How to get everyone speaking in a multilevel class is a question that plagues ESL teachers.
You can try role plays, and that works to some degree, but shy students and those with less fluency won’t participate at the level teachers would like. Group discussions can be hit or miss. One solution for the multilevel class is the Strategic Interaction Method. This method combines group discussion with role play and class discussion to encourage stress free participation from students at all levels.
How to Get Everyone Involved
Strategic Interaction begins with a scenario. This scenario is a real life situation in which your students will be required to use language to solve a problem. Though a group of students will receive each scenario’s information, only one person will perform the assigned role during the performance stage. Each group’s information about the scenario is different. They do have shared information about the situation, but each group also receives information specific to the role assigned to that group, that is the personal agenda of the role that group will be fulfilling. This situation and conflicting agendas will create tension between the roles and a conflict which needs to be resolved.
Students are given time in group discussion to determine the strategies they will use in the performance stage. Though only one student will actually be performing the interaction, all students can participate in the rehearsal phase and give advice to the performer. By discussing strategies in groups, students who are not confident enough to perform a role play in front of the class can participate in a less intimidating environment offering valuable input to the group and learning from others the language needed to accomplish their goal.
One student from each group will participate in the performance stage. Remember that at this point neither group knows the agenda of the other, and each participant has his own agenda to accomplish. Students must use language in strategic ways to try and achieve their goals. The goal of the different roles will be at odds with each other, so students must decide if and when to compromise on their goals. At any point during the interaction, the person playing the role can pause the interaction and consult with his or her group for advice and input. This gives strategic interaction an advantage over the simple role play. Students playing the roles are freed from the need to know all the answers and students at all fluency levels can participate in giving advice. Still, all students are using realistic language to resolve a conflict.
After the performance, conduct a debriefing. Debriefing is the only part of the activity that happens with the entire class. In the debriefing stage, the teacher should lead a discussion about the interaction. You can encourage students to offer opinions about successful communication strategies or unsuccessful ones, and provide an opportunity for students to ask questions about any part of the interaction. In addition, during debriefing students can share alternative resolutions to the situations and share how they could have been achieved. Students find the freedom to express their personal opinions in this stage even though they may not have been able to perform the role play.
In any scenario you use, each role should have an agenda in conflict with the agenda of the other role. Here are two possible scenarios you can use with your students. You can also easily write your own as long as each the two agendas create tension in the situation.
Scenario One: This scenario between two friends puts the participants in a tense situation, each reticent to tell the other the full truth of what has happened.
Role A: You borrowed your friend’s car to pick your significant other from the airport. Because you parked the car illegally, it was towed. You do not have money to get the car back from the towing agency. You are about to meet with the friend who leant you the car.
Role B: Although you know your friend can be irresponsible at times, his/her significant other was flying into town and you were unavailable to pick that person up. Instead you loaned your car to your friend. Thankfully, your friend did not have any accidents. Because you have some unpaid parking tickets, the police would impound your car if anything had happened. You do not have money to get your car back if something like that happens. You are about to meet your friend and get your car back.
Scenario Two: In this situation, each of the participants has pressure to achieve an outcome in opposition to the other participant.
Role A: You are a teacher who has gotten much criticism for giving too many students A’s. You are on a program this semester to only give A’s to the top five students in your class. If you fail to be more restrictive in giving high grades, you may lose your job.
Role B: You are a senior in college and have achieved a 4.0 up until this semester. Every other semester when you have failed to get an A, your professor has allowed you to do makeup work or retake tests to improve your grade to an A. You are about to graduate and do not want your perfect record spoiled. You are about to meet with the only teacher who did not give you an A this semester. Try and get him/her to change your grade.
As you can see, strategic interaction is one of the easiest ways to get everyone in your multilevel class speaking. By taking away pressure and embarrassment and giving students the support of their group, you can get everyone in your class speaking today.