Thursday, February 5, 2015

Paper Chain Discussion

Give each student a blank piece of paper.

Refer back to the prompt. Maybe it was a documentary segment they watched as a listening activity, maybe it was a news article they derived a key word outline from. I've used this activity after reading a short story, to generate discussion about its themes. 

Instruct students to create a discussion, comprehension, or interpretation question about the material and to write the question at the top of the piece of paper.

Set the timer. The level and complexity of the prompt should dictate how much time you allow them, but keep the pace brisk. I've found three minutes to be on point for the high intermediate -- upper intermediate levels.

When the timer goes off, pass papers to the left.

Instruct students to write a sentence or two in answer to the question written on the top of the paper. Again, set the timer, and again pass papers to left when the time runs out.

Then instruct students to elaborate on, support, or contradict the answer to the question. They should add more color and detail to answers they agree with, or explain their reasoning for disagreeing with the existing answer. Again, they should add one to two sentences.

Set the timer.

When the timer runs out, pass to the left. By this time there is a question and two answers on the sheet of paper. (You could continue and do three or four answers, but I find they get redundant past two.) Now instruct students to write a sentence or two that synthesize, summarize, or paraphrase what has already been written on the paper.

Since they have a bit more to read and because this task is a bit more complex, set the timer for a minute longer. (I upped it to four.)

Pass papers to the left. Explain that this is the last step and they will be peer-correcting the sentences on the paper in front of them. Use your preferred method for peer correction. I usually have students check for subject/verb agreement, spelling, and punctuation. Sometimes I have them diagram the sentences produced. You may also modify this activity to require inclusion of target language and have students check that the target language is present or used as you instructed.

I then collect the papers for class assessment, to see where I should focus grammar instruction for the following week based on what errors crop up most often.

I like this activity because it is language producing but also incorporates many skills concurrently. It's a great activity for the end of a three-hour block class because it moves fast, is short form, but allows students to focus on precision rather than quantity. This can be a catalyst to class discussion; often students will want to talk about some of the questions and answers their classmates supplied. 

Please let me know if there are any tweaks that come to mind that could make this a more effective activity!

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