One of the struggles that teachers have, myself included, is to determine how to get the quieter students to talk in class. While there are numerous ways to do so, I found a useful (and fun) activity at a conference a few years ago. The session I attended was led by Kathy Stevens of the Gurian Institute (http://gurianinstitute.com/). I, like most teachers, embraced the activity and made it my own. What is great about this activity is that everyone is able to talk and students are up our of their seats. The first thing that I do is groups students into groups no larger than five. Sometimes I predetermine groups before class starts to ensure a variety of skills are represented, and at other times I make up groups on the spot. I have found both approaches to be successful. Each student is given a long piece of yarn. One student will be the group leader. The group leader is the one that starts the activity. Let’s give the leader the name of Brian. Brian will grasp one of the ends of his piece yarn between this thumb and pointer finger. As he talks, and only when he talks, he will slowly wind the yarn around the fingers that are grasping the end of the yarn. If he pauses, he has to stop winding. If he goes too quickly, he has to start over. Brian will start summarizing a short story recently read in class. He will start with the exposition and work his way into the rising action. When he runs out of string, he stops. The person to his right, Jennifer, will start summarizing where Brian left off. Her piece of yarn should be of equal length to Brian’s. Once Jennifer reaches the end of her piece of yarn, the person on her right, Billy, begins where she left off.
This activity should really simplistic (and it is), but there are some issues that will come up. What does the group do if Billy can’t think of what to say? or What if Billy was absent when the short story was read in class? Great questions! Billy will start from the beginning and restate what Brian and Jennifer just said. So, Billy has to pay attention to the details of what has been said. When he reaches the end of his yarn, the next person will start from where he left off.
What if Jennifer said something out of order or mentioned a detail that was incorrect? In this case, if Billy realized her errors, he can mention the correction during his turn and then continue the summarization.
What if the Billy finishes the summarization and Sam and Kelly still have to speak? In this case, Sam would start from the beginning and wherever he ends in the summarization, Kelly would begin during her turn.
This activity may sound a bit overwhelming to monitor. The teacher’s role during this activity is to walk around the classroom and listen to the different groups present. I often stand in a position, so I can see multiple groups at the same time. Since the person talking is winding his or her piece of yarn, it is easy to see which students are speaking in each group. If one group finishes before another group, the process can start over and the group can continue until each group is finished. Sometimes, if a group finishes early, I have the students talk about the characters, setting, theme, etc.
At the end of the activity, I will ask students to share out what happened in their groups, give an oral summary of the reading selection, or begin writing a summary paragraph of the reading selection. The great thing about this activity is that since it repeats from person to person, students of differing abilities can participate and everyone eventually hears the main details of the reading selection.