Not every activity in a textbook is awful. And sometimes, with just a small tweak, they can be pretty darn good.
So my friend Lewie (You know Lewie, right? Everyone knows Lewie!) Lewie has been talking a lot about giving a real purpose to student communication. I took this idea and tweaked the “interview your partner” activities from the textbook. First, at the beginning of a unit, students choose partners using stickies. When I say “interview your partner” activity, I mean the ones where there are questions like Take turns answering and asking these questions –“What time do you get up? Who does the cooking in your family? Are you nice or mean? Do you prefer peas or carrots?” These are generally decent questions. When I get to this type of activity (provided the questions are actually decent), I have students switch from their normal partners to one of the partners on their stickies. Usually when I do this, I make them say, “Goodbye” and something goofy like “I’ll be back- don’t cry partner.” It’s funny that’s why I do that. I like funny.
Once they get to their temporary partner, I give them the purpose, “You are going to interview your partner, BUT you have to be prepared to tell your normal partner at least X number of things that you learned about your temporary partner.” Then after 5-10 minutes of talking, they go back to their normal partner and tell him/her X number of things they learned about their temporary partner.
Tweaking It More
You could take this further by having students interview multiple partners and reporting back. You could also have the normal partners compare answers about their partners and report back about that. (Both our partners prefer peas. Neither of our partners like carrots. Our partners said, blah blah blah.) I haven’t done that. I’ve just asked them to share out about their temporary partners. What I’ve found is that students listen more intently to their temporary partners when they know they are going to be held accountable for what they hear.
So simple and a students have a purpose for the conversation.