Dalton

scaffolding the online task: step by step

computerboy

One of the joys of the digital age is allowing children to work on the computer, playing games and doing web quests to further their language development.  Computer games allow children to work at their own level, and computers never tire of the endless repetition of drilling certain grammar patterns, something I cannot say of myself.  We often boast about how children are “so much more at home” with computer usage and how they just “pick it up so easily”.  Just as often, however, we teachers are faced with children who do not just “pick it up” and need step-by-step instruction on how to use a certain computer game or navigate a web quest successfully.  In our well-filled classrooms and even better-filled time, it would seem quite impossible to give these children the guidance they need.

During a course I once followed in order to become a Dalton-certified teacher, I learned about a wonderful solution to this conundrum: the how-to sheet.  A how-to sheet is, simply put, a means of scaffolding children’s work.  It provides a step-by-step guide of how to complete a task, complete with simple instructions and illustrations.  The goal of using these how-to sheets is to allow children to work independently on multi-step tasks or games with a minimum of extra effort from the teacher.

how-to-backpack

A sample of a step-by-step guide of how to navigate the cd-rom for Backpack 3, the textbook I once used for teaching.

The first few sheets took the most time, as I figured out what format was the most useful, and what illustrations the most helpful.  Eventually, I started making how-to sheets for all sorts of things, from computer games to language tasks, so that children could work independently on a range of activities during the lessons.  The first couple of times, the children needed some instruction: how did these how-to sheets work?  Once they figured that part out, they happily worked on their own, and all I had to do was make sure they did their work well and give them feedback once in a while.

how-to-game-4

A sample step-by-step of how to play a language game

The initial work of making these guides paid off: children could work independently, and my hands were kept free for the work of interacting with the children through the new language.

Here is a step-by-step instruction on how to make one of these sheets:

  1. Look at the activity through the eyes of the child.  What is his starting point?  That is step 1.
  2. Go through each step of the activity.  Every time the screen changes, or every new step in the game, take a picture or make a screen shot.  Crop the picture as needed.
  3. Number the steps, and give a short explanation for each one.  Use language the children can easily understand.
  4. Insert the pictures next to the directions.  I have found that using a table is an easy way to accomplish this.  Anchor the picture as a character, and it will stay in the table where you put it.
  5. Where needed, add an arrow to point out exactly where the child needs to click.  Or, insert thought and speech bubbles to illustrate thinking or speaking.
  6. Show children how the step-by-step plan works, so they can refer to it themselves, and refer back to it should they have questions.

Scaffolding towards independence takes on many forms, and this is only one of them.

But for now, the summer holiday calls, and so I shall take a short time off before resuming this blog.  Happy summer holidays, everyone!

 

Rubrics: a basis for qualitative feedback

Rubric-1

This is one of those things I wished I’d learned about years ago, because it would have made my own life as a teacher so much easier.  I’ve learned about them now, however, so I’m shouting my joy from the rooftops.  Hurray for rubrics!

What is a rubric, one might ask.  A rubric is a means of giving detailed, qualitative feedback to students regarding a given product.  It contains concrete descriptions of the criteria for a well-completed product.

There are different sorts of rubrics.  I’ll explain two sorts of rubrics, using generic sample rubrics I wrote for this purpose.  The first one is a criterion-referenced rubric, and the second one lists success critera for different levels of ability.  I wrote these rubrics for a group project in which the children had to create posters demontrating what they’d learned during the last unit of learning.  They were to use the new words they’d learned in correct sentences.  For the sake of simplicity, I’ve omitted criteria for layout and presentation.  I’ve only included the very basic criteria of content, language, and process.

The first example here shows a criterion-referenced rubric of the sort most people might use.   For teachers, this is an easy form of marking, since the standard for the work remains the same, no matter the ability level of the child.  Also, the criteria for success are clearly described, so all children can know ahead of time what he needs to do in order to pass the assignment.  Another positive aspect is that children get differentiated feedback per criteria heading.  On the downside, it’s perfectly possible for a child to fail the given assignment, as the criteria for success are of the one-size-fits-all variety.  There is no way to allow for differences of ability when using this sort of rubric.Rubric01

That problem can be solved by using a different setup.  The example shown below demonstrates a way to differentiate feedback per ability level.  For instance, if you work in a classroom with a broad difference in language ability, then it might be nice to set up the assessment so everyone has the chance to succeed.  At the same time, this rubric also allows you to set up minimum success criteria per ability group that are just above the actual level of the children so that each child is pushed towards a higher level of ability.  This is called differentiating in output.

In this case, the children should know ahead of time what group they belong to, and they understand that they each have a choice: to succeed at his own level, or to work towards success at a higher level.  The term minimum success criteria is critical here: children should reach the minimum level indicated, but may also choose to work towards a higher level.  Sometimes, if a child needs, he may choose to work at a lower level, but that is a pedagogical decision that you and that child can discuss.  In this rubric, the indicators for ‘process’ are the same for all children, since it would be reasonable to expect all children to work on their social development irregardless of their language development.

Rubric2

Rubric for differentiating in output.  Note that success criteria for the ‘process’ are the same for all children, regardless of ability level.

Of course, no matter what kind of assessment format you use, it’s important that children be aware of the criteria for success so they know what they need to work toward.  As a teacher, I post my rubrics on their electronic bulletin board at school, so students know what they can expect.  It helps them focus their work and gives them the space to make informed decisions when it comes to their own learning.  It also means they have no surprises when they get their grades back, which makes a big difference for everyone involved.

For more information on the use of minimum success criteria and rubrics, feel free to have a look at this site: http://www.assessmentforlearning.edu.au/professional_learning/modules/success_criteria_and_rubrics/success_criteria_landing_page.html

What other topics would you like to see covered on this blog?  Please let me know!

Differentiation, why bother?

For the ESL teacher, it’s a rare thing to have a class in which all of the children operate at exactly the same level.  Very often, there’s the child who doesn’t speak, the near-native speaker, and a whole bunch of other levels of ability in-between.  Writing a single lesson that will engage all of these children all of the time is, for most of us, the thought that keeps us up at night.  How often do we see a book in the shop and think how perfect it would be for the stronger children, or hear a song and think how that is just what the weaker children need.  We teachers cannot help ourselves, it’s just how we are.  We spend countless hours wondering how we can create an even better learning environment than we already have.  We cannot stand seeing children bored silly because the material is too easy, or disengaging out of sheer frustration.  We understand that in differentiating our lessons,  each child can connect with the material in a way and level that is meaningful for him or her.

Personally, I’ve tried all sorts of things out in my lessons in order to meet the needs of my pupils.  Some things worked, and some things, well, some things still need improving.  Here, I’ll share some of the things that worked, in the hope that others can use my experiences in their own teaching.  But before we move on to my own experiences, it’s important to give a little background information so we all know we’re on the same page.

differentiation

Thanks to Google search terms, it’s easy to find the definition for differentiation.

Putting that theory into practice, however, is another kettle of fish entirely.

There are different ways to differentiate in the ESL lessons, but first, it’s important to look at the difference between convergent and divergent differentiation.  There is an essential difference between these two forms.  In divergent differentiation, the child forms the starting point.  Each child starts at his own level, with his own goals, and may use various materials to get there.  In this case, the individuality of each child is accentuated, and the teacher strives to meet the needs of each child.

In convergent differentiation, the starting point is the common lesson objective that the children need to meet.  The children all begin together with the basic instruction, and as they understand the material and the task at hand, they “drop off” to work on their own.  Those children needing the most instruction stay on the longest, while those needing little to no instruction are free to work on their own.

I’ve tried both forms of differentiation, and experience tells me that while divergent differentiation can be a lot of fun, it’s also a load of work.  For years, I created tasks at different levels, applied various styles of learning, assessed for different levels, all to help children realize a modicum of success, but at the end of the day, it was a lot to keep track of.  I found it rewarding but oh so tiring, and was really pleased when I – finally – learned about convergent differentiation.  (oh!  The things I wished I’d learned earlier!)  Of course, I still allowed children to choose different language tasks to work on, but with convergent differentiation, I decided on easier ways to provide instruction and scaffolding so that everyone could profit from the lessons.

Part of differentiating successfully was getting a handle on what the children could already do, and where they needed to go next.  I’ve already written a blog in which I explained this process of writing semi-annual plans, so I won’t go into that again here.

power-point-to-handout

Incidentally, www.mes-english.com is an excellent site for free power points, handouts and games!  TIP: power points can be printed as PDF files, nine slides to a page, making a very easy, personalized handout. 

Click here for a simple how-to sheet on changing a power point into a pdf handout:  how-to-pdf-handout-from-ppt

After creating my semi-annual plans, I decided to create some simple scaffolding material for my weaker learners.  I started by making handouts related to the power points I already used in my lessons.  I printed enough copies for the weaker children, so they would have the words at hand during the lessons, always keeping a few extra copies around in case other children felt the need for a “cheat sheet” during the lesson.  I figured, using a “cheat sheet” would be slow going for those who already knew the words, so children would only use it if they really needed it.  In the end, I was proven right – children who needed the support were glad of the handout, and those who didn’t really need it, soon left the handouts untouched.

Another way I applied differentiation was to sort out the words we would be learning into three categories: need to know, really ought to know, and challenge words.  The words that everyone needed to know were put on the handouts.  These were the words that I expected everyone in the class to recognize and correctly apply in whatever exercises they had to complete.  The words I hoped most children would learn were put on the handout as well, but only if they fit.  These were the words that the weakest children didn’t need to have, but that most children in the class were expected to learn.  And lastly, I always had a few extra challenge words up my sleeve, so that even the strongest speakers had something to learn.

There’s more, of course.  I applied multiple intelligences to my lesson planning, and had children reading at their own level, all of which contributed to a varied palette of teaching and learning.  I’m curious what techniques others have applied in their ESL teaching?  Please share!

Bridging the generation gap

BRIDGING THE GENERATION GAP IN EDUCATION (400 x 300)

It’s something every teacher has to deal with, sooner or later: the generation gap.  Or more aptly put, bridging that gap every time one enters the classroom, be it filled with kindergarteners, adolescents, or older teens.  It’s the issue that arises every time the teacher looks a child in the eye and wonders what on earth compelled that child to take a scissors to her own hair.  Or purposely fail a test.  Or send text messages during class.  I remember those things, all of them, from my own childhood.  And it’s those memories that keep my sense of pedagogical balance in place when I address the issues at hand.

Keep your hands out of your pants and on your knees, please.

It’s okay to fail, try again later on so you can prove to yourself how well you know your stuff.

You may send your messages after the lesson, your friends will still be there…

Eaach time, I find myself suppressing a smile as I remember my own acts of development at that age.  I can never get mad at “my kids”, not really.   Who could, when faced with the facts of one’s own foibles “back in the day”?

My inner child keeps me constantly aware of these things.  So I take some time, every day, to look at the world through new eyes.  What makes this sky so beautiful?  What makes that tower of blocks so sturdy?  What is so amazing about the language I teach?  What makes that word sound so funny?

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Even now, teaching at the teacher’s college, I recognize the struggles my students go through and find myself recognizing the steps they make.  These young adults-in-the-making are learning so many things at once: how to be a teacher, how to take care of themselves, how to take care of their room, how to cook, how to be social, how to create a balance between play, work, and school.  So much to learn, in so little time.  They are busy learning how to “adult”, as 9gag.com would put it.  “Adulting” as a verb, not as a noun.  Learning how to grow up, and take things seriously, they wish to be taken seriously.  No more kissing the boo-boos away, but serious let’s-deal-with-these-grownup-problems talks.  No more games and childishness in the classroom, but serious theory, work, and note-taking so they can sweat their way through multiple-choice exams and prove to the world that they are, really, adults who deserve to be taken seriously.

I remember being there, in those shoes, working hard to be taken seriously, so I respect that need with my students.  At the same time, I want them to remember their inner child, that part of them that makes it possible to make contact with the children they will be working with for the rest of their lives.  But how do children learn?

Inner Child

By playing, of course!

There are many of us who might agree that young people learn best by playing.  Four, five, perhaps even six year olds.  But when do we stop playing, really?  It is my view that people learn best by playing, no matter how old they are.  It’s just a matter of how we define “play”.  If we define “play” in the most narrow sense of the word, then we might see it as that “spontaneous activity of children” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary).  In that case, play is something only children can do, adults are excluded from this activity.  Another definition places play as something that is only done for amusement, or recreation (thefreedictionary.com).

I disagree with these readings.  My personal view of play is that it is something often done by (young) people as a serious means of learning.  Just think about playing house, playing school, jumping rope, climbing on the monkey bars.  Playing board games, role playing, telling ghost stories during slumber parties.  Practice teaching, playing sports, painting, moving out into the world,  It’s all part of the bigger game called “what happens when I do ….?”  All this learning takes place in practice situations where there is some form of back-up.  If it all goes wrong, there is somebody around to help clean up the mess, kiss away the boo-boos, and figure out how to fix the problem.

During all of these forms of practice/play, learners are exploring and conducting research, be it social, physical, emotional, or otherwise.  They are learning and their play is serious work.  It needs to be taken just as seriously as the learning taking place among their older counterparts, the students.

So I call upon my inner children – the kindergartner, the adolescent, the young adult-in-the-making – to help bridge the gap between my own, earlier experiences and the experiences of my students now, to understand where they are and give just enough information to help them help themselves, as Maria Montessori once put it.

As a teacher of future teachers, I try to keep their inner children well-fed.  We play games and have serious fun so they can use these games with their own children.  We sing, we dance, and we read books aloud.  Sometimes, the students understand what I’m doing, but occasionally they don’t.  And when they don’t, they get upset, claiming that I’m treating them like little children.  And that’s when I explain the concept of Multiple Hats.

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Every student, every adult-in-the-making, wears two hats during class.  One of those hats is the Very Serious Student who is learning to be a teacher.  The other hat is the Teacher Hat, with which they apply their learning to their profession.  During my lessons, I talk about these hats very explicitly.  Which hat have you got on now, I ask.  And if you put on your Teacher Hat, how can you use this information in your classroom, with your own children?  How would you adapt this learning activity so that it would be easier for your children?  How would you change the content of the game?  How would you organize it so your class will understand it better?

That’s when the students understand.  Aha, they say, and I see the connection being made between their experiences now and the experiences of their children.  I see the bridges being built and know that we’re on the right road.  It’s not always clear to them, but they’re catching on, one game at a time.

As long as they remember how to play.

 

What are you wearing today? … and the importance of speaking

shopkeeper-clipart-kids-raising-hands

How many of us will recognize the following scene:

  • Teacher: (points to picture) Children, what is this?
  • (hands fly into the air)
  • Teacher: Okay, J, please answer the question.
  • J: (answers the question)
  • Teacher:  Very good.  (points to picture) Now children, what is this?
  • (again, hands fly into the air)
  • Teacher:  Okay, S, please answer the question.
  • S:  (answers the question)
  • and so on…

Just how much time do these children actually speak during this English lesson?  If every child gets one turn during the lesson, and each turn takes two to five seconds, the children get two to five seconds of speaking time during that lesson.  Now imagine this happens during each lesson, all year long.  How long is the school year?  In the Netherlands, it’s forty weeks long, so if I multiply five seconds by forty lessons, each child has had 200 seconds of speaking time, or 3,3 minutes.  If I’m generous, I can even double that to 7 minutes of speaking time throughout the entire year.

In order to learn how to speak a language, children need to practice actually speaking, often and regularly, in various environments.  They need a chance to practice in small groups or in pairs, so they may make mistakes and learn from them, without being embarassed.  They need to use the language themselves.  This is where co-operative learning structures come in handy.

I’ve already discussed a few simple co-operative learning strategies in my blog before, so regular readers will recognize my mantra of “get the children to do the speaking”.  But for new readers, co-operative learning strategies allow learners the following advantages:

  • They can practice in a smaller, safer environment
  • They get more practice
  • They get more feedback within that smaller, safer environment
  • All of the children are guaranteed speaking time during the exercise.

No doubt there are more points to be made, but that is enough for now.

******************** and now for the fun part **********************

A few days ago, I was cleaning out an old closet and came across an “oldie but goodie” among all of my old material.  I decided it was too good to throw away, so I’m sharing it now with you.

This activity is meant to help learners talk about clothing in a half-open exercise.  It works like this:

Step 1: the chidren get four drawings of people wearing different kinds of clothing.  They color in the clothing and faces of the people on the page.DSCF5457

Step 2:  The children cut out the four pictures along the heavy lines.DSCF5458

Step 3:  the children place the four drawings one above the other, and staple them into a book cover.  They carefully cut along the light, dashed lines to make a flip-flap book.

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Step 4:  the children can now begin short discussions about what they are wearing.  For instance, this person is wearing a red coat, orange shorts, and blue shoes.  Please note: all of the children will be speaking at the same time, so the classroom might get a bit noisy for a few minutes…

This is an example I made for talking about clothes, but one could also make a simple flip-flap book for numbers and fruit… (“What is in your fruit bowl?” “I have 2 bananas”)

  • What are you eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…
  • What will you do in the morning, afternoon, and evening…
  • What time are you going to (read a book / go shopping / play football)…
  • How is the weather on (Monday / Tuesday / Wednesday)…
  • How many animals are at the farm…

With a little imagination, one can create all sorts of flip-flap books based on what concepts are being taught at the time.  When creating flip-flap books of your own, make sure to have the sections lined up carefully, so that when the pages are cut apart the dialogues make sense.  The most important thing when making this, though, is that you have fun.

What other kinds of dialogues can be made up using flip-flap books, I wonder?

Here is a document with blank pages for flip-flap booklets.  You can adapt these for your own classroom if you like.

basic-form-flip-flap-booklets

There are three pages: one with two flip-flaps per page, one with three flip-flaps per page, and one with four flip-flaps per page.  Print the page you want to use, or copy-paste it into a new document for yourself, and insert the images you want to use for your lesson.

It’s important for you to decide who’s going to do the work: you or the children.  If, for instance, you want the children to create their own flip-flap booklets, then it’s important that they do the work.  You can pre-structure certain parts of the booklet yourself, or none of it at all, and let them do all of the work.

Or, you may decided that you really want them to practice specific vocabulary, in which case you will need to create the basis for the flip-flap booklet yourself before printing it.

Some suggestions for material you might use:

Images for things to do, daily tasks, modes of transportation, clothing, etcetera can be found on www.mes-english.com.  If you want, print the handouts provided on this site, and the children can cut and paste the images they want to use into their own book.  Otherwise, you can copy the images from the power points provided and paste them digitally into the document before printing.

Images for blank clock faces can be found here: http://www.helpingwithmath.com/printables/worksheets/time/wor0301time05.htm.  If you use blank clock faces, the children can write in their own times.  If you want them to practice specific times, then you can draw them in on your own, of course.

If you are interested in more ideas and concrete assistance with implementing these booklets in your classroom, please let me know.  Good luck, and remember to have fun!

 

Musical intelligence in the ESL lesson – A chant a day keeps the blues away!

chantsTry saying this a few times:

When you speak English, you speak with a rhythm.

WHEN you speak ENglish, you SPEAK with a RHYthm.

Did you hear it?  Did you hear how the accents lined up so nicely?  Those accents are part of what makes English easier to understand.  Those accents also help the listener decide what words are really important: the accented words give the sentence its meaning, while the other words give the sentence its structure.  It’s such a simple thing, but it makes the classroom teacher easier to understand when giving simple classroom commands such as “Open your BOOKS,” and “PICK up your PENcils.”  What are the important words?  Open, books, pick, and pencils.

The learner learns to use this accented structure when speaking, and will often copy this structure when giving commands such as “Open books,” or “Pick pencils”.  The extra words “your” and “as” are added as the learner increases in fluency.

Besides increasing understandability in English, however, this innate rhythm can be used to increase learner fluency with longer passages of speaking.  For instance, by embedding the language to be learned in a chant, learners can practice using the new words in longer passages without worrying about correctness.  One woman, musician-teacher Carolyn Graham, realized that the natural rhythm found the English language could be used to help learners practice certain natural structures commonly found in daily conversation.  She subsequently wrote several volumes of “Jazz Chants” which are used in ESL/EFL classrooms around the world today.  Below is an example of one of her chants, called “John Brown”.

When using these chants in my own classroom, I make sure the children have a written copy of the words in front of them.  This way, they can read along quietly, while I read the chant aloud.  Next, they read along with me, giving the children time to process all of the information:  what are they seeing, what are they saying, what are they hearing, and how does what they say match what the teacher says.  Processing this information takes time, so we always start slowly.  After one or two choral read-throughs, it’s time to mix up the game.  I break the chant up into smaller chunks, and the class into equally many “chunks”.  The children read along quietly, and when it’s their turn, they get to show off how well they can read along with the chant.  For a few turns, different groups get different parts of the chant to read aloud.  By the third time we read the chant, everyone knows exactly how to read it aloud and the chant sounds perfect.

Incidentally, I almost never have a child read aloud on his own because this really puts the child on the spot: every mistake he makes is heard by everyone.  During choral reading, this effect is negated because the voices are heard in a group.  Errors can still be heard, but since no one knows who made a particular mistake, the children are less likely to be self-conscious about reading aloud.

Carolyn Graham’s Jazz Chants are a very structured way of offering speaking practice during the English lesson.  There is another, less structured way of practicing simple structures in the English language: embed the language to be learned in a simple call-and-answer mini-dialogue.

Here’s how it works:  let’s assume the children are learning to talk about their daily chores.  Words that might be learned are “washing the dishes”, “walking the dog”, “sweeping the floor”, or “making the bed”.  I find pictures on the internet that match each of these meanings, and put them either on flashcards or on a single slide of a power point.  Next, we study a simple call-and-answer mini-dialogue.  For instance:

“What is he doing?”   “He’s walking the dog.”

“What is he doing?”  “He’s sweeping the floor.”

“What is he doing?”  “He’s making the bed,”  etcetera, etcetera.

During the “chant” itself, I ask my question and point to one of the pictures.  The children respond with the correct answer.  Because of the call-and-answer structure, the children are forced to think quickly about their answers.  Again, because the entire group is participating, learner errors are only noted by the speakers themselves, and not by the entire class.  The children receive instant feedback on their answers in the form of mental notes to self:  Yes! I got it! or Oops, try again.  Of course, I start slowly, and speed up as I note their improvement.  Also, when I note that a certain word or phrase is causing difficulty, we can return to it as often as we need, until the entire class can use that particular word or phrase without hesitation.

This flexible structure can be used with many different kinds of words, with any age group.  Here are a few examples of some mini-dialogues:

(color) “What color is this?”  “It’s red.”  “What color is this?”  “It’s blue.”

(weather)  “How’s the weather?”  “It’s rainy.”  “How’s the weather?”  “It’s sunny.”

(animals and climate)  “What do you see?”  “A lion.”  “Where does it live?”  “The savanna.”  “What do you see?”  “A monkey.”  “Where does it live?”  “The jungle.”

Of course, it’s important to make sure that the words you use will fit, rhythmically, into the mini-dialogue.  This can be a bit tricky at first, but with a bit of practice, you can build these flexible call-and-answer games into any one of your own lessons.  Who knows, maybe some of your own learners can create chants of their own to share with the class!

I’m curious to hear if anyone else uses chants in their own lessons.  If you do, please feel free to share your experiences!


Note: one site that has many free downloadable power points, flashcards, and handouts is www.mes-english.com.  I often use the materials from this site to support my own lessons.  It’s worth checking out!

Co-operative learning activities in ESL

talkingDid you know that in many English lessons, the children get less than a minute of speaking time?  That is, if they get any time to speak at all during the lesson.  And yet, isn’t learning to communicate with others what ESL is all about?

It’s important to find ways to allow every child to speak during each and every ESL lesson, at his own level, in a safe environment.  How, might one ask, can we allow time for speaking practice without eating up valuable lesson time?  One of those ways is called the inside-outside circle, which is a more structured variant of what I call the walk-n-talk.  Here’s how it works:

Preparation: teach the children the target language and classically practice using it.  Decide on a language task for the children to practice.  When desired, you can pre-teach certain terms or write them on the board to support the children’s use of the target language.

Step one: the children form two circles, each inside the other.  Make sure there are equally many children in the inside and the outside circle.  (in case of an odd number, pair off two children in the outside circle as “one” child.  They will form part of a threesome during the exercise)

inner-outer-circleStep two: give the children a speaking assignment.  They get a few seconds to think about what they will say, and then get started.  Tell the children who starts – the inside or the outside circle.

Step three: time the conversations.  I find that keeping them short is an effective way to keep the conversations focused.  Give a signal when it’s time to take turns.  I find that 30 to 45 seconds is generally enough per turn.

Step four:  Switch speaking partners, and have the children repeat the speaking assignment. It works best if you give directions such as “the inside circle moves two people clockwise / to the right.”

Repeat steps three and four again, so that the children have had three chances to practice the speaking assignment.

This activity can be easily differentiated to meet various needs and abilities. Here are a few examples of language tasks that would work nicely:

  • what colors are you wearing?  What colors is your buddy wearing?
  • What body parts can you point to and name?
  • Talk about your family.
  • Describe your house.
  • What will the weather be like next week?
  • Take turns remembering words about (given topic).  How many can you remember?
  • What did you do last week?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?

Clearly, this list is not exhaustive, but it gives an indication of how broadly one can implement this exercise.  Another way to differentiate is to allow more or less time for each turn.

In my experience, the first time I did this activity with any class, the first round was quite noisy.  This was mostly because the children were trying to figure out what it was they were supposed to be doing.  After each round, I gave them concrete feedback on what I heard them saying, and after the second attempt, everything went quite smoothly.

I have also found that giving children this type of task allows them to practice their language skills without being put on the spot.  After all, there is only one other person listening, and that person gives immediate feedback by providing extra words or asking questions when something is unclear.  Even the shyest of children join in gladly when it’s time for inside-outside circle.  Another side effect is that the children get the opportunity to perfect their stories within three tries, giving each child a successful experience, while taking up little lesson time.

inner-outer-circle2I wonder what co-operative learning strategies others have used in their ESL lessons?  Please send me a note and let me know!