Tuesday is our day for speaking activities. The speaking activities are related to the topics and themes we read about in our reading classes, and the kinds of activities can take many forms.
We give class presentations (in front of the whole class). In their reading packet, students will generally have their choice of three topics: easy, intermediate and advanced, and students can choose which they'd like to do. Easy topics are often directly related to the reading, and often involve personal experiences, a presentation of research, or other factual kinds of presentation. Intermediate topics often require the student to give opinions about something and support those opinions. Advanced topics generally require students to attempt a persuasive or analytical presentation on a deeper level. Each presentation is followed by a review by the class. I ask the students two questions: "What was good about this presentation?" and "How could this presentation have been better?" Sometimes I ask the student who gave the presentation, and sometimes I ask the class. I generally follow with my own comments.
We sometimes give small group presentations. Again, students generally have a choice of easy, intermediate and advanced topics. The students sit in small groups, and one by one they present. After each presentation, the other students in the group ask the presenter questions about their presentation. Students receive two grades: one for presenting and one for asking questions.
We sometimes do class discussions, where I ask the whole class questions and try to get students to talk about their feelings. In their reading packet, students will be given a list of questions to think about, or points to discuss.
We also do small group discussions where students answer a questions in a small group. Again, students will have a list of questions to answer or points to discuss to guide them, but are encouraged to move beyond those questions as their discussion progresses.
We also do class debates. Students will be given their choice of sides on an issue, and students can individually choose which side to join. Students are given points to consider, and are asked to support their opinions in class.
We also do team debates. There are generally two sides: red and blue. Students are assigned to a team. They are generally given time to discuss their topic and strategy. Then we set the teams at tables facing one another. The teams are encouraged to think about and respond to points made by the other team. I moderate these to keep them orderly.
On Tuesday, the first grade class had a class debate on shyness and whether shyness was 'good' or 'bad'. I asked students to think about positive and negative aspects of being shy or outgoing, and I asked students whether we should try to change shy people, or help them to be more outgoing. Unfortunately, although the students had a great deal of fun with the topic and we laughed a lot during that class, I'm afraid we really didn't make much progress on the topic itself. However, it was a good introduction to the concept of class debate ... except that the students all agreed with one another ...
The second grade class had a class discussion about rising food prices and poverty. I put them in groups of two, had them discuss the questions on their list, and then switched groups every three minutes. I encouraged students to: give opinions about what the other person said, ask questions about what they said, and challenge them on what they said. It was an EXTREMELY productive class. They talked A LOT! What really made me happy was that communication wasn't one way. They were actually engaging one another in CONVERSATION. By stressing the part about listening and response, it was elevated from students taking turns giving opinions, and became actual conversations! I'm very pleased with the results. They all did marvelously!
The third grade also had a class discussion. Their class discussion was about a father who smashed his daughter's cell phone because she ran up more than $4,000 (US) in charges by sending nearly 10,000 text messages during a single month while she was at school, dropping her grades from As and Bs to Ds and Fs. Again, I switched groups every three minutes, and the students did marvelously.
In switching groups, my 'group cards' are working very well. Rather than having group 1, 2 or 3, or group A, B or C, on the advice of a colleague, I use a non-hierarchical system of colors and shapes. I have five shapes: circle, triangle, square, heart and star. I have six colors: red, green, blue, yellow, magenta and cyan. This allows me to make a wide variety of group types, and to mix and match. For example, I had four groups of two, so I set up a system so that each round, each student would be with a new partner, and at the end of the seventh round, they would have been paired with each of the other seven students in the class.
I'm going to be trying to build my students' conversation skills a lot more from now on.