We’re well into fall semester, and this week the weather seems to confirm it. The days are getting shorter and chillier, prompting me to wonder how much genetic material human beings share with bears, because I’m feeling urge to curl up somewhere warm and hibernate. Since sleepwalking through the rest of the semester isn’t a valid option, this week I’ve got a list of in class activities you might try, just in case you and your students are feeling a little sluggish, too.
Think-Pair-Share, and Variations on a Theme
In the traditional version, you ask students to write their thoughts in response to a prompt or question—this is a brainstorming phase, not a formal writing assignment, so give them just long enough to collect their ideas. When time is up, ask them to discuss their ideas or answer with a partner. As a final step, pairs share their thoughts with the class.
Even if this is one of your go-to activities to get students talking, by now they’ve been sitting next to the same people so long the conversations might start becoming predicable. Since so much of what goes on in a language class involves pair and small group work, I usually make students stand up and find a new seat next to people they haven’t been sitting near at the beginning of every new unit or chapter. That helps perk them up, too.
Think of musical chairs. Play some lively background music as students move around the room. When the music stops, students sit in the nearest chair, pair with the person closest to them, and work through the steps of a traditional think-pair-share.
After the first round of think-pair, loop back to think and give students another minute to write about what they learned from talking with their partner. Next, they go find a new partner and repeat the process. You can keep this going as many rounds as seem productive. At the end, the final pairings share out with the whole group.
Start with the traditional think-pair, but after the first round of discussion ask each pair to find another pair. All four partners work together and then the group shares back to the class.
As the traditional think-pair processes is winding down, each student is assigned a group (you can assign them numbers, letters, let them pick cards from a deck, whatever works). Students meet at their group’s designated spot to share out—it’s handy if your classroom has tables, but you can just send them to different corners of the room, too.
Same premise, but instead of sharing out loud, pairs write their responses and post them. When everyone has posted, you can read individual posts aloud or let students walk around and read them. Sticky notes work, so do the giant-size post-its; but paper and tape will do in a pinch.
This one takes a bit of prep, but on the upside, you get to control more of the content. Before class, prepare a set of index cards by writing a quiz question on each one—it’s up to you if you put the answer on the back. Give each student a card and have pairs quiz each other, discussing their answers. The paired students trade cards and then pair up with a new partner to repeat the process. Repeat as time permits.
Feel free to put your own spin on any of these. In the interest of time, especially if all the conversations have been following a similar thread, you may want to skip the final share out and summarize for the class. Whenever my students are in paired or group conversations, I find I’m able to eavesdrop most effectively if I stand near one pair or group (sort of with my back toward them or off to the side) and look over the heads of the group in front of me, as if toward some other group just beyond them. It’s sort of like driving a car full of teenagers—as long as there’s no eye-contact, they forget you’re there and will talk about all sorts of things; but the moment they know you’re listening, they clam up.
Help Me Help You
These Think-Pair-Share variations come from The International Teaching Learning Cooperative. I also keep a file with essays from Inside Higher Ed, posts on The Teaching Professor and tidbits from other sites and listservs that I follow. As I see it, part of my role as director of the Andison Center for Teaching Excellence is to sift through as many of the pedagogy resources I can and bring you the highlights. So, if you’ve run across a resource that I should be following, please share it with me and I’ll add it to my list. No one has time to keep up with everything, so moving forward, I’m hoping to build an online repository of tips, tricks, and toolkits we can access when we’re looking for a nudge or support as we continue developing our craft.
Lunch & Learn this Thursday
“Why don’t they read the syllabus?” If you haven’t already RSVP’d for this Thursday’s Lunch & Learn (11:45-1:15 in the Thistle Room) there’s still time! Bring a syllabus and something to write with; we’ll provide lunch, time and space for some active workshopping to craft syllabi written for students (instead of the one’s we write for other professors, registrars, or HLC inspection).
Looking Forward to Friday
This Friday, the Andison Center for Teaching Excellence invites you to join us (SAC 110, 3:30-5:00) as Dr. Holly Liu and Dr. Robert Molina talk about their respective sabbatical projects. Dr. Liu will share how translating Erich Remarque’s World War II-era novel about displaced Germans in Paris, Arc de Triomphe, into Chinese helped alleviate some of the stresses of isolation during a Covid-era sabbatical. Dr. Molina will give a non-technical talk (with a little math at the end), on his research into the reconstruction of unicyclic graphs as related to graph theory (essentially connect-the-dots diagrams, he assures me, for those of us unfamiliar with the famous Graph Reconstruction Conjecture). We will gather with snacks and drinks to enjoy each other’s company for a bit and then celebrate our colleagues’ accomplishments. As always, come when you can and leave when you must.
I hope to see you soon,