- Key Words: Learner-centered, Community building
- Learner English Level: All
- Learner Maturity Level: All
- Preparation Time: About one hour
- Activity Time: About one class period
There are three things I consider most important for a positive learning environment in a second language classroom: creating human dignity, appreciating and acknowledging the amount and type of experience each student brings to the classroom, and recognizing creative potential. To do this, I like to build a community in the classroom where each student feels the support of the teacher and other classmates. One game I like to do at the beginning of each semester to develop community is called crashing.
Crashing was introduced to me by Prof. Thia Wolf at California State University, Chico, as an approach for basic writing students to think in new ways about narrative. In the second language classroom, I extend my goals to include building community, and lowering the level of inhibition while speaking in a second language in front of others. I don't know why it is called "crashing"--other than when seeing otherwise shy students hopping about the room as rabbits looking for lost keys, it feels as though they have crashed through a personal barrier.
I have found that crashing works in composition, conversation, literature, and issue-oriented content-based second language courses. In the first or second week of classes, crashing helps students become comfortable around each other, gets them thinking and speaking in English, and reduces anxiety about speaking. Yet, perhaps best of all, it gets students out of their seats and moving around the room.
On index cards, roughly 9 x 13 cm, glue various pictures of living things (babies, surfers, cats, kangaroos, sunflowers, etc.), places (lakes, mountains, oceans, etc.), and objects (chairs, computers, rocks, balloons, etc.). These pictures can be of anything, and can be found in almost any magazine. For a class of fifteen you will need 24 such index cards, for a class of twenty you will need 32 cards, and for a class of twenty-five you will need 40 index cards. It is probably a good idea to have an equal number of living things, places, and objects in your set of cards.
In the Classroom
Arrange students into groups of four or five. Have each student pick one card from the stack. I usually say, "Pick a card, any card" but this is optional. After each student has one card, distribute three more cards to each group; each group should have three more cards than it has members. Thus, a group of five should be holding eight cards. I then give the students a handout containing the crashing instructions:
Each group has just received a set of cards with pictures on them. Your goal, as a group, is to create a story using the pictures on the cards. After you have decided on a story, rehearse your narrative, and then perform it for the class. Your group can act out the cards in any way you like based on the following guidelines:
- Arrange the cards so that the pictures somehow create a story.
- Each member of the group must represent at least one card. Some members will have to represent two or more. Each card must be used once.
- The cards cannot be acted out separately or sequentially. Instead, create a chronological story.
- While performing, you may not speak words.
- You have approximately twenty minutes to create and rehearse your narrative. You may leave the classroom--if you like--to rehearse your performance in private. Do not disturb other classes.
- No writing on the blackboard, and you may use only the props that are on hand in the classroom.
As a member of the audience, pay attention to the other groups' performances. You may guess, but the performing group must not respond in any way until they have completed the process of acting out the cards. The idea is for the groups to present a whole story. It is appropriate to clap after each story.
After each group performs, be prepared to say what you saw and praise what was done particularly well. If no one guesses the correct story, the performing group will help out by telling us their story.
Student response to this game has always been positive. After performing, they are very oriented toward communicating the content of their story, they are less nervous about speaking in the community. At this point, English becomes necessary because students have the overwhelming need to use it. In one class, one of my students climbed on the tabletop and became a cow while another student, a duck, milked him. Students in the audience often initiate questions--in English--to clear up some left turn the story may have taken.
In the beginning, students are often excited when I tell them they don't have to speak in this game. In a supportive community, however, they become outgoing and talkative. I find this also addresses one of my goals for student-centered teaching. Using English, students teach other students, and me, a story. They also utilize collaborative learning skills and, based on the laughter that takes place, enjoy learning and practicing English.