"Why do you like suffering?" is the question I was repeatedly asked a couple of weeks ago when I asked one of my ICELT tutors to observe me yet again. The reason for such a comment is that I've just (successfully) finished my course and I should have broken free from lesson observations by now, right? Wrong! I love being observed as I see this whole process as really helpful for my professional growth.

In my post observation meeting we talked about things that had gone right and wrong as well as their "whys". Something that was really noticeable was the fact that I had four dominant students who would always answer and take control of the lesson. Although I knew that some learners didn't participate much because we had a "stranger" in our "nest", I was also aware that these four students always had this very same behaviour. This has always been a problem to me because 1) I don't know how to nicely ask students to "shut up" and give the others the opportunity to speak; 2) I'm afraid of doing so no matter how carefully I choose my words and 3) whose fault is it that the rest of the group doesn't speak other than mine? I wonder...

Having these questions and the conversation with my tutor in mind, I decided to make use of something I had come up with in the past and which proved to be of great assistance to deal with this issue. Here's what I did.

01. I had a conversation with my group about the importance of participating more in class and showing them that one won't learn how to drive if they don't drive (I used a few personal examples of how I learned some things in my life);

02. In the following class, each student was given three beans. I explained that the objective was to get rid of these beans in order to get points for oral in class (at the institution I work for, students are graded on their participation in class).

03. We came to an agreement about the use of L1 in class as, in my opinion, this issue needs to be constantly addressed. If anybody unnecessarily used Portuguese, this person would get an extra bean;

04. I explained that if they participated, they would return one bean to me. As soon as they had finished using the other two ones, they would have to wait for other people to use theirs as well, thereby giving chance for everybody to speak;

05. If they still had any beans left in the end of the class, they would not score any points for oral in class in that specific lesson (and here a lot of people may disagree with me, but it really works in my classes due to the rapport I manage to build with my students. They usually see this as a way of encouragement rather than a threat);

06. I placed a table in the middle of the circle (I always have my students sitting in a horse-shoe format) so that they could "deposit" their beans as they participated throughout the lesson.

Having tried it for a number of times both in the past and now, I can assure you that this idea has worked miracles as very shy students now eagerly want to participate. At one time, when I was writing something on the board, I asked for a volunteer to answer a question and what I saw amazed me. In less than 2 seconds, I saw dozens of hands shooting up because everybody wanted to speak. Besides, the students who used to take control were now quieter because they used their beans in a blink of an eye. As soon as everybody had used theirs, however, the whole group could participate again.

I've been doing it again with all my groups this semester. For my beginner group, students get rid of their beans by uttering sentences in English such as "How do you say... in English?" or "What page, teacher?". In the end of the first class, in which I tried this out, I asked them how they felt and everybody was really excited and they could see its importance. Now they're using a lot of English in class despite not having had a lot of exposure. Great, isn't it?

Anyway, let me know if you figure out different ways to use your beans!

3 Responses so far.

  1. Awesome! Thanks for the idea!

  2. I have a similar strategy, but instead of beans I use slips of paper.
    It goes like this, after teaching/eliciting set lexical social phrases (this is usually over a period of time) students are invited to write their 3 favourites on separate slips of paper.
    I always add at least 10 that we have covered in the course.
    The desks are then pushed together with all the students around, like one gig dining table! All the slips are spread out in the middle.
    The students are then given time to read them and notice where they are placed.
    I then start a 'conversation' and as I speak I use one of the set phrases, which I pick up and place in front of me. Having modelled the process it's amazing now quickly they start speaking, picking up slips of paper until they're all gone.
    The winner is....
    And everyone has a lot of fun. Adaptations of this, done on a regular basis really helps quieter students to start speaking up in class.

  3. Nossa! Du! That's awesome!!! Thanks for sharing!

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