The art of the real deal
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Making recommendations is the topic of Module 2 of the conversation course I teach now to EFL students in Korea. Students learn how to politely express their opinions, analyze advantages and disadvantages, offer alternatives and negotiate.
In the initial Module 2 activity, groups of three to five students examine picture cards in one of six categories (five cards each of vacations, cars, restaurants, weekend activities, cell/smartphones and lessons), and their conversation is prompted by, "You and your friends want to ... Which do you choose?" When one group of students finishes with a card category, students switch with another student group and begin again.
Because I wanted to encourage a deeper level of creative and critical thinking and I wanted the people and activities represented in the cards to demonstrate the diversity they lacked, I revised and expanded the materials and the task.
My first revision decision was to have students apply the schema they built in Module 1, during which they work in pairs. To have students activate their schema, I created new question prompts. Each prompt presumes that students are married, and it doesn't matter if pairs are female-female, male-male or female-male. What matters is that students are already familiar with working one-on-one.
My second revision was to scaffold the work they'd be doing in Module 2. In later activities in Module 2, students must adopt a new persona that they're assigned when they choose an identity card from a deck (e.g., "You are Robin, a vegan who loves to eat but doesn't like to spend a lot to eat in restaurants").
Having students pretend they are spouses enabled me to scaffold the activity, and, I reasoned, it would prepare them for authentic negotiations in any type of intimate relationship. It may take students some time to realize and adjust to the notion that their partner is their spouse.
I had to explicitly state, "The card says, 'You are married.' That means you are married to your task partner." In largely conservative Korea, students giggled and laughed at being "married" to their partner, regardless of the partner's gender, so it brought some levity and brevity to the task.
The third revision task was to increase the number of questions and make the situations authentic. I added scenarios, including couples planning their honeymoon, in-laws coming to visit, families needing to buy a car, parents asking for advice when phone shopping, and places to go and things to do on the weekend.
Next, I created a pro/con handout for students to use to compose their thoughts prior to the conversation.
Finally, I developed the activity plan.
Students had a grand time with this activity; they talked and talked and talked and laughed and laughed and didn't want to stop when the timer sounded. We reflected and debriefed after each round, discussing problems they ran into or questions that arose.
I had each pair work for three rounds; that is, they worked through three packs of picture cards and the accompanying three situation cards for a total of 15 pictures and nine questions. Three rounds took about 45-50 minutes (half of class time). From there, it was an easy transition to the larger group activity I mentioned earlier in which they discussed where to go for dinner with three or four of their friends, each of whom has their own particular interests, needs and constraints.
As you'll see in this link to my Google Drive folder, some of the picture cards I used for this activity are necessarily place-specific, so if you are not in Seoul or in Korea, you'll need to make your own cards. All of the picture cards and situation cards here are my own. I have not used any of the existing materials from the curriculum in which I teach, so you are free to use everything.
I've included extra picture cards and extra situation cards, and I'm working on more. You can easily create more by relying on Google Docs and Google Images. I piloted the activity during my three Tuesday classes, made changes after each class, presented it again to my Wednesday class, and then revised like Raymond Chandler, who notably quipped, "Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon."
Although I am satisfied with this iteration, I am adding entertaining variations that will help students accomplish the learning goal.
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