Quick question: What are the two most useless questions that teachers ask their students?
Answer: Read to the end of the post to find out. The answer has a lot to do with why the classroom implementation of activities can go awry.
In my last post, I gave some tips on designing classroom activities. The design stage involves aligning an activity with a learning outcome; choosing an activity type; planning an activity’s steps and timing; and considering how to deal with stumbling blocks that may occur.
Now, it’s time to implement your plan with your students. Here’s a step-by-step procedure that will help the activity to run more smoothly:
- Remind students of how the content of previous lessons has given them the background knowledge and experience to tackle the activity. “So far, we’ve been talking about ________and we’ve seen that _______. Today, we’re going to take our discussion further/explore some new dimensions/apply what we’ve discussed so far.” This type of introduction helps them to see that the activity isn’t just a “one off” time filler.
- Share the outcome(s) with which the activity is aligned. Let the students know that the activity will help them to accomplish the outcome.
- Show and tell the activity instructions with the students in as much detail as possible. Don’t just give the instructions orally: have them in written form as well, on a handout or a PowerPoint slide. This gives students a written record of what they need to do if they forget, didn’t understand, or weren’t listening to the instructions the first time you explained.
- The instructions should also include your expectations for the activity’s implementation, such as how long each part of the activity should take, how the students will work individually or together, what to do if they finish before others, and what to do if they run into difficulties.
- If the activity involves students working in groups, you may want to use a random group generation method to ensure that no one gets left out, e.g. students choose a colored card and all the people with the same color work together.
- You may want to model how to do parts of the activity that could be sticking points for the students.
- Now you’re just about ready to turn the activity over to the students. Please restrain yourself from checking student comprehension of the activity with one or both of the two most useless questions teachers ask: Do you understand? Do you have any questions? Students will almost always answer yes to the first and no to the second – if they given any indication at all of their understanding. Instead, go quickly around the room and ask individuals to repeat parts of the instructions, for example “What are you supposed to do if….?” “What should you do after….?” “How much time do you have to….?”
- Step aside and let the students get active. Expect noise – that’s the sound of students learning.
Of course, you’ll have several more jobs to do while the students are engaging in the activity – the monitoring phase of active learning. That’s the topic of the next post.