Activities for the “no more shyness” classroom:
After reading about the no more shyness classroom, many of my readers might be wondering what exactly were some of the activities and games I mentioned in that article and how they were used in the classroom in order to maintain the classroom filled with student talk time (STT). The reality is, the no more shyness classroom only works if you can keep your students communicating at all times. It is only when constantly interacting with each other that students can fully develop the boldness needed to interact with any human being without psychological constraints to their communication ability.
It is for this reason that I have developed the activity curriculum described below. The core intent of the same is to maximize student talk in a way that gets the most communication out of every student in the classroom at the same time. These ideas are far from perfect and there are instances in which depending on the group of students you have, it might be difficult to execute them without proper explanation of the activity in Japanese. To the teachers who cannot speak Japanese at all, or to those that find it philosophically wrong to use Japanese in the classroom, using some of these activities can become a tad problematic. Nevertheless, since there is a variety of activities in this roster, I say choosing the ones that best fit your students, classroom environment, and teaching style will help you make the most use of the ideas in this blog-post and, hopefully, help you in increasing the level of energy and student participation (as well as STT) within your classroom.
A final foreword of advice/warning. Some of these activities are very unorthodox and, depending on the school/institution in which you teach, they might not be welcomed. Moreover, many of them will work wonders for classes with a large number of students, while some may not fit in well with small/1-on-1 classes, so choose them wisely. Since I hold no copyright on the activities themselves, there is no issue whatsoever in trying some of the activities out and then changing them over into a format that better suits your style. I do hope that those who have read the article and tried the activities themselves would, later on, comment on this blog and let me know what activities they found out to be really useful, which ones they had problems with, and which ones needed changes so as to improve their usability. That way, we can keep building upon this knowledge of activities and hopefully get a database of teaching ideas put together.
Finally, most of these activities will work with Japanese university students and international students studying in Japan but I am not certain if they will work with ESOL students from other countries studying either at their home country or other nations besides Japan. With all of this out of the way, let’s get started.
Communication and discussion based activities: pairs, groups and the 5W 1H method
Pair work is the lifeblood of my classroom. It is the simply the easiest way to keep all the students involved simultaneously in a discussion topic and a fantastic way of maximizing STT per student unit (ideally, at least 50% of the class is always talking in English when this activity is on). In classes with 16+ students, this might be one of the only ways to truly have all of your students benefiting from the discussion-based ESOL lessons I promote on this website. Discussion in small groups of 3-5 still take place—for the most part, I leave these group discussions for a “whole classroom quiz” type of activity (described in detail below). For the most part, I choose pair discussion as an option for in-class general discussion/speaking activities since, as previously mentioned, it keeps all students simultaneously engaged with the topic. Further, it also helps students stay awake, interested in one-another and away from their smart-phones.
Now, it is important to properly set up every communication activity in a way that students are encouraged to use the TL (target language: English) as much as possible. For that reason, students should have been taught in their first lesson how to make their answers longer than a 1-word answer.
The concept is pretty simple. For instance, if the question is “What’s your name?” the student must be encouraged to answer in a full sentence (i.e.: My name is Keita), while giving others details about the answer (I like my name because it means “great wisdom” and I want to be a smart person one day. My grandfather gave me my name and I always remember how nice he was to me when someone calls me by my first name…etc). To “map” these extra details about their answers in their own minds, students use my “thinking in 5W 1H” method to help them create the content that goes in their answers. Japanese students find it hard just to create small talk about anything they are asked so this system helps them how to think through other ideas to increment their answers.
Let’s use the same question as the one above: “What’s your name?” To get the extra ideas about his name, Keita would have thought within his mind about 2 extra questions starting with 5W 1H: “What does Keita mean?” “How did you get named Keita?” Due to their ability to ask themselves these questions, students in my class can provide at least 3 extra details about every question they answer if they are beginners, 5-6 if they are intermediate, 8-10 if they are advanced). In the occasion their levels are mixed, I usually encourage the more advanced students to provide some support to the less prominent ones. This creates small learning centers within the same classroom and increases the level of friendship they have toward each other.
It is important to note that I ask students to use “the English they can, not the English they want.” This means that, if needed, for the sake of STT and practice, students should “fabricate” their answers if needed. The idea here is sharing a good story following the question asked. With this policy, students have no excuse for saying things like “I don’t know,” and cutting the answer short.
So, here is a list of the pair and group activities I use with a short description next to them. I will also describe implementation methods, as well as pros, and cons with each activity below.
- Pair warm-up discussion: there will be a few questions—all based on the topic of the lesson—ready for the students to use for their warm-up discussion (on either a power-point slideshow or a worksheet). The level of language difficulty increases from question to question. Questions are numbered from 1 to 5 and they are usually simple in format (for the warm-up, I usually make only the last question into an open-ended one—the others could be yes/no direct questions. Students still need to give reasons for their answers so that even direct questions should carry somewhat bulky answers with them. I also change/rotate partners as needed to increase STT. I recommend usually spending about 10 minutes on this activity.
- Pros: this is the best way to get students to take ownership of the topic right from the get-go, depending on how you word your questions, you can get the students to talk about personal experiences they had that are related to the topic which can further enhance the students level of engagement with the topic.
- Cons: you need to think your questions right and you must guide the students in the answer creation process. If you get students answering with single-word per question, there is no way to make the activity interesting enough for everyone—and you will soon run into students looking at their phones/speaking Japanese which defeats the purpose of the activity. Also, it can be difficult to monitor classes of 25+ students, which can also lead to the use of L1 (Japanese) in the classroom.
- Setting it up: Make sure your students are paired up in a way that makes them comfortable at first. On the “no-more-shyness” post, I recommended making students comfortable with one another during the first lesson by introducing ice-breaking games and by making sure students learned each other’s names so that the level of comradery needed for this kind of activity would be accessible right from the following class. However, not all students can connect with one another in just one class. Some might need more time, so it helps if you try to give them a chance of pairing with students of similar personality traits first—especially during the first round of the warm-up. After the first 2 rounds, most of them should be comfortable with talking with anyone in class…but by taking this small precaution, you make sure the activity is not set for failure and that your students have enough time to really warm up.
- English konpa time: If you know what a konpa is in Japan, it will be easy for you to visualize this activity. In a konpa, which is similar to a blind-dating event in the west, the guests—who are usually young singles—try to meet as many potential partners as possible within a limited amount of time. Guys usually rotate different tables and have about 3 minutes or so to get to know about the girls in the konpa. Usually, a bell goes off indicating the times to change partners. In my classroom version of this activity, the purpose is not finding a date, but to talk as much as possible about the topic of the lesson with the limited time given. Students MUST continue to talk until the “bell” rings (depending on the tech available in the classroom, I might have an electronic buzzer. If the tech is not at hands, then clapping or calling the word “stop” loudly might work). This is an activity to be held at maximum levels of intensity and you must keep the pace fast in order to get the most benefit out of it. After 2 or 3 partner changes, I ask a student for feedback on the answers he/she is hearing from the others and if they agree with their peers’ opinions. That way, we can make sure students are listening, as well as talking to their classmates.
- The set up: You can have questions ready on a PowerPoint for the students, or you might just work with themes/keywords the students must use to discuss the topic. This can be a semi-controlled practice activity if you have the questions ready for your students. It serves more like a wrap-up activity if you are having them create the questions themselves. I will use a variation of this activity at least once in all of my classes. I use it twice during classes I think I am losing my students because the topic chosen might not have been of interest to them—that way we can branch away from a textbook topic and into something that better relates with the students’ interests. First, I have all the students stand and come to an open area in the classroom (usually the area where the teacher podium is located at). Then, we make 2 lines with the students (if we have 16 students, 2 lines of 8) right next to each other. The students then face one other and I will give them a signal to start the “English konpa time” activity (if it’s their first time doing it, I try to explain it with a quick demo to make sure they understand what they are doing). Once they get going, I rotate one of the lines of students so that everyone gets a chance to talk with (most of) the students in the other line. If we have an odd number of students, the line with the largest number of students stay static, and one of the student-units in the activity won’t be a pair, but a group of 3. Students may also be seated in a way that facilitates the shuffling of pairs so that way, the activity can be set up in different styles—which gives the students the impression that they are doing something different during every class English konpa time is on. Be a good host and excite your students about learning English while getting them to know each other’s opinions even more.
- Pros: if set up correctly, this should be one of those activities that will wake up any group of sleepy students. Everyone will suddenly develop a deeper interest for each other’s stories and, for the reason that students are naturally more interested in listening to their peers, and not a chatty teacher, this is the easiest way to get them loving your class.
- Cons: Organization can get messy and tricky, depending on the classroom space you have and the number of students. This activity is really hard to monitor for L1 usage so you have to trust your students will use English (If they were taught the “no ore shyness” philosophy and if you have been good in encouraging them to stick with English in the class, they will most likely stick with English instead of using Japanese. I try to monitor it as best as I can, listening to possible mistakes to correct later with the whole class, as well as for L1 usage. But it can’t be guaranteed that they will be using L2 only—and if you are really pedantic about having an “English only” classroom, this might make using this activity more difficult.
- Pair role-plays: role-plays are another pair activity in which I give students the chance of using a “script” (which might also be extracted from the textbook) to enact as 2 different people who either have a problem to solve, or must convince the other person about a given point (both related to the topic of the lesson). This activity can take place in 3 stages:
- Students pair read the script 2~3 times: This time students are just trying to make sure they can read all the words in the script properly. If they can’t, or if they have any questions, they must ask you here and now. Difficult/new vocabulary should be introduced by the teacher during set-up. Reading the story once with the entire class to double check on pronunciation is recommended.
- Changing partners and committing the story to “memory:” students then change partners and look at each other as much as they can while reading the lines to their partners. This means that students should: a. check their lines before reciting them to their peers; b. recite the lines bit by bit instead of full sentences; c. try to act like the people in the story would be acting when confronted by the situation at hand. Students must not just read the words in their script by at this stage, they should try to own the story and somehow commit the same to memory. I will have students rotating partners at this stage to give them as much practice as possible. This will make the memorization process less tedious as well.
- Try the same story from memory/in your own words: here they will have a chance of having a crack at roleplaying the story either word by word or in their own way. Students can change the name of the characters in the story to their own names to make the story more personal. I usually set this stage of the activity out by throwing my own copy of the hand-out on the floor somewhere, and ask the student to do the same (once the activity is finished, we do recollect the papers!). Then we change partners one final time and they janken for the role they are playing. The purpose is not to have the students memorize the activity perfectly but, to have the use of as much of the language practiced in the class as possible.
- Group role-plays: in this instance, students are given groups a class or 2 prior to the class in which you want them to perform the activity. They must create a skit/drama piece that highlights the topic of the lesson in which you want them to perform. 4~5 students per group should be enough for this activity. If you want the presentations to have variety, assign different aspects of the lesson topic to each student group and you should have several different role-plays taking place.
- The set up: it should be quite simple, have students seated within their particular groups and give them some time to rehearse their role-plays before the actual presentation. Once they are comfortable, either randomly choose one of the groups, or choose a group that you believe is confident and can perform the task well. Students watch their peers perform and between each group we will have a few minutes to discuss each presentation.
- Pros: this group role-play allows the students to be creative and to use the English they have learned in class in an entertaining way. Students usually have great fun with it and take great pride once the presentation work is done. If used as a milestone, this class can be very encouraging to the students because it allows them to know how well their English has developed since they started studying with you.
- Cons: the activity itself is very time consuming and depending on the number of groups you have in class, It can easily take between 40 minutes~1 hour to complete the entire session. This poses a problem to the way you organize the curriculum for the class, which means that having this activity more than 3 times per semester can be very damaging to your course’s deadlines. Moreover, unless this activity carries heavy weight grade wise, students won’t bother remembering their lines and challenging themselves to do a good job with the activity. For that reason, your grading may also get confusing if you use it more than 2 times in a semester.
- Classroom quiz-game: this is a group-discussion based activity and it runs like a quiz show on TV. This activity must have a class theme that gives room for it to happen. For instance, class topics like travel experiences, celebrities, food, and sports are a few examples of themes that allow this kind of activity to take place successfully. It is pretty straightforward: students are divided into groups, questions are on a PowerPoint slide, groups are given time in between questions to discuss the answer and each turn a different student takes a turn in answering the question on behalf of his/her group—just like in Family Feud on TV.
- Pros: this activity will help you have variety in the types of discussion activities you bring to class. This was the last activity I needed to have students saying things like, “his class is so exciting, it’s like we are doing something different EVERY CLASS.” There is also an element of individual presentation with an in-group discussion at this activity—each student answering for this group gives the answer for the question on the group’s behalf and must also answer following that 5Ws 1H model I presented above. This way students are discussing things in English within their groups while also presenting in English to the whole class.
- Cons: obvious issues with this activity are difficulty in monitoring for sole use of L2 and cheating—some students will just look answers up on their smart-phones which will take the discussion aspect of the activity right out of it. Having a no smart-phone policy during this activity can be helpful to minimize issues.
- Phone call activity: as the title suggests, this activity revolves around students making a call to each other using their messaging app (like LINE, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) to discuss a topic, or emulate a call center role-play, over the phone. This takes away the body language from the conversation and forces students to pay more attention to what their peers are saying in order to properly understand the talk—turning it into a discussion-listening activity hybrid.
- Pros: great way to have more interactive listening activity especially in case of a customer center role-play in which the script is ready for the students. Students will be excited about using their smartphones in a proactive way in class as well. Since half of the students in class must leave the classroom for this activity, it can be a great way to reset their levels of energy by giving them an excuse to move from the classroom while doing class work.
- Cons: there are many difficulties with this activity especially during the set-up. If you find that one student who is still in the 1990s and does not have a smartphone, you are toast. There are students who do not want to exchange personal contact information with their classmates, in this case, you are toast too. If the exit to the building you are teaching at is not close enough and students have to call each other on the hallway, their actions will most likely disturb other classes and you will be in trouble. Nevertheless, although these are critical problems, I have only met them twice in my 10 years of teaching, so you should still be okay in giving this activity a go.
There are plenty of other activities on the way and we will continue to discuss them in the blog. For now, allow me to end this blog entry right here and we will continue this discussion on part 2 of this article.