Although dialogues in textbooks often include lots of good functional language to practise, the way to practise it can be uninspiring and predictable. Usually students listen to a model dialogue (maybe after completing the gaps with target vocabulary), practise it and then create their own using prompts provided in the text book.
Although my students often found these activities quite dull, I wanted them to learn the useful functional language, so I started to look for ways to make practising dialogues a bit more meaningful and engaging. Round about the same time I got seduced by cooperative learning…
Students work with the model dialogue to become familiar with the target functional language. Depending on the kinds of exercises, I either use the textbook for this stage or create my own exercises and activities, for example:
- a listening comprehension
- order the dialogue
- disappearing dialogue (students re-create the dialogue from the prompts given which become fewer and fewer)
- identify and classify target structures (e.g ways of asking for help and ways of giving help)
- drill pronunciation
The amount of time you spend on stage 1 will depend on how much scaffolding your students need to be able to tackle stage 2.
This is when students usually refer to prompts in the textbook and adapt the model dialogue using their chosen prompt. I prefer to personalise the activity at this point, for example, if the dialogue we are working on is about asking for and giving help, students think about times they have either asked for or given help, or situations in which they might need help. In pairs they then choose two of these situations to create their dialogues rather than using the situations provided in the textbook.
At this point we use the cooperative learning strategy Simultaneous Round Table to build our dialogues. Students create two dialogues simultaneously which must include the functional target language. Each student or pair (pair up students if they need more support) begin their dialogue and then pass it to their partner/other pair to continue. If students spot a mistake they first correct it and then add an appropriate response before passing it back. Students check any corrections their partner/teammates have made and continue the dialogue, repeating these steps until it is complete.
At this stage, the teacher is free to monitor and guide students.
Students practise their finished dialogue and perform for their classmates. I usually give students a couple of questions to answer while listening to the dialogues to ensure they are listening and check for understanding.
E.g. A dialogue asking for and giving help:
- What problem have they got?
- What solution(s) is/are offered?
As a final activity, teams discuss their classmates’ situations and the help given.
- Have you ever been in that situation?
- Do you think the help offered was good?
- Is there any other help you could offer?
I then collect the dialogues for teacher correction and students copy the final version in their notebooks.
Using the cooperative learning strategy Simultaneous Round Table, all students are active participants in the construction of their own dialogues. They stay on task (usually!), give and accept feedback from peers, encourage each other and solve problems together. Students collaborate to reach the common goal.
By personalising the model dialogue, they relate it to their own experiences, making it more meaningful and engage with the activity on a deeper level.
Fans of flipped learning, flip your class by organising the preparation activities so they can be done at home and maximise class time for the creation and performance stages 😉