Interruptions … it’s something most my learners struggle with and it’s a skill they require daily because no one in a corporate setting can escape attending at least one meeting a day, if not more. To complicate matters, turn taking varies across cultures. In the US, Northern Europe and Japan, interruptions are uncommon and generally considered rude. In France, Brazil and India, interruptions are more common and are sometimes seen as a sign of being engaged. I’ve also observed that some of my learners in India tend to completely shut up when they are in meetings with overseas clients and seniors, to the extent that even when they genuinely need to interrupt to clarify something or provide some information, they don’t. Here’s an activity that addresses both these issues. For learners who sort of talk over each other, it offers statements that can help them more politely take the turn. For learners who don’t interrupt at for fear of causing offence, it provides practice with interrupting.
A deck of playing cards, whiteboard, WB markers. You’ll need to install Triptico and download the interruption spinner file – ideally you’ll need an LCD projector to project the spinner. Alternatively, you could just use an ordinary computer or a laptop. Fair warning! Triptico unfortunately doesn’t run without internet connectivity but I’m sure you’ll be resourceful enough to find a tech free equivalent.
Divide the deck of cards according to the number of Ss but spread evenly across the same cards from the four suits . For example, if you have 16 Ss, take 2, 3, 4, 5 of Hearts; then 2, 3, 4, 5 of Diamonds and repeat across Spades and Clubs so you have 16 cards in all. Open up Triptico and access Text Spinner under Selectors. Click on ‘Load from cloud’ and then ‘Load a text file’. Navigate to wherever you saved the interruption spinner file and you’re all set.
- Stage 1
- Shuffle the cards and distribute them to Ss.
- Ask Ss to find other Ss who have the same suit as them. Allocate different corners/tables to each suit.
- Ss work with their groups to come up with phrases that can be used to interrupt during meetings. As groups settle on a list of phrases, ask them to send up group members to write the phrases up on the WB.
- Elicit corrections if required and add any other expressions that might be appropriate or useful. Organize language into frames and chunks if you’re lexically inclined. Alex Case over at the TEFLtastic blog has a list of expressions for turn taking.
- Ask Ss to decide whether some expressions are more appropriate for conference calls and which ones for in-person meetings.
- Stage 2
- Now ask Ss to regroup. To find their new groups, they’ll need to look for Ss who have the same number as them. So 2 of hearts, 2 of spades, 2 of diamonds and 2 of clubs get together etc.
- Assign any meeting role play or scenario that’s appropriate to the groups.
- Bring up the interruption spinner on the LCD projector. Explain to the Ss that once they start the meeting role play, you’ll spin the interruption spinner. If it lands up at Hearts, anyone who has a Hearts card will need to interrupt using one of the phrases listed on the WB and take the turn. There are three googlies as we like to say in India – Red, Black and Random. If the spinner displays Red – anyone who has hearts or diamonds can interrupt; likewise with black. Random means anyone can interrupt (this one’s a whole heap of fun!).
- Ask Ss which phrases were used most frequently and which ones least. What could be the reasons for this?
- Ask Ss why interrupting might be easier in an in-person meeting (paralinguistic cues) than in telephonic one.
- Lead a discussion about different perceptions towards interruptions across cultures and encourage Ss to talk about their discomfort if any with interrupting colleagues, clients and stakeholders in meetings.