Ranked in order of prep time and difficulty, use these communication activities to get the ball rolling at your school. Each idea is entirely customizable, so they are appropriate for all grade levels.
1) “Special Question”
I know I have bored many a class by asking the same four opening questions day after day, week after week, year after year: “How’s the weather?”, “What time is it?”, “What day is it?” and “What’s the date today?”
The purpose of repeatedly asking these questions is to make sure students will always be able to answer them. But that doesn’t mean you can switch things up a little bit and bring a little bit of communication to the classroom.
So, in lieu of the 4 questions, greet your students and then tell them you are going to ask a special question. Make it easy and open ended. Write it on the board. Something like “What did you eat yesterday” (A first grade JHS question). Give the students time to ask each other. And if the mood is just right you can talk with a few students after wards.
The activity takes about the same time as the regular greeting (5 minutes at most), and instantly brings communication to the class.
2) Eikaiwa Cards
Eikaiwa Cards are small, customizable cards that are given to students as a warm-up. You can write out any dialogue you’d like students to practice and build important communication skills by encouraging students to smile, make eye contact and so on. Click here to visit the original post on Eikaiwa Cards and learn more about their use.
3) “Sura-Sura Plus” Worksheets
This is originally a speed reading vocabulary activity turned into a communication activity. Perhaps you have seen teachers do this before: students are given a sheet of paper with 20-30 words written on them and the goal is to read as many of the words from the list in about a minute. This kind of activity is fine for word recognition and vocabulary practice. But it can be adapted to a communication focus.
How does it differ? Well, for one, instead of working by themselves, students will work in pairs and each student will take a part in a dialogue. Second, the purpose may still be to read through the worksheet quickly, but this time there are short sentences and the sentences are related to each other because they are sentences in a prepared dialogue. Rather than just reading random words on a sheet of paper, students are participating in communication.
The examples listed below are for 1st grade students, but you can change the worksheet for any level.
Sura-Sura Plus – #1 (Exel file)
Sura-Sura Plus – #2 (Excel file)
Sura-Sura Plus – #3 (Excel file)
4) Sushi Lines
If you would like a quick way to get students into conversation pairs, have them use sushi lines. The benefits of sushi lines include rapidly making new pairs and getting students talking to both boys and girls and students they may not normally go to if given the chance to make free pairs.
5) Sakusen Time
Sakusen is a Japanese word for “strategy”. You can also think of it like “thinking time”. Sometimes all teachers need to get the interaction flowing between students and teachers is to give students a little “sakusen time” to think of how to respond. When we teachers ask students to respond to questions and we are met with blank stares, we often give students a little time to check in with their friends. More often than not, students freeze because they are unsure of their answers or their understanding of a question. “Sakusen time” gives them a chance to double check what they want to say. Although this is more of a technique than an activity, it is great for giving students the confidence they need to interact more and “speak out”.
6) Post-it Note Questions
Write questions on post-it notes that you’d like students to ask you. Then, during break times you can stand in the hallway near areas where students congregate and hand them out to curious students. Signal them to ask you the question. After they have initiated the conversation with the question, you can take it where ever you want to go.
As you’ve probably noticed, Japanese students tend to bunch up in groups when talking in the hallways. You can use this to your advantage in two ways. One, if they don’t know how to answer a question, usually their friend can give them advice. Two, after they have talked with you, they can ask each other.
I’ve used this idea only outside of class, but I’m sure there are ways to use it in the classroom as well.