Sharing Strategies: An On-going Cooperative Activity

Writer(s): 
Randall Kerr, The University of British Columbia

QUICK GUIDE

Key Words: Speaking, Listening, Group Work, Cooperative Learning
Learner English Level: Intermediate
Learner Maturity Level:First year college or university
Preparation Time: About an hour
Activity Time: Seventy minutes


The following lesson plan was designed for a first-year university English for Academic Purposes course focusing on speaking and listening as well as study skills for a class of students with a TOEFL average of 470. This 70 minute lesson was one in a series that continued over six class meetings early in the term. The course was part of a four-year liberal arts curriculum in Japan delivered in English, thus relying on a content-based language acquisition approach (see Crandall, 1993). All students were being rapidly familiarized with talking-to-learn (see Barnes, 1992) and cooperative techniques (see The Language Teacher 18:10, October, 1994). I was blessed in this instance with a small class of eight--but the plan would work equally well with much larger groups. In addition, these students were well-motivated; they were prepared to attempt to discuss and utilize learning strategies.

Warming Up

To help get right into a cooperative mood and to become comfortable with the teacher relinquishing the role of sole leader, a volunteer student guided her classmates who were seated in a circle through a strip story from Richard Yorkey's text (1985, p. 66). To conclude the warm-up, the students explained why one sentence followed another while looking at an overhead transparency of the completed story.

Preparation

Each of the eight students had previously been assigned the task of reading an approximately equal amount from Rubin and Thompson's (1994) wonderful text, specifically from the four chapters 12-15, concerned with listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Each student was given only those pages of the book related to her topic and were asked to prepare her portion to present to her classmates. A schedule was drawn up.

Rubin and Thompson present their learning strategies by listing problems and then suggesting solutions. Listening Problem One, for example, is "People talk too fast" and solutions include asking for repetition, seeking clarification, and paying attention to intonation and tone of voice. This was the skill and problem we started with to facilitate further discussion. The students prepared transparencies or posters as well as handouts that listed the problems and left space for the student-generated solutions.

Cooperative Procedures

After the strip story, described in the Warming Up section, was completed, two groups of four were formed, each including a student presenting solutions for one of her assigned problems to her cooperative group mates. In Group A one student offered solutions to Listening Problem One while the others took notes, asked for clarification and exemplification, etc., and suggested solutions of their own. Simultaneously, in Group B suggestions for difficulties associated with developing a different language skill were presented and discussed. This continued for 15-20 minutes.

Next, each of the four members of Group A paired up with a member of Group B and in turn shared the strategies they had just discussed. Thus, this step took about twice as long as the previous one, about 30 minutes. Arranging seating for some privacy for each pair required a little time. The two members of each pair sit facing each other, making it difficult to read the solutions and making it necessary to listen closely. Of course, the two students who had been leaders of Groups A and B are now repeating themselves. They did not mind this; in fact, they enjoyed giving what were improved presentations, thanks to their groups' contributions. All the students remained motivated throughout. For homework, they were to go over the notes they had taken and provide more solutions and examples.

Conclusion

In sharing strategies the students learn both to ask for and provide description, explanation, clarification, exemplification, modeling, paraphrasing, and evaluation, among many other responsibilities--those academic purposes for which they are called upon to use English in their content classes. Students acquire greater appreciation for the effort and responsibility required of learners in the teaching-learning equation. Each learner is empowered to monitor her own needs, learning styles, and progress. The class becomes closer as a group; the individuals become more willing and able to rely on each other as well as on themselves.

 

References

Barnes, D. (1992). From Communication to Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook-Heinemann.

Crandall, JoAnn. (1993). Content-centered learning in the United States. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 13, 111-126.

Rubin, J., & Thompson, I. (1994). How to Be a More Successful Language Learner. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Yorkey, R. (1985). Talk-A-Tivities. Tokyo: Addison-Wesley.

 

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