our first topic was death because we were ready dto start a unit that has Unamuno's poem "El niño enfermo", Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "La viuda de Montiel", a discussion on cementeries with solar panels, and other related readings).  After 40 minutes of the conversation circle, I had to end the discussion even though they were still going strong. They were invested in the conversation, enjoying learning more about each other, and had prepared excellent questions. (i.e. Would you rather live forever or die? Why would you or wouldn't you want to live to be 100? Did you ever have a pet that died? What are memories you have of a loved one that passed away? etc)

On the tally sheet I marked:
? = asked a question
l = contributed to the conversation
x = spoke in English (there was only one "x")

At the end of the activity, I addressed a few of the errors I had heard by writing part of the sentence on the board and the students made the corrections.  

Today's topic was "lo sobrenatural" which will lead us into our next area of focus which is magic realism.  Students discussed their opinions on ghosts, ghostly encounters, haunted houses, unexplained events, movies with ghosts, and on and on.  It reminds me when teenagers get together to hang out and the conversation naturally flows, but of course in class it is focused on a particular subject and, it is in Spanish. 

Benefits of the Conversation Circle:
1 - The students are quick to express their opinions about subjects that are interesting to them; dead spots in the conversation are almost non-existent.
2 - Since I'm not leading the conversation, (I actually sit outside of their circle), I am able to listen more intently to what each of them says; I'm not preparing to ask the next question. I am able to pick out common errors and adjust future lessons accordingly.
3 - The conversations are VERY interesting. The students (and I) are learning things about each other that I know we wouldn't have the opportunity to do so without our conversation time.
4 - It's student-centered; the students don't depend on me to lead the conversation. It's interesting to see how students participate in the conversation and monitor when it is time to ask a new question.
5 - The students write a wider variety of questions than what I would write.  (The old "two heads are better than one" idea.)
6 - It's true communication - not contrived.  They share their opinion or experiences and others respond to them, often requiring the first student to defend or expand on what they originally said.
7 - It's fun. It's relaxing.  We're teaching a 2nd language to the students so they can communicate in the language and that is exactly what they're doing in this activity.         

Drawbacks: The most difficult part of this activity is for me NOT to join the conversation. It requires quite a bit of restraint on my part! I admit that there are times when I can't help myself and I cheat and make a small contribution to the conversation.

If you need some ideas for types of questions for the students each other, click HERE for a handy resource to go along with this type of activity.

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