(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
Here is the link to the exercise handout: Expressing opinions
“Ms. Brown, do we really have to do anything we want to do again today?”* Ms. Brown is probably an extreme case of instructors who try to give their students autonomy because they believe students know best what they are interested in.
The chances are that you are from a different culture, different generation and/or different socio-economic group from your students. You probably have a different marital status, different interests and/or different goals. So how can you tap into what will be most stimulating for your students to talk about when they are practicing conversational techniques? In other words, how can you customize the exercise for your current group of students?
A key phrase in the question is “conversational techniques.” Students should be learning techniques that they can apply in conversational situations. Some technique examples are: beginning a conversation, giving understanding responses, clarifying something, politely interrupting someone, rephrasing something, soliciting details, giving opinions, summarizing what was said, ending a conversation.
Let’s say Ms. Brown wants her students to practice giving opinions. To customize the activity, she tells the students to think of topics that are interesting to them, get into groups and tell their opinions. But, without any kind of structure, the students will probably just take turns monologuing, not actually engaging in a conversation.
The “perfect mix” of structure and customizing involves three parts:
Part 1) Introductory exercise
Students are introduced to the technique and briefly work with some examples of how it is used in conversational situations. In other words, they don’t just mindlessly read some sample dialogs.
Part 2) Structured exercise
Using questions or prompts, students practice in pairs/small groups.
Part 3) Customizing exercise
Using Steps 1 and Steps 2 as models, students in pairs write prompts or questions. Then in new groups, they use these student-made items to further practice the technique.
To demonstrate this perfect mix, we’ll look at how Ms. Brown could have made her “giving-opinions” activity more productive and engaging.
The conversational techniques they will practice in this example are;
1) using natural statements to express an opinion;
2) using natural statements to agree;
3) using natural statements to disagree.
Here are samples of Parts 1-4.