- Key words: Study abroad, peer learning, authentic interaction
- Learner English level: Intermediate and above
- Learner maturity: High school to university
- Preparation time: 10 minutes
- Activity time: 60 – 90 minutes
- Materials: Prompt cards (one set of six per pair of students), blank cards (three per student)
As MEXT aims to make Japanese students more internationalized, Study Abroad Programmes (SAP) are becoming increasingly common in universities and high schools. While the benefits of such programmes are clear, students often display high levels of anxiety before going abroad, most notably regarding their perceived lack of English ability. In contrast, after returning to Japan, almost all students express satisfaction with the experience and show a marked increase in English fluency and confidence. Unfortunately, in many settings there is little opportunity for pre-SAP students to interact with post-SAP students in order to benefit from their advice.
This activity encourages meaningful English communication between these two groups. It aims to ease pre-SAP student concerns, allow them to practice authentic English and simultaneously giving post-SAP students the opportunity to reflect on their experiences more deeply.
Step 1: Arrange a time and place for students to meet a week or two before pre-SAP students depart. Ideally there will be equal numbers of pre-SAP and post-SAP students, though the activity is adaptable for uneven numbers.
Step 2: Make and copy a set of six prompt cards (one set per pair of students; see appendix). These can be simple (Food; Weather) or more complex (The most surprising thing I saw; My biggest regret). If the destination is the same for all students, the cards can be tailored accordingly; for example, Clam chowder (for Boston).
Step 1: Give three blank cards to each student and ask them to write their own topic ideas – one per card. Post-SAP students can choose something they particularly liked or disliked during their stay, or something they believe the pre-SAP students ought to know. Some recent examples: Best ice cream; Slang; I wish I took... Meanwhile, Pre-SAP students can write down any concerns or questions; for example: Safety? Is the subway easy? Clothes!
Step 2: Pair up students, one pre-SAP with one post-SAP, and give a set of the teacher-made prompt cards to each pair. Ask each student to add their own three cards to the pile, shuffle the deck, and place the cards face down on the desk.
Step 3: Set a time limit for pairs to talk. 10-12 minutes each round allows students to speak to at least four people in an hour, giving everyone some variety in their discussions. The time limit also adds a sense of urgency to the activity, increasing fluency.
Step 4: Ask the pairs to turn a card and talk about the topic in English. When students feel the topic is exhausted, they can turn the next card to discuss a new topic.
Step 5: When the time is up, have the pre-SAP students find a new post-SAP partner, taking their own three cards with them. This allows pre-SAP students to hear a range of opinions about their chosen topics, and keeps things interesting for all participants.
Step 6: Repeat steps 2 to 5 until the end of the scheduled time.
At the end of the session, each group (pre-SAP and post-SAP) debriefs separately. Write some prompts on the whiteboard: What was the most interesting thing you heard? How do you feel about your trip now? Encourage students to share their impressions.
Pre-SAP students benefit from the real information they can glean from their seniors and often comment that the activity has helped calm their nerves. Additionally, the English fluency of post-SAP students acts as a positive language model for their juniors to emulate.
Post-SAP students have also reacted enthusiastically. For some, this activity is their first chance to discuss their overseas experiences in English. Furthermore, they welcome the opportunity to offer the benefit of their knowledge, and, as one participant put it, “I wish we’d done this before my trip.”
The appendix is available below.