Conversation on the fly

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So lots of people have asked me about this post I made on Twitter about speaking circles, and I can explain it better here than in Tweets.

I need to start by admitting that this activity was completely on the fly, unplanned, and a change from what I was going to do in this particular class.  This is my rundown of what I did and how it went, and I welcome any feedback of how it could be improved. To set the scene, this was Friday of a 3-day weekend, the day of the Homecoming game AND the last period before the Pep Rally…let’s go TEACHING & LEARNING! My class is Spanish IV, not honors-AP track, full of exclusively juniors and seniors.  Most of them are athletes or band people, so they were going to be in the pep rally in 40 minutes and they were hyped up! They rolled into my class loud, excited, covered in blue and white everything (t-shirts, pom poms, beads, etc) and I decided “OK, new plan!”

fullsizerender-1I had them set up their 16 desks in a circle, and I pulled a desk in as well.  I made a sign on a piece of paper that said “No Ingles” and counted off the kids in Spanish “Ok, you captain team 1, and 2,3,4, team 1. You captain team 2, and 2,3,4 team 2. You captain team 3, and 2,3,4 team 3. You captain team 4, and 2,3,4 team 4.” and I divided the class into teams around the circle that they had made just by where they happened to sit. This was not grouping by any category or reason at all.  I striped off a grid on the back of the “No Ingles” sign and wrote the names of the captain and remaining students in each square of the grid.  Please know that this was as far as I had gotten in my plan of this activity. At the time, I didn’t even know why I had made the teams. 🙂  So, I repeated the teams and the captains, and then said in Spanish still, “We’re going to play a speaking circle game…the captain of team 1 is going to start with the speaking object….oh hold on!  I have a monster!”

fullsizerenderCan you see me jumping up and going to a cabinet and getting out a stress ball monster as the speaking object? I bought a set of 12 monsters for 12 bucks at Oriental trading company and have used them almost every day for one thing or another.  I HIGHLY recommend them for a thing to have in class. Anyway, I will give you the topic, the captain of team 1 starts the conversation, and then anyone who wants to speak and raise their hand to speak.  Each person gets 1 point for themselves and their team per time they speak, you can ask questions or make statements, but it must be relevant to the topic.  Everyone MUST SPEAK and NO INGLES!  Use of English AT ALL will lose you a point, regardless of if you have the monster or not.  I’ll keep track of points.  Ok?  Let’s go!  The topic is SPORTS!” and I tossed the ball to Team Captain 1 and he looked shocked and then started speaking.

 

img_8363It was amazing!  It started off slow at first, with a few pretty simple “Me gusta fútbol” type statements, but after a while, it got rolling, the kids got the hang of raising hands and tossing the monster around, and it really started to flow.  The benefit of using sports as the first topic is that it was the mini-unit we had just finished, so they were pretty confident early on with the set of questions we had created.

What was the most fun when they started trying to argue back and forth about what was the best, who was the best player in what sport, what team etc, and they started trying to really create arguments and even insults as the conversation got more spirited.  At one point there was a very heated minute or two where the discussion had been about baseball, and one of the students got the monster and said “Baseball is not a sport” and the reaction was immediate!  Six hands went up in the air, waving to contest his claim, and a great back and forth ensued.  

fullsizerender-2Language-wise, I had fun watching each of them wrestle with what they were trying to say and how to say it in the target language.  When anyone used English I just marked a -1 on the sheet, and wasn’t expecting it to be a big deal.  This was not a sophisticated method, as you can see below, but it worked at the moment.  What I hadn’t counted on was the pointing of fingers and the “NO Inglés!!!!” that was yelled at each kid by his or her peers every time anyone slipped up.  I couldn’t believe it.  It wasn’t negative, and it was very much a total group policing and no one’s feelings seemed to be hurt.  

img_8199Ten minutes went by and I figured I should change topics, so I hit the bell on my desk and said “Capitan 2: El Arte” and they groaned and said “Señora!!! DEPORTES!!!!” and I said, “NO…el arte” and we moved on to art.  That was our first mini-unit, so they had a bunch of info to have that conversation too.  They did any amazing art gallery opening speaking activity that I need to write about too, at some point.  So, armed with the info they knew already, they rolled their eyes and they just went with it.  

About 2 minutes in, the kid who said “Baseball is not a sport” got the ball and said “Sabías qué el golf es arte” and magically brought the conversation back to sports!  It took a couple of turns, but finally someone got it back to actual art and the remaining time elapsed on Art.  I had set the timer for 8 minutes at that point, so we moved on to food for 8 minutes and then finally vacations and travel for 8 minutes.  Those things weren’t anything we had studied previously, but they’ve had 4 years of Spanish, so I was banking on them having enough knowledge to be able to go with it.  I was not wrong, and we finished out the rest of the period with conversations about favorite vacation spots around the world.

I have never seen that class have so much fun in one period.  We all laughed so hard at the arguments and the acting and the random strings of conversation that went off and found their way back to the topic.  I was so happy and so proud of them!  Looking at the grid of who talked a ton and who barely talked, there was definitely a divide.  I will have to think about how to make that work a little more evenly, but in the end, everyone DID speak, and as I watched them, they were all avidly listening and following the conversation.  No one was spaced out or doing their own thing.  

We’re going to do this again, and I’m going to think about it between now and then so I can make it better.  I was thinking that maybe I’ll give point values for types of speaking to make them work a little harder at complex sentences or better questions.   Also I’m going to make a better sheet to keep track that’s not a yellow piece of paper with marker scribbles. 🙂  Anyway, I hope this helps!  Please feel free to send me any feedback, and I hope very much that you can try this with your classes.  I had a blast!  Have fun!

Rosalyn Rhodes is currently a Spanish teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina. She holds a Bachelors in Spanish from…

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  1. Rosalyn, thank you so much for this post. I love the idea! I’m also very interested in the post you had on Twittter with the drawings in the individual boxes. You used stick figures, etc. I would love to know more about it. Also, I noticed that you had written some questions on the board. Did you put these up before they began talking or during? Were they allowed to get points if they simply read these from the board? Kathleen McBride

  2. This post was awesome! I saw it back when you first posted and have done this in my Spanish 1 classes several times since then. They LOVE it! And I love giving them the chance to use the language without feeling pressured and seeing what they can truly say. Thank you for this amazing idea!

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Conversation on the fly

by Rosalyn Rhodes time to read: 5 min
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