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Activities for the first class and second class of a “speaking” course

Enabling high-quality classroom life

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I just wrapped the first class and second class of week one of what feels like a particularly promising semester with a group of 16 1st-year university students. I feel that my teacher reflection posts tend to focus on problems, so I thought I’d document these opening successes, in hopes that

  • they continue
  • they are useful to others

What did YOU do in your first week? Add an idea or two in the comments?

First Class


I knew NOTHING about my group going in, for many reasons, several of them out of my control. Suffice to say I had a classroom, and I knew what I wanted to do in the 1st hour. The class meets twice a week. The first is for 50 minutes, the second two days later for 100.

In the first hour I wanted to let students:

  • learn what they wanted to about me
  • understand that I wanted them to talk as much as they were able to all semester
  • understand that the only ‘exam’ is the university one; assessment will be on participation/contribution

I wanted to learn students’:

  • proficiency range
  • learning objectives (if any)

The Hour:

As usual, I entered a room stuffed to the gills with chairs-welded-to-desks and a podium-wired-to-projector crammed in the front corner: nothing really conducive to conversation. So, unaware of the proficiency range of the class, I used gestures and smiles to dual code my request that they shove the desks around until we could all sit in a circle together.  To my surprise, they did this readily, things were already looking up as many of the students appeared to understand my request.

Then I demoed making ‘tentcards’ from paper for their names, so we could all see each others names.  Then I gave them 3 minutes to talk with a partner and write questions they wanted to ask me about me. I only asked that they write in English and speak in English.  I put my Facebook page on the screen to help create a personal sharing/motivating atmosphere. Soon, I sat in my deskchair in the circle and listened as they finished. In the end I gave them five or ten minutes, as they were ALL using English and writing — I was surprised: I didn’t know there ever were first-year students like this at this University.

Then we went through the questions using a specific technique/management system designed to maximize each student’s meaningful talking time. I modeled a question, something like “Would you like to ask Tom a question?”, and did choral repetition. I didn’t write it on the WB because many students couldn’t see the board. Then I asked one of the students by name that question: “____, would you like to ask me a question?” She asked me a question from her pair’s list, I answered it as conversationally as I could, looking at the student, and at as many others as I could. Then I asked her partner to invite someone else to ask me a question, using the prompt we’d repeated earlier. In the ned, all sixteen had a turn asking me a question, and inviting a classmate to ask me.

The questions were varied. I think I asked them to choose the “most interesting” question they had. I remember one asked me if I could wear rings (my fingers and knuckles are huge), another asked if I’d recently colored my hair (ahem), and another why my shirt was wet (it was a long humid walk across campus to an un-airconditioned room). There were two or three from the FB page, and several of the standard ones as well, and while I might have asked two or three students to ask again and raise the volume a bit, for whatever reason, no one seemed shy, afraid, or otherwise typical of students I’ve experienced here before.

We finished with five minutes of writing: I asked each student to write three things they wanted to get better at doing by the end of the semester, and I collected these.  There were quite a few “listen without subtitles” and “speak in front of people” items. These influenced my curriculum design choices.

They asked me if they should by the god-awful textbook, and I told them not to bother (I’ll probably hear about this from Admin later).

I came away thinking most of these students were in the ACTFL int-high listening and int-med speaking range with two or three outlying high.

Second Class


I wanted students to

  • become aware of their beliefs about learning and learning languages, and enjoy doing it
  • fearlessly explore technology on their smartphones/tablets
  • break the ice with as many classmates as possible

I wanted to

  • set the tone for future classes
  • start developing learner autonomy
  • set up technology tools for the semester

The 100 minutes

We started with even more physical manipulation of our classroom. In the previous hour I observed that students do have a particular posture in these desks, and over 100 minutes I thought it might not be conducive to ongoing conversation, would make mingling with multiple partners complicated, and overall didn’t replicate the real world much at all.  So, again using gestures and speaking slowly, I asked the class to stack the desk-chairs on top of each other against the walls, and create as large an open space as possible in the middle. I think the early physical stuff is great for the after lunch timeslot I’m in. They did great — our room wasn’t stuffed anymore, and everyone could move around easily.

I asked them to move to a partner that they hardly knew.  I was lucky in that there were 16 students. 8 pairs. Same/different. They had five minutes to find three similarities and two differences about each other, then we used the same question/answer technique described above to learn something about everyone in the class. This time I offered some corrective feedback indirectly to everyone when I heard the same issue come up twice. I also encouraged students to speak to everyone and not just to me (beginning work on the public speaking desire noted above).

Then they numbered off 1 and 2, and I asked the 1s to take 1 step into the center and face their partner.  I now had an inner and an outer circle of students. I gave everyone a handout of 24 agree/disagree questions I had compiled from google searches about 15 minutes before class began. I established the procedure: 30 seconds to SILENTLY read the first three questions, then three minutes to introduce themselves and discuss any/all of the questions they wished to. Emphasis on WHY they felt the way they felt.  Say “see ya later” after three minutes on my queue and inner circle move clockwise to the next partner. Repeat process with the next three questions, say goodbye a different way, and continue through all 8 classmates, noting all 24 questions. At the end, sit on a desk and make a note of one or two interesting things that came up.

Then I invited them to sit at a desk and bring out their phones, and pointed out a sequence of instructions I’d written on the board while they were doing pairwork for joining a class Google+ community and a talkgroup I had set up in the 30 minutes prior to class. The community included a post from me detailing the weekend’s homework, which included an introductory two-minute recording on voxopop introducing themselves and noting one or two thoughts about learning language from the talk in class, and creating their profile on the Google+ community. Not sure how I’m going to follow-up on this assignment. For comprehension/fluency/authentic top-down and bottom-up purposes, I might ask them to make a video post in the G+ community identifying the classmates whose beliefs seem to be the closest to theirs, and the most different. However, the video post feature was sill a bit wonky the last time I tried it.

Miraculously, we got all but one student registered for everything during the last 25 minutes of class, and it was all done in English.


That was the week that was: we’d introduced ourselves, discussed learning language, enthusiastically developed tech literacy, broken up the traditional classroom atmosphere, and utterly maximized quality student talking time…

Activities for the first class and second class of a “speaking” course

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I'm in this for the dialogue :-)

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