For Large-Class Conversation Instructors, You Can “See” if Students are Using Techniques

Pair Conversation

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

You,the conversation teacher, are happy because the noise level in the room is high.  That means that the 12 pairs of students (24 total) are engaged in the conversation activity.   At the start of the next class, you want to give them feedback on their performance today, especially because you want to give positive comments to those who are very active.  There are also a couple of pairs who need some “re-direction.”

Needless to say, you’re not going to be able to give each student specific feedback specifically on what they said because you can’t actually hear them above all the talking.  But you can actually see whether or not they are using conversational techniques.  (See previous posts of two important techniques Conversation magic: Two most important conversation techniques (Part 1) and Conversation magic: Two most important techniques. (Part 2)

Even if you can’t hear them, you can see if they are engaging in a natural conversation; it looks like ping-pong, in which they are reacting to each other, asking follow-up questions and giving understanding responses.  You can also see if they are more like bowling, in which one monologs for a while while the other “zones out,” then the other monologs.  You can see if someone is dominating and if someone is very passive.  Interestingly, you can even see if they have switch from English to their native language; often when they do this, their voices lower and their faces aren’t as animated perhaps to “hide” from the instructor.

If you suspect that a pair isn’t using natural conversation techniques or isn’t speaking in English, there are things that you can do.

What you are looking for as you roam the room

While students are engaged in the activity, you can be roaming around the room.  Perhaps you are on the far end of the room and at the other end you notice two students who, from their facial expressions, seem to be speaking in their native language.  You can slowly move over to their side of the room so that you can hear what they are actually saying.  This doesn’t mean that you sit down next to them or stand right next to them.  All you are trying to do is ascertain what they are doing so that you can give feedback to them the next class. 

The type of feedback you want to give your students on daily activities is whether or not they are engaging in the activity.  This means they are speaking, listening to each other, giving understanding responses (e.g. “I see” “Really?” “Can you repeat that?”) and asking questions.  Even in a large class, you can do this by carrying a roster of your students’ names and making a mark next to their names indicating how they are doing.  .  For example a + next to a name means they are talking; a ? indicates they asked a question; perhaps a means they are passive; a –E means not English.  You’ll see quite quickly which students can get all positive marks and which ones need feedback on how to improve.  If you have a large number of students, it may take a couple of classes to have a chance to “zero in on” all the students.

After class, you can fill out a simple feedback form and return it the next class.  Then, you’ll want to pay close attention to those who had been weak.  You’ll probably notice an improvement, so as soon as you can, you’ll want to give another feedback to the class to “reward” those students for their improvement.

Feedback forms for daily actitivies

Attached here is a simple feedback form that I’ve used for daily activities. Feedback forms for Conversation classes

I’d enjoy continuing this conversation with you and hearing your perspectives and experiences with giving feedback in large classes.  Feel free to click on “Reply” at the top of this posting, and/or send me an email and we can continue this.

David Kehe

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