Tools for Talking

There are lots of ways to get students talking productively. Several of them appear below. See also: Staying in the Target Language

Structuring Discussions

Carrousel Brainstorming - Post large pieces of chart paper around the room. Put a topic or question at the top of each sheet. Divide students into groups and give each group's "recorder" a different colored marker. Give each group 30 seconds to 2 minutes to brainstorm a list of items or answers related to the topic or question. When the time ends, have each group move to a new piece of chart paper and continue the process.

Focus Questions - Give each small group a list of questions and ask them to choose at least 3 to discuss.

Jigsaw - Divide students into groups (1, 2, 3, 4). Give each group a different set of paragraphs to read, a skill or process to learn, etc. When time is called, regroup students so that each new group is comprised of at least one member of the original groups (each group should have a 1, a 2, a 3, and a 4 in it) so that the representative of the original group can teach the information, skill, or process to the new mixed group.

Key Ideas - Ask students to identify 3-7 sentences containing key ideas regarding the topic of study.

Key Words - Ask students to extract 3-7 key words that summarize the topic of study and devise a graphic organizer that will help others remember them.

Prioritization - Give each student a red dot, a green or blue dot, and a yellow dot or Post-it flag. Post a list of ideas, topics, or activities on chart paper around the room and have students "vote" on the topics using their dots. (Red dots=high priority, green/blue dots=moderate priority, yellow dots = low priority). Have students "defend" their choices or attempt to come to consensus on the choices.

Read & Retell - Give students something to read, then have them retell it to a partner, adding a personal experience or connection in the process.

Round Robin - Seat students in small groups. Call out a controversial question or statement and allow students to express their opinions--but students are only allowed to talk one at a time, according to the order in which they are seated around a round table. Consequently, if they wish to respond to something someone else has said, they must make a note of that so that they can remember the comment they wish to make until it is their turn. When it is their turn, they are only allowed to make one comment and/or ask one question. In this way, all students (including those who are reluctant to speak), get a turn.

Talking Chips - Give each student in a group 4 chips of a different color. Students may make comments or ask questions at any time during the small group or whole class discussion, but each time they do, they must "pay" a chip. When they are out of chips, they cannot speak again until everyone has used their chips. Conversely, for each chip the student spends, s/he may earn a point toward some privilege or reward.

Structured Opportunities to Move & Talk

Affinity Diagram - Have students jot down key ideas or concerns about a given topic individually on separate Post-it notes, then ask them to work together to organize the ideas or concepts into meaningful sets. Have them label each set.

Carrousel - Post chart paper on the wall, write a question on each page, divide participants into groups, give a different colored marker to each group, send a group to each paper, give them one minute to jot down answers to the question, then have them move to the next page.

Focus Groups - Divide the tasks into 4 pieces, send a "facilitator" to guide each small group through their piece of the task, pull the whole group back together for the finished product.

Four Corners - Provide a variety of readings or topics, form groups by favorites, participants discuss, each person shares the most valuable idea they are taking away from their group's discussion, no comments from others are allowed until everyone has spoken.

Grab a Word - Listen to, read, or watch a piece of "text" (an audio clip, statement, or video clip), and then from the center of the table, grab the word that you associate most closely with what you heard, read, or saw.

Human Graphing - Once participants have completed a multiple-choice survey, personality quiz, etc., and tallied their results, send them to different locations in the room based on their scores so that everyone can see the visual distribution/clustering of the people in the class.

Inside/Outside Circles - Have participants make 2 circles facing one another. Give the people in the inside circle a question, and have the outside circle answer them.

Popcorn - Stand and say one word that you associate with the topic.

Story Squares - Sketch something in each box related to the topic. Trade papers with a partner. Point to a square on your partner's paper that seems interesting to you and listen to them tell you the story.

Resources for Encouraging Students to Talk

Dreke, Michael, & Salgueiro, Sofia. (2002). Español en pareja. NY: Langenscheidt. ISBN 3-468-96704-7. This book contains a host of information gap activities designed to encourage students to use their language skills to communicate about topics commonly covered in a beginning language class.

Kagan, Spencer. (1992). Cooperative learning. San Juan Capistrano, CA: Kagan Cooperative Learning. ISBN 1-879097-10-9. A book filled with strategies and structures that teachers can use to foster communication and cooperative learning among students.

Peterson, Jean Sunde. (1990). Talk with teens about self and stress: 50 guided discussions for school and counseling groups. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing. ISBN 0-915793-55-5. This incredibly useful book contains information on conducting group counseling sessions, group formation, a self-assessment for group leaders, guidelines for group leaders, and numerous “lesson plans” and reproducible worksheets that can be used as tools for conducting thought-provoking discussions on issues with which teens are frequently confronted, such as: Personal strengths and limitations, facades, stereotyping, perfectionism, compulsivity, learning styles, test scores, underachievement, names, time and priorities, control, self-esteem, mistakes, heroes/heroines/values, having fun, courage, image, daydreaming, personal values, success and failure, being alone v. being lonely, encouragement v. discouragement, influence, uniqueness, authority, advice, getting our needs met, tolerance and compassion, stress, procrastination, substance abuse, cults, etc.

Rooks, George, Diana Scholberg, Kenneth Scholberg. (1982). Conversar sin parar. Cambridge, MA: Newbury House Publishers. ISBN 0-88377-222-1. This superb book contains a variety of scenarios that dig into various social issues (related to crime and punishment, entertainment, fame, health and fitness, immigration, media and technology, natural resources, politics, school finance, tourism, war and conflict, values, etc.) that require students to use their language skills (and a number of different grammar structures) in order to achieve a consensus. The book includes vocabulary, background information, and worksheets designed to scaffold students' participation in each activity.