Friday, May 29, 2009

A Simple Speaking Task where students actually interacted!

The other day I did a simple speaking task that worked very well with college freshmen who are novice English speakers. There are 20 students in this class and they are a little reserved but very considerate and copperative young men and women.

We are using the textbook Global Issues by Tim Grose. The text book has a profile of a boy living in India talking about his family, school and future dreams. This boy has to drop out of school to support his family.

Class 1: I asked the students to write their own profile in the 3rd person. I asked them to talk about their family, their school history and their future dreams. I asked them to use the profile in the textbook for ideas on how they can write their profile.

Class 2: Students handed in their profiles. Some tried hard and others simply wrote 8 - 10 sentences with no real coherence. I took their papers home and underlined mistakes or parts that I could not understand. I also wrote comments such as "connect your sentences" or requests for students to add more content.

Class 3: First, I put students in pairs. I handed back the papers to the students and asked them to revise their papers. I told them to consult with their partner or me if they were not sure how to revise their papers. I realize that this was not real pair work, but I have found that it is best to make peer feedback optional among students if they still do not know each other well. It took them about 20 minutes. I walked around the class and ended up helping each student individually.
When they were finished revising, I told students to read their paper to their partner (without showing the paper!). The partner would write key words. After each student read their profile, pairs joined to make groups of 4. Students would then use their notes to tell their new group members their partners' profiles. I made this activity "English only" and encouraged students to ask each other about words that they understood. I was surprised about the amount of English use and interaction in this activity because usually these students were very hesitant to interact with each other in English.
When the groups of 4 were finished, I asked various groups interesting things they heard about their classmates.
At the ending of the class I asked students to answer the following questions on their response cards
1) What did you learn today?
2) Do you think that this activity is useful? Why or why not?
3) I could introduce my partner to other people.
a) strongly agree b) agree c) disagree d) strongly disagree
4) I could understand other people's profiles.
a) strongly agree b) agree c) disagree d) strongly disagree
5) I asked questions when I could not understand.
a) strongly agree b) agree c) disagree d) strongly disagree
Many of the students wrote various phrases or vocabulary they had learned after writing their profiles and getting feedback. Other students wrote vocabulary they had learned from listening to other people's profiles. Two students wrote that they learned about how to connect sentences. Four students wrote that they learned nothing but that they thought the activity was useful! (In hindsight, question 2 was not a good question.)

Class 4: I found that the previous week's task gave us a good reason to study conjunctions and I gave students a conjunction worksheet to complete for the next week. We did a follow up task where we did the if the World were 100 Peopleactivity. There was much less interaction among the students during this activity. In my next post, I would like to talk about why this was so.


Rintaro said...

Hi, this is Rintaro.
How have you been?
I personally think PPP (presentation-practice-production) is more suitable than TBL to the Japanese EFL situation. I conducted theoretical research and analyzed and compared them from the point of view skill acquisition theories. In the theories, practice, such as imitation, repetition and mechanical drills are highly valued to develop learners’ declarative knowledge to procedural one. In TBL, practice is usually rejected. In task-supported activities and focused task, there are target grammatical structures and there can be a practice stage, but it must be minimum as they say. From my teaching experience I think it’s crucial for Japanese learners to experience great amount of practice. Of course, task is effective in motivating students, developing their imagination, creativity and thinking. But in Japanese junior and high school classrooms, PPP would be better. In University or for adult learners who do not have to take high-stakes entrance exams, TBL can be better. I’m going to give a presentation about “PPP vs TBL” at Chubu Eigo kyouiku conference this month in Shizuoka. Maybe, I will be challenged. Anyway we have to think about this issue more.
Are you going to attend Zenkoku in Tottori in August? I hope we can meet again!


JH said...

Hello Rintaro!
I agree with you that in the JHS and SHS environment that PPP is the best approach. The main reason for this is that students can only spend a limited amount of time learning English and have limited exposure to English outside of the class. Therefore PPP is the most efficient approach. I do think that Task Supported Language teaching in which tasks are periodically used to reinforce students' learning is appropriate for JHS and SHS. I think that students really struggle to use English spontaneously or respond quickly to spoken or written English. Tasks can give students the experience of using English for a real purpose.
This year I am going to Zenkoku. I am using tasks in a graduate school course as a means for student-teachers to learn about how they can be used to promote students' speaking. The student-teachers will do a practice lesson at our Fuzoku JHS and I will present about it at Zenkoku. I look forward to seeing you there!