This is the first of what might turn into a handful of posts inspired by working at Sheffield University on a 10 week pre-sessional programme this summer. Through these posts, I want to identify what I can take away from EAP back into General English in the autumn. The ‘Send a messenger!’ technique is one for starters.
This technique is an alternative way to encourage idea sharing without the need to regroup everybody. I started doing this in my pre-sessional classes in an attempt to address an issue that came out of my formal observation: the need to overcome the limitations of the room and vary interaction patterns. Despite teaching small groups of students, I teach in three different lecture theatres of varying size. Rows of fixed seating presents an interesting conundrum for a teacher who is used to more typical purpose-built language learning classrooms. One of the ways I have overcome it is as follows:
I use ‘Send a Messenger’ to allow my students to benefit from the ideas generated by all the other groups in the classroom, in order to further develop their own, while negating ‘faff time’ that accompanies too much moving around, especially in fixed-seating, where everything is quite awkward!
It’s as simple as this:
- Learners work in groups on a task. (In fixed lecture theatre seating, a pair talks to the pair behind them etc.)
- Once they have had time to work on the task, the teacher tells the class that each group is allowed to ‘send a messenger’ to another group to gather more ideas/information relating to the task. A buzz generally goes round the room!
- The chosen ‘messengers’ move groups and speak to the group they’ve moved to, noting down what they discover. The remaining group members are left with the job of sharing the ideas they’d generated prior to the messengers being sent.
- Once the ‘messengers’ have spent a short time with each of the other groups, they return to their group and relay what they’ve learnt.
- Original groups then use the newly gathered information/ideas, in addition to what they had to start with, in order to complete the task.
- It is a quick and easy way of enabling a class to share ideas with minimal disruption.
- It changes the pace/flow of the class, as there is movement and new groupings involved, so energy levels go up a bit. (Which is handy in a tiring pre-sessional!)
- It doesn’t require A LOT of moving around (as with numbering learners off and putting them into new groups) so it is less time-consuming/faffy.
- Learners like to know what the other groups have thought of and incorporate it into their own work.
- It allows the class to collaborate and benefit from each others’ strengths (and minimise weaknesses).
I’ve done it at the ideas generation stage, at the task-checking stage and any time in between where it’s seemed like the learners could do with some extra inspiration.