Ideas I haven’t tried out yet #2: Story circles

campfireSource: GIPHY

This idea for a closer was shared with me by Marlon Schoep of Curtin University. He used it every day on a bridging course, and what I love about it is that it reminds those of our learners in tough, high-stakes courses that they’re part of a community and that they’re, you know, human.

And it’s very simple. At the end of the class, have all of the students stand in a circle. One student (a different student each time) tells a story about themselves.

A variation of this idea that my colleague suggested as a warmer is to have a different student each day give a 5-minute presentation (about themselves, about whatever topic is being studied that week, about whatever they have on their minds).


This afternoon I think I’ll try Think-Pair-Share.

I first came across the collaborative learning strategy known as “Think-Pair-Share” when I was doing my Dip. Ed., before I got into the field of ELT. I’ll let Kristina Robertson explain what it is:

In a think-pair-share, students are given think time to reflect on a question silently, so that they have more time to process the question, the language, or think of the language needed to convey the answer. By then discussing their answer with a partner and the class, students have the opportunity for increased interaction, and teachers can monitor comprehension.

Often–and mainly because I have my eyes on the clock–I’ll throw some discussion questions at the students and instruct them to have at it with their partners. Some students will start talking at this point; many will sit for a few moments in silence. Meanwhile I’m busy dashing about the classroom from pair to pair, urging them to get on task, silently worrying: “They’re really not into this, are they?”

Some students will genuinely not be into the topic or the task: it doesn’t interest them, they’re tired, they’re hungry, they’re shy, they’re distracted, they’re thinking about the job they haven’t found yet–you know the list. But what if the problem for many of those seemingly reticent speakers is that they haven’t been given enough time to think about the questions as well as the linguistic resources they need to answer them?

Would you be able to answer, off the cuff, some of the discussion questions you set for your students? And they have the added hurdle of doing this task in the language they’re trying to learn!

So this afternoon, given that I’ve a goodly amount of discussion questions in my planned lesson, I’m going to give Think-Pair-Share a go. Robertson suggests following these steps:

  1. Ask a thought-provoking question of your class.

  2. Give students some time to think about the question on their own, as well as the language they will need to respond.

  3. Have students share their thoughts with a partner; this gives the students the opportunity to ‘check out’ their answer with another student or hear another possible answer. If confused, the students can ask their peers for help.

  4. Finally, ask students to share thoughts with the whole group, which serves as a form of accountability for the students. In this discussion/explanation, the teacher gets feedback on what the students do or don’t know though informal assessment.

Let’s hope that taking the pressure off students in this way makes for more meaningful, considered discussion in class.