There are three types of material associated with this activity, contained in two separate downloads. The first download contains the main work/answer sheet (with sections for the formulation of up to six prompts or questions, personal responses, responses from up to four other classmates, and clearly set out assessment criteria along the bottom of the sheet) and the teacher's report card (with spaces for student names, the assessment citeria, and notes about students' production and/or communicative skills). The second download contains a follow-up homework summary/report (a shortened version of the main worksheet that requires students to try and recall and record the questions/prompts, their own responses and the reponses of two other students based on the actual communication that took place during class time). Note that these downloads are in A4 format, so the main work/answer sheet in particular will probably need to be enlarged to B4 or A3 size to make it practical for the learners to fill out. These downloads are available to English Raven platinum members in both fixed PDF format and Microsoft Word format (for teachers who would like to type information into the forms or adapt the materials in some way). To get the activity started, the first step is the formulation of the information prompts. This will depend on what the students are currently studying or need to practice in the estimation of the teacher(s) concerned. Some suggestions for grammar, reading, and writing extensions into listening and speaking are provided below. At a very basic level, teachers may like to give students the questions straight off the bat, and get them concentrating on the formulation of responses and then practice Q&A with the rest of the class. At intermediate levels, it can be more beneficial to give basic information prompts that students then need to convert into accurate questions. At more advanced levels, students may be trusted to come up with questions completely independently. Note that at the intermediate and advanced levels, the 'pot luck' nature of question formulation can result in somewhat unpredictable questions, which is great for ensuring that the students asked to respond may not know of the question until they hear it (even if the prompts listed give them a basic idea of the context, grammar, or situation). Until students get used to and relatively confident with the activity, it could be a good idea to "brainstorm" the question formation as a group. Something else I have used in the past is a gap-fill format that (once completed) resulted in full questions ready to be asked.
Next, students consider the questions they have created and try to come up with their own (personal) answers to them. This ensures that students actually think and demonstrate an understanding about each question, but it can also give them valuable preparation for answering questions asked to them later from other students.
Once students have a column of questions along with associated responses, they then "set out" to find out what the rest of their world (basically, the confines of the classroom at that point!) put down in response. To do this, they need to attract the attention of other students, ask their questions, and get down accurate reponses. Obviously, this is complicated by the fact that everyone else in the room is basically trying to do the same thing! After some initial pandemonium and frustration, students eventually begin to find ways to cooperate and share information and questions. One important rule for this process is the "no talking with anyone immediately next to you" rule. This prevents students from just looking at the sheet next to them and copying down what they see listed there. It literally forces them to look out across the classroom to find others to talk to - very often 'others' they normally never feel inclined to say a single word to! Aside from that benefit, when students get good at this activity I have actually seen them shift their seating all over the place in an attempt to maneuver themselves into the right to ask their favorite friends questions - which is fine by me because in the process they are sitting next to a range of new students and getting to see and communicate in the classroom from a range of different 'angles'.
While students are engaged in this process, the teacher observes and completes the assessment categories on the report card (except for "record/summary" which will need to be assessed later when the teacher has the work/answer sheets in front of him/her). In addition to placing the teacher 'outside' the central communication taking place, this really reinforces to students that the way they go about this process actually counts. At the conclusion of the activity (or at the end of a pre-set time limit), the teacher collects up the work/answer sheets, and distributes the follow-up report/summary, which can be completed in a follow up class or at home as homework. This follow up report is great for reminding students of the kinds of questions and answers that they heard and wrote down as part of the activity - in many ways it can show teachers a lot about what the students actually 'know' or have the capacity to retain from the classroom conversation. It is recommended that teachers transfer grades from the teachers report card to students' sheets outside of class time, and hand them back during a later class. For more information on how to go about assessing this activity, click here.
Two key questions that need to be answered at this point are "What is the teacher's role in guiding this activity and giving corrections and/or feedback?" and "How can this activity be applied to large classes of 20 or more students?"
On the first point, the degree to which you get involved with or 'interrupt' the activity really depends on your own teaching philosophy and the level and disposition of your students. You may like to interrupt students directly while they are communicating to correct grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation - but bear in mind that this can be demotivating for students and in actual fact it is a very non-realistic interruption for a group of conversing people out there in the 'real world'. On the other hand, many teachers may feel like they're not doing their jobs well if they merely sit and watch as students belt out badly structured or poorly pronounced language for a full 40 or 50 minutes with no feedback whatsoever. How, what and when to 'correct' is one of the most discussed issues in the TESOL world. Personally, I prefer to stick with the general theme of 'communication' and try to allow students opportunities to see errors in their language performance for themselves through the medium of 'getting something across'. In some instances, I note down recurring mistakes that appear to be somehow damaging the effectiveness and efficiency of the communication taking place, and every 10 minutes or so I halt the activity to make a few suggestions regarding what I shoud be hearing from the students in contrast to what I am actually hearing (note that I do not point out culprits and address the class collectively). Another (more subtle) technique I use is to meander my way into select exchanges happening in the class and make a big point about how what someone is saying sounds "so great - exactly the way an English speaker would say it" (or something to that effect), in the hope that surrounding students pick up on it and discretely make some changes to what they are saying. I am also a fan of a 'wrap up' at the conclusion of the lesson to point out a few things that were going wrong or could have been expressed better (again, without singling out any individual students).
On the issue of applying this activity to larger classes, about the only thing I can say is "classroom management!" If a teacher can manage to break their class up into groups of 6-8 students, there is no reason why the activity could not go ahead in separate 'chunks' of the classroom. The largest group of students I have applied this activity to was a class of 30 students in a rather cramped room, and to be honest, that was the most successful application of it I have seen! I did, however, back off the meticulous observation and grading part, and dedicated most of my class time to hovering about to make regular visits to each group, just to make sure everything was going smoothly. In the multiple groups situation, it can also be interesting to set things up in a way that ensures each 'group' is asking and answering questions related to different themes.
One final note about applying the classroom activity - after an initial 'shy lull' it tends to get noisy, and with familiarity and confidence, it can become a downright storm! While it has been great for getting even shy and quiet students to speak up and become passionate about getting something across (and also creating a situation whereby students often need to ask for something to be repeated or clarified), I have to admit I think a class full of screamers is not always entirely beneficial, and I've often experienced complaints from teachers in neighboring classrooms. "Handle with care!" is a label I often affix to this activity, especially in application to larger or more boisterous classes.
For the follow-up homework report, students are not required to repeat the whole process and collection of information from memory - all that is required are questions/prompts, personal responses, and the recording of responses from two other students spoken to. I find this important to check just how much of the language has been retained, and whether students can match information to faces. This reinforces the communicative theme in that when we exchange information with people, we are often gathering information that we can retain and apply to individuals. To me, being able to apply the information to an 'entire person' and not just a haphazard collection of responses from a faceless mob is an important distinction. Above and beyond that, it also reinforces to students that they are not communicating with people merely for the sake of it - they need to concentrate on what they are learning about other people in the classroom.
Linking to the Activity from a Grammar Syllabus
In many ways, "Finding Out" is a really versatile way to bring grammar elements out into a communicative arena. By choosing particular grammar elements from a pre-set grammar syllabus (or by liaising closely with a partner grammar teacher), a lot can be done to facilitate the use of the grammar in communicative listening and speaking, as well as during the question and answer 'hypothesizing' process that precedes and occasionally interrupts the activity in real classroom use. The key thing here is not to encourage question forming merely for the sake of practicing isolated structures that may or may not be conducive to a classroom communication context. For example, facilitating questions like "Do you have three pieces of cake?" is pointless unless somehow we are making the activity happen as part of some thematic role play or something. Personally, I prefer to manipulate grammar elements to fit real questions and answers that students are likely to actually want to use in connection to their own lives, including the context of the communication happening in a school or class setting.
The use of "prompts" is also important here - the prompts need to be flexible yet functional to encourage students to hypothesize about what structure will need to be applied to make their questions and answers accurate. As a real-life example in applying this theory, recently my very conscientious partner grammar teacher approached me and asked me to figure out whether our students were showing ability and accuracy in using present simple tense from a speaking and listening perspective, and whether they were demonstrating a previously noted habit of radically over-using the 'be' verb (a generalization these 10 year olds had made in failing to differentiate form for present continuous and present simple tense, resulting in a lot of statements like "I am go to school every day" and "He is brush the teeth in the morning"). In setting up my Finding Out sheet, I listed the following as prompts:
1) What / every morning ?
2) Where / weekend ?
3) Usually / after school ?
4) Never / before breakfast ?
As a class, we worked our way through the prompts and experimented with a variety of questions until we had ones that were accurate and applied present simple tense. I then asked the students if they could see the verb 'to be' in any of the questions we had made. No, they couldn't. Were these questions about things happening right now in the classroom? No, they weren't. So I got them to agree to two rules - if the verb 'to be' was not in any of the questions, then we shouldn't be finding it in any of our answers, and, if our questions were not about here and now happenings, then they must be talking about things that happen all the time in our lives or a certain number of times. That seemed to make sense to them, and then away we went with the activity. The verb 'to be' did not appear in either their speaking or reported answers in writing, and given that the students wrote the answers down pretty much precisely according to what they heard from each other, I ended up with answers sheets full of 1st person statements. As follow up/homework, I asked the students to fill out reports talking about the person, not exactly what they said in reference to themselves. Our answer sheets came back with very erratic application of 3rd person singular 's', and a reintroduction of the verb 'to be' in a variety of responses (for example "He usually is go to the playground after school").
This gave my colleague and I a lot of useful information about what our students knew of forming present simple tense statements (one conclusion we came to was that perhaps the extra cognitive 'load' required to switch from 1st to 3rd person had the potential to shift their attention away from avoiding the 'be' verb, allowing the old generalization to resurface in their production, and that 's' for third person was certainly 'out there' in their production, but had not yet stabilized in their interlanguages), and the grammar teacher was then able to apply some targeted lessons and L1 explanations to address the problems he had noticed. Eventually (some time down the track) I would apply the speaking activity again using different prompts, with more or less scaffolding to see whether the students had developed in their knowledge and ability to use these particular forms in general communication. I would also be able to evaluate students' ability to recognize and apply some of this grammar through listening activities such as the dictogloss.
A point that needs to be made here is that "Finding Out" is not intended to magically fix grammar mistakes: its primary purpose is to give students an opportunity to 'rediscover' form to apply to genuine communicative language, to actively use the language interatively, and to give teachers valuable information about what is going on in the 'grammar corner' at the back of their minds.
It is possible to apply almost any kind of grammar to the "Finding Out" activity - the only really essential things to remember are (1) are students hypothesizing and trying out form as part of question and answer formulation, and (2) have the sought-after grammar elements been applied in a context that allows them to be general and genuine enough to count as 'communicative' language for the students and overall class concerned?
Linking to the Activity from a Reading Syllabus
"Finding Out" offers a good opportunity to create communication and Q&A focused on content-based or thematic readings covered by other teachers or in other parts of the overall curriculum. It is really up to teachers in terms of how much this should focus on accuracy and/or correct application of vocabulary and structure, and how questions are decided. Still, it can be useful to continue to work from the idea of 'prompts' and encourage students to engage in independent or group brainstorming for question formulation. It is also a good idea to draw students towards questions that encourage expression of opinions or particular content knowledge that were introduced in the reading class.
As an example, let us pretend the students have recently read a story or account about dinosaurs. We could provide some information prompts such as:
1) Like / reason
2) Big vs. small
5) Dinosaur eggs
Depending on level and how willing the teacher is to allow different questions amongst students, prompt 1 could yield questions such as "Do you like this story about dinosaurs? Why?" or "Which dinosaur do you like and why?" or even "Why did some dinosaurs like to eat meat?" The second prompt could lead to questions like "Which were the biggest and smallest dinosaurs in the story?" The third prompt could end up as "How long ago did dinosaurs live?" The fourth prompt could relate to questions about locations, perhaps for fossil discoveries, or for the parts of the world in which famous dinosaur discoveries have been made.
Bear in mind that students' ability to engage in the activity now depends a great deal on how well they absorbed and remembered the reading content, and how closely they were able to relate to it personally. By communicating well with a partner reading teacher, or taking some careful notes during a reading class (if a single teacher is responsible for multiple or all aspects of the curriculum), it should be possible to determine which stories were appealing and accessible to the students and therefore may be fun for them to talk about and exchange information and opinions on. This kind of activity can also create a great review or consolidation application prior to a formal reading test.
Remember that for most students at most ages, speaking and inquiring about new knowledge gained from reading can be almost as fundamental as reading about it in the first place!
Linking to the Activity from a Writing Syllabus
This application shares much in common with the recommendations above for reading, in that one obvious way that "Finding Out" can form an extension or follow up to a writing activity is to encourage students to ask each other about the content of their written work. Again, a more genuinely communicative and 'information sharing' mentality is considered preferable to somewhat meaningless questions such as "How many words are there in your story?" or "What's the sixth word in the last sentence of your essay?", etc.
An advantage can be gained in this instance by encouraging students to report and/or reflect on what they have written, and to pay some attention to the sorts of things peers are interested in knowing. Some example questions could include:
1) What's the title of your story/essay?
2) What's it mainly about (can you summarize it for me)?
3) Who is the main character and what does he/she look like?
4) What do you think is good about your writing? What's not so good?
5) How does your story start/end?
Note also that "Finding Out" can itself be converted into writing-based follow ups. Students could be asked to write short reports summarizing the findings of the speaking-listening activity, or to write short essays that compare and contrast answers and people based on the infomation gathered (including contrasts and similarities between themselves personally and other members of the class). I've found this particularly useful at the beginning of school terms where "Finding Out" is used as a 'getting to know each other' activity, which then converts into a piece of writing summarizing the students' findings. In many cases I personally found this useful in getting an idea of how well classes might be able to 'click' and whether I needed to consider important factors in allocating pair/group work or deciding on seating arrangements.
I have tried this activity out in a variety of contexts, and experimented with various forms of assessment. In general it has always been more beneficial to assess performance than not to, and the criteria listed below (when explained and shown clearly to students) has had an encouraging influence on the energy and care demonstrated by students when they are performing the task.
Effort/Cooperation: This is key to the success and 'ideal' of the overall activity, so it is listed first and I always make the biggest deal about it. Basically, did the students try hard to engage the other students in communication, and how helpful and responsive were they?
Question Formation: This relates to how well questions were thought up and/or put together accurately, although I often also consider this in terms of how well students contributed to brainstorming questions as a whole class, and whether they showed a willingness to edit their questions or rephrase them during the running of the activity.
Fluency: The general speed, ease and 'naturalness' with which students spoke and/or understood what other students said to them.
Accuracy/Grammar: I tend to mark this according to what I hear being produced orally by individual students, but I also consider how much effort or willingness was shown to self-correct or adapt utterances.
Pronunciation: Clarity and ability to accurately apply the base range of sounds in the English language. I also consider intonation and word and sentence stress in the students' production.
Recording/Summarizing: This relates to how well the students put down written versions of the responses they gathered, whether it is neat and accurate, whether it 'captures' the essence and/or scope of what was said to them, whether they were willing to correct or adapt what they heard, etc. My main objective in making this assessable is to encourage the students to record accurately in a way that gives me information as well.
In terms of a scale, the activity and teacher report sheets feature a range that starts at A+ (absolutely truly outstanding OR a really amazing improvement) and works its way down to F (no evidence whatsoever that the particular criteria was met or even attempted). The way I generally apply this, both A+ and F are relatively rare (I've never given an 'F' to date, though its presence on the scale and my occasional hints that I might be about to allocate one tend to be useful 'prods'!), C and D represent slightly over or under a pass/acceptable rating, A is really good, B is good without being outstanding, and E is really poor. The numbers (0-6) under these letter grades are useful for doing quick calculations that can determine an overall average grade - simply add up the numbers and divide the sum by six to get an overall letter grade on the 0-6 scale. In a more extended sense, regular use of the activity and collection of gradings allows a teacher to allocate an overall 'term' grade as well as overall grades in each of the six assessment areas.
I've noticed that it's useful to clearly list and apply the six criteria on the worksheet, because it informs students of what is expected of them when doing the activity, and it also allows "weak areas" to be identified and perhaps worked on occasionally in isolation.
Ultimately, the eventual goal is to have students assessing themselves and/or their peers. The more students do this activity, the better they become at evaluating how well they are performing in each aspect of it. Teachers could allow students to evaluate themselves and then compare their ratings with those allocated by the teacher/assessor. They can also be encouraged to set goals for themselves, for example by having students indicate what grades in each of the criteria they are aiming for before they begin the task.