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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Nov 21st, 2007, 12:31 am
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Default How to generate discussions in class

I'm currently teaching conversation to first-year university students in China. As is the norm in the China, the classes are huge and the book leaves much to be desired. Since I have such large classes, I would LOVE to have whole-class discussions, except I cannot get my students to talk in class.

After a warm-up and a lesson, I propose the topic for discussion. As a class, I have us generate a list on the board of helpful words related to the topic to help them along in their small group discussions. After that, I break them up into smaller groups where they have really great discussions about the topic. But as soon as we all come together again to talk about the topic as a whole, they clam up and it turns into a Q&A style thing with me asking the questions that they answer. I don't want this to happen and I've been racking my brain to find a solution. Any tips on how I can transition the small group discussions into an organic larger discussion?
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Unread Nov 21st, 2007, 07:30 pm
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Default Re: How to generate discussions in class

They may be more comfortable with a format where someone from each group 'presents' their ideas to the whole class.

Why exactly do you wish to have whole class discussions? What would be the benefit that they wouldn't get from the small group discussions?
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Unread Nov 27th, 2007, 05:26 pm
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Default Re: How to generate discussions in class

You could try some debates. For example, they won a large sum of money and they have to decide how to use it for charity. Each group discusses the problem, and then, the groups have to reach a decision together. They have to convince the others, give arguments and so on. This was just an example, you know what I mean
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Unread Nov 28th, 2007, 09:45 am
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Default Re: How to generate discussions in class

If you have class discussions in such a large class, consider what that would do to the talk time of the students. If you've placed them in smallish groups, everyone is speaking, and you're able to monitor for language mistakes, I would stick with that.

Is there something specific you hope to gain from whole class discussions? If so, let us know. I'm sure everyone can put their collective heads together and come up with a few ideas.

Good luck, and I hope my initial comment helps.
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Unread Dec 16th, 2007, 08:07 pm
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Default Re: How to generate discussions in class

Depending on the students, level, and age, I would break them into groups with some quasi-universal appeal. For instance, please create a list of 10 tips for a healthy and happy life. Give them 25 minutes, give each group a piece of chalk, and have them write their answers on the board. Then call everybody back together, read their answers out loud - making corrections in spelling/grammar if needed - ask different group members to expand on their answers. Sometimes you ask other groups to comment on a suggestion. If the students feel comfortable, you will get a wide range of responses, many sensible ideas, and even a few laughs. The teacher plays moderator, but everyone gets to speak, ask questions, and give feedback.

Enjoy!
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Unread Dec 21st, 2007, 01:00 am
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Default Re: How to generate discussions in class

That’s a tough situation where there are no hard and fast answers. Sometimes you get lucky and have a group of students who are very willing to speak up in front of the class, and sometimes it’s a semester full of maddening tooth-pulling. There are a great many variables beyond content that will affect this, and the dynamic can be incredibly different from class to class.

All that in mind, you might give these a try:

• Teach them some general follow-up questions and statements. When it comes time for class discussion, have students ask YOU the same questions they answered. They listen to your answers and then someone will follow up with a statement or question that is directly relevant to what you said. This gets them to take part in a pretty natural exchange, without having too much attention on themselves. The focus will only be on any student who speaks up for a short time. It is also a bit more motivating, as they are going over the same topic/material again without having to simply rehash what they already said in their small groups or pairs.

• Play around with the seating arrangement. You might find that putting boys together and girls together will make students feel less self-conscious and more supported by their peers. Then again, you might find that there is clique of uncooperative students that should be broken up.

• Prepare a list of questions/prompts which cover the same topic already discussed, but are different enough that students actually have to think again. Chalk them up on the board so everyone can consider them at length and won’t forget them while other students are talking.
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