I have ways of making you talk!

Here is my official Action Plan:

Use co-operative structures during class

to effectively build students’ oral proficiency in French

 in an authentic manner.

In my last post, I mentioned the co-operative learning structure Talking Chips from Kagan Cooperative Learning by Dr. Spencer Kagan and Miguel Kagan (@KaganOnline). I had been eager to try new structures – RoundRobin & RallyRobin and Simultaneous RoundTable in particular but

 then I fell back onto a structure I felt very comfortable with – Inside-Outside Circle: “In concentric circles, students rotate to face new partners and then answer or discuss teacher questions.” (http://www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/313/Effects-of-Communication-on-Student-Learning)

But I still wanted something more. Inside-Outside Circle had become less of a circle, and more of an amoeba-shaped blob as I attempted to mold the class within the confines of the desk set-up without constantly arranging and rearranging the desks to the different class sizes. The sound level made it nearly impossible to hear one another as students were conversing in very close proximity. And the blob formation made it unclear which direction to rotate. (I have, however, used a more zipper-like formation with more success.)

In any case, I decided to set up ‘stations’ around the classroom. These are merely numbers taped to the wall. Students then spread out and work in partners at each of these stations. The students have more space to work in and the rotation becomes more obvious, and thus the stations seem more effective overall. (I may have borrowed/stolen this idea, and if so – MERCI! – oh, and could you please remind me where I got it from? I’d like to give the person credit.)

Here is a picture of the ‘station’:

Station - number

Here is a picture of students working at a station:

Station - 2 students

So far I’ve used this structure for general oral discussion as well as interviews. For the discussion, I set up my Sharp Board like the picture below, with the question on one side and the timer on the other.

Split screen for discussion - question and timer

My students are high school level and I’ve found that 2-2.5 minutes was lengthy enough for the discussion questions. As they’re discussing, I circulate and listen in and/or give feedback, or help them with vocabulary. Afterwards, I sometimes have them discuss the same question with different partners, or I ask for volunteers to share their answer, or I pick students to share, or they just move on to the next question.

How do I get them to the stations? As the title states, I have ways of making them talk!

Here are some of the methods that I’ve used:

  • number off
  • choose names from cards
  • playing cards
  • dialogue 1 or 2, whichever they’re working on
  • and – gasp! – free choice.

Students haven’t complained about this. I think that it’s because they know they’ll get moved around anyway so they’re not stuck with one particular student. Besides, the true excitement lies in how I’ll get the rotation happening. At this point, it’s less Inside-Outside Circle, and more…um…slot machine? I’ll call out that the person who rotates counter-clockwise is the one who:

  • is older (or younger)
  • is shorter (or taller)
  • will be celebrating their birthday next
  • has the textbook (or dialogue no. 1 [or 2]) in hand
  • holds the higher value playing card; or in the case of a tie, whomever wins at rock-paper-scissors.

OK, I haven’t actually yet tried that last one, but it sounds like fun! Doing the rotation in the manner described above does mean that at times students work with the same partners twice during a session, but I would rather that than the predictability of students knowing exactly who is coming next. Oh, and if I have an uneven number, either I place myself at a station (great for assessment for learning observation), or I get them to work in a group of three.

My Grade 11 students are fondly referred to as my guinea pigs (‘cobayes’ in French) for my attempts at these structures with them. They have commented on how they feel more confident in carrying on conversations in French and how we spend at least 30 minutes of each class talking, whether it’s by using the Talking Chip method for current event discussions, or in Inside-Outside Circle. Hooray – it’s working (Hourra – ça marche)! Now, I’ve got to try a couple more structures to switch things up…

  • How do you use Inside-Outside Circle?
  • Which other cooperative learning structures have you tried?



12 thoughts on “I have ways of making you talk!

  1. Vivienne!

    I love the gentle support and scaffold that cooperative structures create! As a Middle School teacher, these little guides are so important to helping our students grow their collaborative and conversational skills.

    We had an expert share some great strategies with our MS that I will dig up (they were on actual paper, if you can believe it), but in the meantime, have I shared the popsicle stick discussion with you? I got it from an awesome colleague of mine:

    Each student has a set of coloured popsicle sticks. And each stick represents a different contribution to a discussion. A sample I typically use is here:

    Green: New Idea
    Blue: Clarifying Question
    Red: Probing Question
    Orange: Disagree
    Purple: Add-on
    Yellow: Connection

    Each person in a group of 3 or 4 can share a set number of popsicle sticks (so 2 for example, which means a person could ask a clarifying question and then a disagree) and then they can’t put their voice out any more. It’s awesome for the students who tend to dominate a conversation and helps to draw out the more reticent voices.

    I’ve also done it without the maximum number of shares, which just allows the students to know what “kinds” of contributions can be offered (and to not keep doing “add-ons” for example).

    It’s a good one and worth the trip to the Dollarstore for all the sticks!

    1. Celeste,thank you for your continual support! Yes, you had mentioned the popsicle stick idea on Twitter, and I thank you for fleshing it out even more here. I had this crazy idea that I might just try: Harkness Table + popsicle stick (so that the students could track their own contributions). I’m still mulling it over. In the meantime, I’ll head over to the dollar store. It definitely sounds like it’s worth the trip.

  2. Hi Vivienne,

    Thanks for sharing your strategies of what worked and what didn’t – it’s so powerful. Even though I’m not a Languages teacher, I can see how this could be applied to book discussions in the library. Keep the great insights coming!

    See you Friday,

    1. Hi Laura,

      Thanks for your comment. I’d be interested in any book discussion strategies you have. I’ve never belonged to a book club and was wondering how I could create this journey for my students.

  3. I love the station ideas with the discussion and the regular switching around. I bet I could adapt this to math, where I have different problems at each station that the students solve *together* and discuss as they work. I’m mulling that over and will let you know if I try!

  4. Hey Vivienne,
    Bravo! C’est incroyable que tes élèves parlent pendant 30 minutes chaque classes! #CISDELF

    I use a lot of the Kagan Co-op Learning strategies such as rally-robin and round robin. I like inside/outside circle and we do it outside or in the hall so that we don’t have to modify the shape or have students want to sit on tables or chairs… Movement and language are great!

    One thing I’ve done after doing speaking activities is give them time to look up words they wanted to use but didn’t know in French – they develop a personalized lexique so to speak. I’ve also started asking them to record themselves and then go back and listen and make changes to make their production orale #PO better! We look up synonyms – add more variety of structures etc…
    Great suggestions by @ckirsh for how to make them talk and I like your idea of a Harkness with popsicle sticks – please let me know how this goes!

    I want to know more! Can we find time to chat at MaRS please ?!

    1. Salut Derek,

      I did try your ‘lexique’ as well. One time when they were practicing questions for an interview (pretending they were applying for an exchange program), I gave each student a cue card which they carried with them while they rotated and wrote the words they didn’t know. When they got back to their desks, they looked up the words and used them to prepare for their assessment of learning. Merci!

  5. I love all instructional strategies like that!

    It reminds me of the back of the Tribes book, which devotes 100 pages or so to different strategies you can keep in your back pocket or plan to use.

    Each has slightly different dynamics, so if you want to build on ideas, use the Snowball method. If you want to sort people into ‘like’ opinions and then pair them with their opposite for idea challenge, use “fold the line”. Etc, etc. Good collections of these are hard to find, so thanks for directing me to KaganOnline for a few more.

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