Sunday, 4 February 2018

Flipped brainstorming

Brainstorming is great as far as it goes. However, I do feel there is a need for flipping it from time to time.

If by brainstorming we mean a quick succession of student responses on a certain topic, I will keep the tempo and the group participation in what I call flipped brainstorming though my goals will vary each time, and this will become clear further down, when I attempt to demonstrate my proposition.
How and why?

The answer to “how” is not so simple. Suffice to say, the students will extract the ideas from a given text.
As for “why,” briefly, there is a lot to be gained and no waste of time. 
1.  The students are sometimes hard put to reel off the ideas and dress them in words to boot.
2.  There is plenty of opportunity to tease the students’ brains by firing questions at them.
3.  The teacher can test the students’ assimilation of already taught vocabulary and/or activate the students’ minds by inviting them to extrapolate meaning from context.

However, to be able to totally engage the students in the process, the teacher must use the right content – it is a prerequisite.

Therefore, I will now illustrate, reinforcing the points I made above.
Level: advanced
I used it with my post-FCE students on the road to Proficiency.

Many of us, yielding to the pressure of imminent exams, compromise on enjoyment. We often find ourselves selecting material which will serve a dual purpose: teach new language and familiarise our students with issues and questions which are beyond their age and scope of interests but crop up in language qualification exams.
My instinct is to resist exam requirements though, to be honest, I usually engineer some kind of middle-of-the-road attitude to save the day.

Literature and poetry are great resources for killing two birds with one stone, and James Thurber is a writer whose works constitute ideal material for introducing serious issues in an amusing and challenging way.

I chose his story The Night the Bed Fell to illustrate my “flipped brainstorming”.
I divided the story in three parts for manageability and a touch of suspense.

I am well aware of my students’ knowledge and ability, so my use of this text and choice of activities suits my situation, but one could easily adapt them to their own reality – whether that is upgrading or downgrading the difficulty or the focus on the new vocabulary. I provide images when this will save me valuable time and will be a more appropriate way of explaining the meaning of lexical items.

First, I gave my students a copy of the first part of the story and asked them to read it. I deliberately kept the text free of activities so that they would concentrate on content.

Here is a copy of the first part of the story (arbitrarily divided) with the vocabulary exercise and the explanatory footnotes.

When they were ready, (I could already detect some faint smiles) I started asking questions which were meant to elicit all the detail I wanted and place emphasis on guessing meaning wherever possible.
Here is a copy of the questions:

My first question was a way of making my students guess the word “verisimilitude,” which they did as the context allowed them to do so.
Question 6 was meant to check whether they remembered the word “wobbly”, which I had recently revised and reinforced. I was pleased when I got the answer by one of them. Question 9 was designed to remind them of the meaning of “interval” as “break” and introduce its meaning in the phrase “at intervals”. And so on and so forth.

I am simply trying to explain how different teachers can take advantage of a resource depending on their aims and their students’ knowledge and needs.

Of course, I almost never forgo the opportunity to boost the students’ learning of vocabulary with a vocabulary exercise!

Parts 2 and 3 are structured in the same way. The story went down really well, and my reward was to see some students hardly able to contain themselves!

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