26 April 2013

Keep the conversation going

Spanish 2 chose the topics they wanted to research for their final projects. I've got Mexican cults and Uruguayan drug laws, but, hey, they're hooked. With subjects all over the proverbial--and the literal--map, it can be hard to come up with an excuse to get them talking to each other on topic. That is, unless they know enough to pique their classmates' curiosity.

I knew they'd be able to interpret the questions I wanted them to ask, but they might have trouble generating them. So partners each drew four numbered question slips. Then on a SMART Notebook page* (all of our computers have the software installed), they rearranged the Spanish questions so each partner had the questions she'd drawn on her** side.

Then the partners attempted to pronounce their questions, and we made sure everyone got the gist of what they were asking (without looking at the partner's English) and how they might respond. We reviewed how to ask for clarification or help, and I extracted promises not to let partners who say "no sé" off the hook.

We used a phone app for recording, because we had enough phones in class, but we might have as easily used laptops with mikes and Audacity to record. The partner with question #1 started recording, asked her question, and did not stop the recording until she was satisfied. Rinse, repeat (but going in the order of the numbered slips to keep them on their toes).

What is the most interesting fact you found in your investigation?

What is the most incredible fact you learned?

Why do other people need to know about your topic?

What is your main opinion on your topic?  

What part of your topic is the most difficult to understand?

Who probably wants to know more about your topic?

How can you explain your topic simply to people who do not understand it?

How does this topic change your opinion of the culture you’re studying?

Maybe it's because the topics are so intriguing. Maybe it's the intimate class size. Maybe it's because these girls are just awesome. But the absolute shortest exchange was 50 seconds, most were over a minute, but several were over 3, the longest going 6:30.

I'm telling you, it was magical. They were giving genuine reaction, demonstrating interest, shock, and curiosity with natural sounding inflections. Granted, pauses were frequent, but seldom uncomfortable, and as often a result of considering their answers themselves as the language to use. What's more, I could hear where they were using vocabulary from their research and even the questions themselves to make themselves understood. They used gestures and circumlocution when their partners didn't understand, only rarely pausing for a "cómo se dice" and asking each other for clarification instead of me.

Me? I mostly just got to witness it unfold and beam admiringly at them.

*Available soon on TeachersPayTeachers.com as my first, free submission!
**Tiny class: literally all girls

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