- Key Words: Writing, Self-assessment
- Learner English Level: All levels
- Learner Maturity Level: Junior High to Adult
- Preparation Time: Two minutes
- Activity Time:Varies
The focus of this activity is on cohesion in student-written dialogues. It is a multi-skill activity that is fastmoving, fun, adaptable to different situations, and that requires minimal preparation by the teacher.
Students in Japan, especially in junior high school and high school, are often very talkative in Japanese, but seem shy and reluctant to speak in English, despite having acquired the English skills necessary to do so. Dialogue writing can play an important role in developing students' communicative abilities, and can be seen as one step along the road to more spontaneous oral communication.
In the procedure outlined below, I will assume the class consists of twenty junior high school students, working in five groups of four. The timing of each part of the activity is, of course, approximate.
Teacher preparation before class (two minutes)
Take a B5 piece of paper and write "A: B: A: B:..." down the left-hand side. Make four photocopies of this page (groups of four). Write a number one to four in the top right-hand corner, and an opening comment for "A" on each of the four photocopies. Vary the opening comments so that (hopefully) a variety of dialogues will result, for example:
1. What are you doing today? (present continuous)
2. How was your weekend? (past simple)
3. Happy Christmas! (present simple)
4. Hello! (free)
Photocopy each piece of paper five times (five groups).
In classwriting stage (ten minutes)
Organize groups of four. Hand out the dialogue sheets, one set to each group, one sheet for each student. Each student must then continue the dialogue by writing, in pencil, one line, then pass their paper clockwise to the next student. In the meantime, a piece of paper may have arrived from the previous student. The recipient must then quickly read the dialogue so far, and continue with an appropriate line of writing. lt is easy at first, but as the papers get passed around, the dialogues get longer, and it becomes more difficult to write cohesively. The teacher monitors the writing stage, assisting if and where necessary.
The students seem to enjoy the "race against time" nature of the activity. Large differences in student ability do not seem to pose too much of a problem. Better students realize they have more time and use the extra time to write longer, more interesting sentences. Slower students may find that pieces of paper are piling up, but can pass them on quickly by writing shorter statements (O.K., Yes, That's right, etc.). The writing stage stops when the bottom of the page is reached, or after a set time.
Editing stage (two to three minutes)
Each student takes one dialogue and corrects any errors, discussing changes with other members of the group if necessary. The teacher imposes a time limit, and monitors progress.
Assessment and performance stage (ten minutes)
Still in groups of four, each student role-plays one of the dialogues with another student. All students in the group assign a score (out of ten, perhaps) to each dialogue (a small score chart could be included on each photocopy to facilitate this); this gives the two students not role-playing the dialogue a reason to listen carefully. The teacher continues to monitor. The two best dialogues from each group are then performed for the whole class (so that every student gets a chance to perform).
As a skills activity, the emphasis is on fluency, rather than accuracy. To what extent the teacher decides to correct the work at each stage will depend upon the particular situation and the philosophy of the teacher. While some teachers may feel uneasy about having students listen to dialogues containing errors in the performance stage, too much correction may be demotivating to students.
Obviously, twenty original student-produced dialogues are a valuable resource! They can be dated and put in a class folder for future use. Some students like to decorate the dialogues with pictures and colour; then the dialogues can be displayed on the wall.
Depending on the individual situation, various factors may contribute to making this activity more effective. I will consider just one here, that is pre-teaching. Before the writing stage, it might be a good idea to show students two example dialogues, one with very good cohesive qualities (a nice "flow"), and the other very disjointed. Point out the merits and demerits of each.
Also, it might be useful to teach some cohesive strategies. For example, "By the way" or "Anyway" can be used to avoid abrupt changes of topic in the dialogue. Also, A and B should probably have an equal share of the dialogue, both asking questions, both seeking confirmation or acceptance, etc.
I have found this to be a very enjoyable activity, which produces a good deal of concentrated effort by students in the writing stage. It allows students to express themselves relatively freely and gives them an opportunity to reflect upon and assess their own work. The teacher is left to monitor the activity as it proceeds and to note any areas of difficulty for later remedial work.