Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Lesson from KOTESOL / "What did he say?" A quick way to boost class participation

A quick way to boost class participation

I had the good fortune to meet the man behind the excellent ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections blog at the recent national KOTESOL conference in Daegu. He gave an energetic workshop called “You’re Doing It Wrong. Maybe.” In it, he brought up many of the oft-repeated “Don’ts” of teaching English and asked us in the audience to consider why they were wrong--or perhaps not so wrong

One such thing was “echoing.” That is, repeating back all or part of a student’s speech, either for confirmation or to broadcasting to the class. It looks something like this:

“Hi Billy, what did you do last weekend?”
“I went to Seoul and went shopping.”
“You went to Seoul and went shopping. How was it?”

I happen to echo my students frequently, so this part of the workshop caught my ear. What is good and bad about echoing?

On the one hand, we noted that native English speakers tend to use echoing in conversation. We’ll repeat part of the sentence as a question, we’ll repeat a word or phrase, or we’ll take a word and something like, “I see. Go on,” to keep the conversation going. Part of what English Language Teaching (ELT) entails is showing how native speakers talk to each other, so it is authentic. Echoing also allows speakers to clarify things the other person said. Again, it's common among native speakers. 

Yet, it has its drawbacks. For one, constant echoing can get annoying and repetitious. Sometimes I have felt like the stereotypical old man talking down to a little kid in a classroom. Also, students can tune it out. Consider that if I am echoing Billy the student, I’m probably training the students to listen to me instead of Billy. The students will ignore whatever Billy says and will wait for me to repeat it, which is not so good. I admit that this does happen in my experience.

One thing to do is instead of echoing Billy, we can ask the class, “What did he say?” Mr. Griffin and some of the attendees suggested doing so. This does three things: It shows that students’ speech is important, it keeps the class on track by acting as a short listening exercise, and it allows the class to participate by repeating what Billy said. Moreover, when the class (or an individual student) speaks, it can allow for speaking in full sentences, ie "He said he went to Seoul," and thus acts as an summary exercise.

It’s never been my habit to ask the class, “What did he say?” in the past. But when we were discussing it at the workshop, I thought, yes, this could work, and resolved to change how I interacted with the students. I’d downplay the echoing and introduce “What did he say?” as a way of keeping the class on track. And the question is working! I started asking “What did he say?” first thing on Monday morning, and it is indeed boosting class participation. I’m speaking less and the students are speaking a bit more. Of course, I am not asking "What did he say?" all of the time--just some of the time. Like anything it, would get stale if I did it at every opportunity. Still, it's quick and effective. My coteachers have even picked up on the question and have begun asking it themselves. I haven't asked the students to respond in full sentences or not. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. We can teach that when the time comes. For now, I'm happy to have learned something new and effective in class.

Thank you to the teachers in the room who mentioned this excellent little strategy! I’m afraid I don’t know all of your names, but what you said is making a difference in my classes. Thank you, Mr. Griffin, for giving a fun workshop. It was light on the jargon, yet it had substance and it inspired plenty of conversation. Again, it was good to meet you. Here's hoping we meet again.


ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections - Quality teaching site from a man with over a decade of experience. 

KOTESOL - Korean Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages: A professional group of English teachers in Korea. It includes hagwon, EPIK, and university teachers. Korean English teachers are also welcome!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this (and for the kind words). I am glad you enjoyed the workshop. I enjoyed it very much as well. I especially liked the echoing part because some people didn't seem familiar with the "bad" aspects of it. Thanks for connecting and sharing. Take care and hopefully talk to you soon