Tag Archives: small-group activity

Conversation Technique for Lighting Up the Pleasure Centers in Your Students’ Brains

Maybe this is why students tend to love their ESL classes.

We can actually include something in our lessons that will fire up the reward brain circuits in our students’ brains.  However, there can be a downside to this.

Neuroscientists at Harvard found that people’s brain reward circuits lit up when they were talking about themselves.  Amazingly, doing this can trigger the same sensations of pleasure in the brain as food, money or sex.

In other words, talking about ourselves feels good.  In fact, it feels so good that participants in a study were willing to accept 25% less money if it meant that they could talk about themselves rather than talk about someone else.

This research has interesting implications for our ESL classes.

We now know how to help our students enjoy conversation activities, and that’s good.  However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Apparently, some students like the brain pleasure they feel so much that they can’t stop themselves from dominating conversations talking about themselves.

Techniques to encourage conversations/discussions but that keep students from dominating the activities.

Continue reading

Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 5: Who Affects Us More: Parents or Peers?

Discussion triads

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

Some reasons why students seemed stimulated by this discussion:

1) Before reading this article, many students just assumed that parents affected us more than peers.

2) They seemed interested to hear about the relationship their classmates had with their parents and peers when they were younger.

3) They were surprised by the findings of the research in the article about how peers affect each other.

4) They enjoyed comparing, agreeing and disagreeing with their classmates about this controversial topic.

Here is the basis for this discussion: psychologist Judith Harris, in her book The Nurturing Assumption, discusses research which she believes shows that our actions, beliefs and preferences are influenced more by our peer than by our parents.

This and future discussion activities include four parts:

1) A one-page article usually including a brief summary of a high-interest research study.

2) Ten true-false comprehension questions.

3) Pre-Discussion Exercise in which students read and think about several questions about their own experiences about the topic.

4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different questions in the form of Student A, B or C.

About Discussion Activity 5: Who Affects Us More: Parents or Peers? (and the handout).

Continue reading

Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 4: People Will Like You More If You Ask Follow-up Questions

Discussion triads

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

Some reasons why students seemed stimulated by this discussion:

1) They were surprised that some of their classmates’ cultures have different norms about asking questions.  In some of their cultures, it’s actually discouraged.

2) They realized that in order to make and maintain friendships with Americans, it’s a good idea to ask questions.

3) They enjoyed comparing theirs reaction to speed dating.

4) They liked comparing dating in their different countries.

A very important result from this discussion

After this discussion, I noticed students applying what they had learned by asking many more follow-up questions during all small-group discussion.

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

Here is the basis for this discussion: According to research, people who ask questions, especially follow-up questions, will be considered more likeable.  The one-page article describes the results from a speed dating study and from an online chat study.  The researchers found that the participants who asked the most questions during a conversation with other participants got the most invitations to have a date or were rated as more likeable.  The article explains why asking questions has this positive effect.

This and future discussion activities include four parts:

1) A one-page article usually including a brief summary of a high-interest research study.
2) Ten true-false comprehension questions.
3) Pre-Discussion Exercise in which students read and think about several questions about their experience and opinions about the topic before discussing them in groups.
4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different content/personal experience questions in the form of Student A, B or C.

Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 3: People Will Like You More If You Ask Follow-up Questions (and the handout)

Continue reading

Conversation Technique: Don’t Kill the Conversation. What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say.

kill the conversation

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

There a fewer better ways to kill a conversation than to do one of these after being asked a question:

  • Say nothing for a long time while trying to think about what to say.
  • Say, “Ummmmmm. Ahhhhh” for a long time while trying to think.
  • Just say, “I don’t know.”

It’s quite common for ESL students to be in situations like this.  They are asked a fairly common question like, “What will you do this weekend?”  Then their brains have to imagine what their plans are and how to explain those plans often using their limited vocabulary and grammar knowledge.  That process can take time.  In the meantime, knowing that the questioner is waiting for an answer to a question that would be easy to answer in his/her own language, the student is feeling pressure to answer quickly, feeling embarrassed that it is taking so long and feeling stress from appearing foolish.

In the meantime, the person who asked the question can often feel impatient or frustrated while waiting for a response.  The questioner will wonder if the students didn’t understand the question or if they don’t know what to say or if they just aren’t interested.

Too often in situations like this, the conversation dies and the questioner moves on to talk to someone else, and the students is left feeling foolish and abandoned.

This activity will lead students to learn a technique that completely prevents that from happening. It’s called, “Don’t kill the conversation.”

Here is how it works and here is a link to the activity handout.

Continue reading

Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 2: Loneliness Might Not Be What You Think

Discussion triads

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

Some reasons why students seemed stimulated by this discussion:

1) Since almost all the students were living away from home, they were able to relate to the challenge of connecting to new people.
2) They seemed interested in hearing how their classmates were coping with living away from home: some loved it and some felt lonely.
3) They enjoyed discussing how social media is both helpful and harmful especially concerning making connections to people.
4) They seemed surprised that some of their classmates are not especially connected to their family members.

Here is the basis for this discussion: According to research, loneliness has little connection to how many people are around us.  In his book,  Lost Connections,  Jonathan Hari explains that loneliness is caused by a loss of connection to others. To end loneliness, according Hari, we need two things: other people and a feeling that we are sharing something meaningful or something we care about with another person or other people.

This and future discussion activities include four parts:

1) A one-page article usually including a brief summary of a high-interest research study.
2) Ten true-false comprehension questions.
3) Pre-Discussion Exercise in which students read and think about several questions about their experience and opinions about the topic before discussing them in groups.
4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different content/personal experience questions in the form of Student A, B or C.

About Discussion Activity 2: Loneliness Might Not Be What You Think and the handout.

Continue reading

Conversation Activity: Getting Students to Say More Than the Minimum

shy

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

 We might think that the students who say little in a conversation are lazy or just quiet by nature.  That’s not necessarily the case.  Some students have told us that they are trying to be polite and let others talk.  Others just don’t know what to say, so they say the minimum.  And some just aren’t aware that they should speak more.

This activity is designed to help these types of students. It “gives permission” to the polite students to talk more.  It “requires” the lazy or quiet ones to contribute to the conversation.  And it “pushes” everyone to think of something, anything, to say.

The activity is call Responding with Details. In groups of three, students ask each other the supplied questions (in a Student A, B, C format).  Every time the members respond, they have to answer with “and, but, so, because or with two sentences.

Example

  1. Marit: Where was the best place you ever lived?
  2. Lucien: I like warm weather, so I really loved living in California. (Answered with “so”.)
  3. Marit: When did you live there?
  4. Lucien: When I was in high school.  We moved there when I was 16 and stayed for three years. (Answered with two sentences and “and.”)

Steps in the activity (and the handout)

Continue reading

Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 1: Which Is More Effective– I’m Calm or I’m Excited?

Discussion triads

 

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

Some reasons why students seemed stimulated by this discussion:

1) They were surprised that they were currently feeling different emotions on that day.
2) They seemed interested to hear about different ways they coped with stress.
3) They were surprised by the findings of the research in the article and how they could apply that to their future.
4) They enjoyed comparing experiences giving speeches or performing.

Here is the basis for this discussion: Researchers have found that when we are in a stressful situation, we will be better at handling it if we say to ourselves that we are excited rather than try to calm ourselves down.

This and future discussion activities include four parts:

1) A one-page article usually including a brief summary of a high-interest research study.
2) Ten true-false comprehension questions.
3) Pre-Discussion Exercise in which students read and think about several questions about their experience and opinions about the topic before discussing them in groups.
4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different content/personal experience questions in the form of Student A, B or C.
5) Optional writing reflection activity.

About Discussion Activity 1: Which Is More Effective–I’m Calm or I’m Excited? and the handout.

Continue reading