Friday, September 12, 2014

Questions in an Envelope

Here's another activity/technique I got from the World Language Academy I attended this summer!  I already used it with my combined German 3/4 class and it worked out really well!  Check out Slide 152 from the Power Point Presentation.

If you're doing a communicative activity with partners or small groups, Questions in an Envelope is a way for you to help scaffold the activity for students who need a bit of extra help.  Basically, you give students a topic to discuss.  That's it... just a topic.  No questions to go through, just enough of a prompt to give them idea of what to talk about.

Now, obviously this is more of a challenge for some students than others.  That's where the envelopes come in.  As students are talking, if they get stuck (they go about 10 seconds without thinking of something new to say about the topic), they can open the envelope.  Inside are strips of paper.  Each strip of paper has a question related to the topic.  When they pull out a strip, students now have a new way of discussing the main topic.

If students get stuck again, they can pull out another strip and another.  After time is called, students count how many strips they pulled out.  They put everything back in the envelope, switch partners and discuss the same question again.  Their goal is to try to have fewer pauses in their conversation and pull fewer questions out of the envelope each round they go through.  And if students did pull out questions in their earlier envelopes, they'll probably still be in mind as they go through their second or third discussion.

Here's the example topic and envelope questions from the Power Point mentioned above:

The activity I created for my German 3/4 class was a get-to-know you interview.  This was a mixed class that had two groups that had never previously interacted as well as a few transfer students who were new to the school.  Since they'll be working together all year, I wanted them to meet and be forced to interact right from the beginning.  

I had students have a conversation with their partner.  Anything they wanted to talk about, they could.  The only rule was that they had to speak for a full 2 minutes.  I explained the envelopes and gave each group one.  After time was up, students moved on to another partner and repeated the process with someone new.

With each partner, however, I upped the amount of time they had to speak.  The first partner really was just a warm up, and as they got more comfortable (and possibly were exposed to more and more questions from the envelopes) I pushed them to speak more.
First Partner = 2 Minutes
Second Partner = 3 Minutes
Third Partner = 3 1/2 Minutes
Fourth Partner = 4 Minutes

To make sure they were actually paying attention to what their partners said, students had to keep notes.  After each round of interviews, they had to write down the most interesting thing they *learned* about their partner (this way if students ended up with someone they already knew, they'd have to try and find out something new).  

I may not have needed to do this last part, but I had three different envelopes.  Each envelope was a different color and had five different questions.  They circulated around the groups so that a variety of questions were available to the class.  If you're interested in the questions I used for this activity, click here.

I'm really excited to try this activity out with some of my lower levels.  It's scaffolded enough that even weaker students and students with less vocabulary/language background can still have 2 minute conversations with each other.  Working this in early in level one will hopefully build speaking confidence as they progress to upper levels.

- Frau Leonard

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