One of the challenges of group work is getting students to actively participate in discussions.
Providing clear expectations and compelling topics help, to be sure.
So does modeling what group learning should look like.
But it’s not always enough. Many students struggle with what to say.
They become self-conscious and tongue-tied outside of their circle of friends and family.
They have it inside, but just don’t know how to get it out.
It takes practice.
What follows is an easy way to get students to open up and engage in generous, give-and-take conversations.
It’s a game of sorts that takes just a few minutes and can be used as a warm-up activity or a lesson unto itself. It’s also a lot of fun.
Here’s how it works:
Mix your students randomly into groups of three or four and be sure to switch them often. The greater variety of people they work with, the more comfortable they’ll become.
Although sitting around a table or cluster of desks is okay, the act of standing tends to encourage more animation, which is a key reason the strategy is effective.
Choose one ET and one translator.
Have each group select one person to pretend to be an extraterrestrial who has just arrived on Earth, and one person to be a translator who speaks the ET’s language.
The object of the game is for the one or two other students to try and learn as much about the ET as they can. The ET may pantomime all they want, but must otherwise speak in gibberish.
The person playing the translator can try to understand what the ET is trying to convey, but will otherwise make up the rest. (This aspect makes the activity particularly fun.)
Turn them loose.
Depending on your grade level, you may want to show what the game looks like by modeling it with a few volunteers. Offering examples and ideas can also be helpful.
However, I’ve found that it’s often best just to turn them loose. Give them the gist of the activity and then let them run with it.
After a few minutes, call for their attention and allow them to switch roles.
Try it without a translator.
A variation of the game is to remove the translator. See if they can communicate using only movements, expressions, and body language.
Although the ET may act out how they crash-landed or got lost on the way to another solar system or are looking for their droid, it’s important that they accompany their enactments with their extraterrestrial speech.
Tone of voice can provide an important clue to understanding.
Why It Works
The ET game is an improvisational exercise that has a unique way of drawing students out of their shell.
The fun, creative nature of the activity helps overcome feelings of shyness and self-doubt and frees them to relax and just be themselves.
It teaches them to focus on the speaker using their full array of senses, and to be clear and expressive when it’s their turn to talk.
The result is that the quality and energy of their group discussions will improve.
After just one session of playing the game, you’ll notice an increase in participation. You’ll notice an eagerness to share their thoughts and ideas and to listen to each others’ point of view.
They’ll make eye contact and nod their heads. They’ll gesture emphatically and assert themselves with greater conviction.
They’ll be better communicators.
PS – Recently, I was interviewed about classroom management by Patty Palmer of the Art Made Easy podcast. To listen, click here.
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