Trying autonomy in a class with a textbook

Here are some notes I took of one of my classes from a couple of weeks ago. This class is called Oral Communication for freshmen. The class is divided into 2 groups according to their results on an English test, the G-TELP. The top third are streamed into a separate class. I have not tried much autonomy with the “lower” group. Here’s what I tried in the other class. (This class came before this one).

Q1: What did we do last week?

A1: Some role-play (actually we what DiPietro called Strategic Interaction).

Q2: Does anyone have any (new) role-play suggestions?

A2: Yes! Guest who has booked a room shows up the hotel only to be told that they no reservation was made.

The previous class, we had done the role-play as 2 teams. Each team chose a “player” to do the talking; the player could call time-out any time for consultation with their team. This time, as an experiment, I made them do it in pairs. This is how they usually work with the textbook, so they are used to it. After a few pairs had “finished” I had them change partners and do the same role-play, with a new partner.

After a few changes (most pairs seemed to either “solve” the problem or run out of steam pretty soon), I suggested a different situation, and again had them do it several times, changing partners each time.

I then distributed a list of 25 different situations, and asked them (still in their pairs) to choose 6. I noted down their selections, then had them choose 1 from the 6 they chose and do it.

When they were done, we came back into 1 big circle and discussed it. How was it? Which was better, the “team” version or working in pairs? Some said the team was better (the team role-play seemed to grab their interest more, and it went on for a lot longer than the pair ones). One girl suggested it wasn’t so much a question of “team” or “pairs” as that of the situation of the role-play. The “team” role-play situation had been a “tough” one, whereas the ones we’d done in pairs were easy, or less confrontational.

The discussion petered out, and rather than push it, I took the reins again and said I’d brought some movies (actually, I’d brought them at the request of the previous class). They didn’t know the movies.

Do you want to choose one from the cover of the DVD, or watch the first 5 minutes of each? They chose one from the cover. Actually, there were 2 opinions: some wanted 1 movie, but the student with the strongest personality (who also happens to be the ablest in English) adamantly refused, so we chose another one.

Do you want subtitles? Yes! English or Japanese? English! They watched attentively, but for the most part in silence, the first 20 minutes of the movie (“About a Boy”), when class ended. I wasn’t sure what the silence meant: did they not find the comedy funny? Did they not understand it? Were they awake?? Or perhaps it was because the movie wasn’t really their choice?

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