Giving Textbook Activities a Purpose

Not every activity in a textbook is awful.  And sometimes, with just a small tweak, they can be pretty darn good.

The Tweak

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.

 

Find a Partner

Two weeks ago at my Instructional Coach training, the trainer had us do an amazingly simple partner activity.  We divided a sticky into four quadrants and in each one wrote a word: Winter, Summer, Fall, Spring then we had to stand up and find a partner for each square.  We wrote the name of that person in that square and they wrote ours.

C’était un coup de foudre.

Immediately my mind turned to how I could adapt this for my students.  One of my goals for this semester is to get my college students up and moving more because that class is two and half hours long and I need all the help I can get.  I’ve got some lessons where I’ve done this well and others…well, let’s just say there’s room for improvement.

I decided to use a language ladder to structure this.  We were only in our fourth actual hour of French class when I introduced this to students.  I gave them a copy of the ladder.  I had the same image on the board, but I had covered up everything but the first box in each category.  I told the students “We’re going to do this every week and by the end of the semester you’ll be able to use all of these, but to today we’re going to start simple. Nobody needs to be a hero.”  Additionally, I told them there’s actually a level before this where you just point to the square and say “Partenaire?”  I didn’t want anyone to feel like the words in this activity was too hard after four hours of French.  ask-for-partenaire-1

This is what it looked like in my Slide deck:2016-09-18_18-46-53

And on their sticky I had them do this:2016-09-18_18-47-20

Then the students got up and spent ten minutes having authentic conversations, with a real purpose with their classmates.  In the lesson, when I wanted them to move, I put the image of that square on the activity in my Slide deck.  The students switched seats and found their partner and then did a quick activity and went back.

It’s not often that I think, wow, great idea and well executed, but that’s what happened.

Here’s what the future looks like with this.  Every lesson (week) I will change the squares for something for that lesson and every week or so I will add another choice from the language ladder.  At the high school level, I’d do exactly the same thing.

A simple, easy method for authentic conversation.