The other day I was teaching a rather big group of students. I normally teach half of the class, but my colleague was absent so both groups were combined for that double lesson. When this happens, I usually ask students to work individually on some ‘quiet’ task, such as reading or grammar. Occasionally, we do some listening or watch something English-related on YouTube. These activities are convenient because everybody shuts up and focuses on the task. For apparent reasons, we rarely do speaking or any group activities because, to my taste, they are too chaotic and loud with such a large group.
However, last time, full of enthusiasm after the finals our students had successfully managed the previous week, I felt like trying something more courageous – a speaking activity with a class of 28 students.
One of the expected outcomes stated in the national curriculum our students need to achieve before their final exam in English is being able to summarize a conversation. This is not easy and they often struggle or fail completely. Thus, I decided to enable my students to practise this tricky skill a bit during the following activity:
I divided the class into groups of 4 – two pairs sitting around the desk facing each other. I gave each group this template, which they placed in the middle of the desk:
I explained that during the forthcoming discussion based on some controversial statements, Student 1 will have to start with some for arguments, Student 2 will be against the statement, Student 3 will be the moderator asking questions and taking notes for the final summary, and Student 4 will be neutral (they can say practically anything). In the first round, students could choose the position of the template above and this determined their roles. In the next round, the template was turned around clockwise so that each student had a new role.
For this activity, you’ll need to find some suitable controversial statements. Alternatively, you can write your own statements on the board. I always wrote one at a time, i.e. before each round, and I invented them on the spot. This was advantageous because the content was tailor-made to fit the needs of that particular class.
Each round took a couple of minutes – I monitored the class and when the conversation faded, I gave a clear signal that I was going to stop it (I waved the class book above my head while walking around the classroom). Then I asked each moderator to give me a brief summary of their conversation (5 -7 sentences at the most). Prior to the summary, they had to tell me if they had come to a conclusion/agreement. If not, they had to add why. I should stress that the students (especially the for and against ones) only had to stick to their roles at the beginning of the discussion. They were allowed to change their mind once they felt the arguments of others were persuasive enough.