In the last two posts I wrote about how to set up an exciting and meaningful end task for your students and how to scaffold your 6 to 12 priming tasks from the easiest to the most cognitively challenging.
Today, it is about how to work towards the completion of the end product. How can we make sure that the main task will deliver an exciting and meaningful end product?
In one word, it is through cooperation.
When the students are cooperating with each other, two things happen. They gain valuable information and insight from others AND their language skill improves as they have plenty of output and input opportunities.
The “main task” stage is the prime stage to implement a cooperative strategy.
Let’s take the example of an end product now:
What are the most important conditions to have happy family relations?
After 6 to 12 priming tasks that have implicitly built up the students’ linguistic resources to complete the main task, it is time to get on with one of my two favourite cooperative tasks:
- Do a write-pair-share
- Interact with as many students as possible
With “Write-pair-share,” let them put down on paper first what they think by themselves. They put together what they think the most important conditions to have happy family relations are and they can do that because they have just been “primed” into doing just that.
It is a personal processing time and with some structuring in their minds, they will be able to express themselves in the target language next. There is no way on earth they will be able to say something related and meaningful unless they have first processed what they are about to say.
Next, they test their thinking by interacting with a peer in their group (groups of four are recommended if possible, two desks facing two desks).
After working in pairs, they practise and compare their findings with the whole group, gaining more confidence and picking up points from others in the process. The aim is to prepare a group report (verbal or written) to present to the whole class.
When it is time to report, students are not told in advance who the reporting student is and s/he is randomly picked up. There are loads of ideas to randomly pick a student.
Here are just a few: the one with the longest hair/feet …, let them number themselves off and you pick a number, use a name generator online.
Everyone in the group must contribute and help other group mates to be able to report. It is a group effort even though only one student is about to report.
As students don’t want to sound foolish in front of their peers, they will do their best to produce what is called the language of prestige. If the reporting student is still facing difficulty, other group mates can say something to him/her and s/he will repeat to the class what has been said to him/her.
Cooperation is present at more than one level throughout the “main task” stage.
It is important to give a graphic organiser for other groups to fill in while they are listening to/reading the group reports. You want to engage your students as much as possible and make them accountable for their learning.
In our end product, it could be a fish bone diagram. For each report listened to/read, a different student within the group adds a condition and/or a reason to reach happy family relations on the fish bone diagram.
At that stage, if time is not an issue or if you think they still need more practice, they could get on with the second strategy: interact with as many students as possible.
In conversational terms, this means students hone in their skills with one student and then go on to another student and so on until they have gained plenty of fluency in their delivery. In terms of meaningfulness, this means students pick up points from their classmates and may review their thinking.
The two cooperative strategies do not exclude each other.
In the end, students are not allowed to look at their written notes. As they are given repeated opportunities to practise, they must refer to their notes less and less. Fluency must prevail at this stage. Accuracy will be targeted in the focus on form in the next stage.
As a transition towards a “no notes approach,” it is advised to ask the students to write down key words on a piece of paper to remind them of what they intend to say.
In no particular order, here are other cooperative strategies you could find useful:
A) 2 stay/2 stray: two students from one group stray to another group to gain new ideas about the task, go back to their group and share the new findings.
B) Trade and exchange: one student from one group visits another group and he can only receive a new idea as long as he shares one as well.
C) Corners: “Corners” is an excellent idea to break down the groups. Usually, at the beginning of a new unit, group members swap so they get used to hearing someone different with a different set of knowledge and skills. “Corners” can do that for you. You give a contentious topic to the students (for example, 6 posters with different attributes of “what a leader can be” are posted around the classroom walls) and they have to sit by the poster that most represents their ideas and therefore, form new groups.
D) Creative controversy: works in the same way as “Corners” but this time, there are only restricted groupings, as the topic only allows restricted interpretations and therefore fewer groups getting together to defend their point of view. For instance, “the way I do things is the best way to do things” is a topic that will create three groups: those in favour, those against, and those undecided.
E) Round robin: it can be verbal or written. Students sit in a circle and jot down on a piece of paper one idea/opinion … they have on the task and pass the paper to their left on the teacher’s signal. Students read the idea from their classmate and add theirs to the piece of paper and pass it to the left and so on till they get the piece of paper they started writing on. If their idea has already been mentioned, they try to add another one if they can or simply do not write. That activity should give them plenty of ammunition towards the completion of the task.
F) Timed-talking: give the students the task and tell them to prepare a talk about it and then they have one minute to talk about it to a classmate. Next, they say the same amount of information but in forty-five seconds and then the same information in thirty seconds. That forces them to repeat what they know in a faster delivery.
G) Three step interview: interview someone for a specified time, reverse roles for the same time, and then each student, in turn, shares their partner’s information with the other pair in their group.
H) Beat the barrier: it is a common information gap task whereby two students sit back to back and one student gives instructions to another student who follows them on his piece of paper. It can involve drawing, noting down ideas, giving directions, …
I) Expert jigsaw: base groups of 4 are numbered off. Each member of the base groups is allocated an information sheet (example: description of a mysterious criminal on the loose). He reads it, takes notes and becomes an “expert.” Expert members re-group with one member from each of the other groups to share information. They then return to their base groups to explain information they have gained from the other 3 in their new group. As a teacher, you need to spend plenty of time thinking through the information you make available to the students.
K) Human treasure hunt: it is about finding information from others. Students can only sign someone’s paper once, must not sign without telling them the answer and when all their questions are signed, they help someone else to find people who can answer their questions.
L) Post and praise: after the task has been completed by the groups in written form, the product and a praise sheet are displayed around the room and groups give each other feedback.
M) Doughnut: students stand in a circle. Half the class are back to back in the middle and the other half of the students face them. Each student must have someone in front of them. The students on the outer ask questions to the students on the inner who answer. Every so often (depending on the complexity and length of the interaction), the teacher signals (by whistling/clapping?) for the students of the outer circle to step to their left to speak to someone else of the inner circle. When they have come back to their initial position, those on the inner go to the outer and those on the outer go to the inner and the asking-answering process starts all over again.
N) Call my bluff: students come up with four statements on the task: one is true and three are wrong. They stand up and challenge the other groups to detect the one true and three wrong statements.
O) Add to the shopping cart: students are in groups of four. One student starts providing an information/opinion on the task. The next student must repeat that information/opinion and add another one. And so on. Recall as many as you can. Support each other if one finds it hard to recall. Stop the task when everyone has genuinely done his/her best. Minimum of 4 rounds from each.
- Choose carefully which main cooperative strategy you are going to use in the “main task” stage