In one ear and out the other: does feedback work? | IATEFL 2017 session summary

Loraine Kennedy IATEFL

Having reflected loads on feedback while shadowing the CELTA, I’ve been continually pondering over its effectiveness. So I was immediately drawn to the the sub-title of this talk was ‘why bother?’

The speaker, Loraine Kennedy, suggested that we’re drowning in feedback, particularly in demands for feedback (e.g., from service organisations). Kennedy was inspired by a management article titled ‘Feedback doesn’t work’ by Jan Hills. The article references research from the 90s which apparently found that one third of feedback has a positive result, one third has no result at all, and one third has a negative result. She also referenced Deloitte, incidentally my ex-employer, who’s doing away with performance management systems in a bid to eliminate ineffective feedback.

Feedback is information provided by an agent {boss, teacher, peer, book, parent, experience) regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding.

John Hattie & Helen Timperley

Feedback is about eliminating the discrepancy between the current standard and the goal.

Kluger and Denisi (1996)

Kennedy explained that no one was questioning whether feedback done the right way was important for development. But there’s something broken in the way we deal with feedback and it’s worth reviewing our thinking about it. However, she did reiterate a couple of times that the feedback she was referring to was targeting growth and professional development and not for teachers who are performing poorly or in pre-service training situations.

This might require us to reconsider our conventional notions about feedback. Hattie, for instance, suggests that reading books from your field and drawing on your experience are forms of feedback.  The traditional way of giving feedback using the sandwich approach is concerned with positive and constructive feedback and how much to give of each. Literature on the topic often talks about dialing up constructive feedback based on whether the teacher is novice or experienced. Kennedy, however, suggested that we need to be thinking about whether the feedback recipient has a growth or fixed mindset (receiver mentality), and what he or she wants from the feedback.

She also recommended reframing feedback with feedforward (a bit overrated in my opinion) or insights into working performance (now this is interesting) and refer to feedback meetings as coaching conversations. These coaching conversations could begin with starting questions such as ‘What aspect of your work/lesson/students’ development would you like to talk about?’ It might also be worthwhile to encourage teachers to ask questions of their peers and observers such as “What would be your one suggestion so I could tweak and make my lesson better?” which makes the feedback incremental, manageable, and solicited. This led her to discussing the importance of self-assessment which we assume that people can do automatically but that teachers need to be trained in these skills.

Coaching conversations can also be used to explore teacher beliefs about teaching and learning and what good teaching is. The focus ought to be on development as opposed to evaluation. She also suggested that collaborating on teaching behaviours & standards rather than imposing them on in a top down way. These could be structured around areas such as the following, linking them to impact on student progress and confidence:

  1. Content knowledge
  2. Quality of instruction
  3. Classroom climate
  4. Classroom management
  5. Teacher beliefs
  6. Professional behaviours

Kennedy also recommended flexibility in observation practice, using audio and video and training peer observers on giving and receiving feedback. The Sutton Report identified this as a gap; that only when peer observers are trained to give and receive feedback does it become productive.  Finally all of this needs to be validated in light of feedback from students which teachers collect very little of both formally and informally.

For a judgment about whether teaching is effective, it must be checked against the progress being made by students.

Sutton report 2014

I haven’t seen this report but it sounds really interesting. It apparently has some research to support the fact that what’s seen in one lesson is not indicative of the teacher’s ability to teacher.

Loraine Kennedy readings.png

Writing methodology texts: Bridging the research-practice gap | IATEFL 2017 Plenary summary

Scott thornbury iatefl 2017.jpg

As engaging as Scott Thornbury is, you can’t help but head into his talks with a sense of deja-vu, mostly because he’s been trotting out similar stuff on methodology for the last few years. This talk, though, was different. Perhaps even revealing, not particularly about himself but about some of the others who (whether they like it or not) make up our de facto pantheon, i.e., Messrs Harmer, Scrivener et Brown, & Mme Ur.

Thornbury started off by declaring that teachers’ don’t read research. He cited three reasons for this: irrelevance, inaccessibility (both in terms of actual access to the research and the ability to understand it), and lack of time.

‘A lack of time is the predominant reason cited [for not reading research]… A perceived lack of practical relevance was also a common hindrance, as was the inaccessibility, both physical and conceptual, of published research.’

Borg, S. 2009. ‘English language teachers conceptions of research.’ Applied Linguistics, 30/3, p. 370.

He went on to suggest that research articles don’t seem to be a good means of communicating insights to teachers.

‘Studies of teachers’ consumption of and attitudes towards academic research articles show that such articles do not seem to function well as a mechanism for communicating information for teachers.’

Bartels, N. 2003. ‘How teachers and researchers read academic articles.’ Teaching & Teacher Education, 19. p. 737.

He asserted that this trend wasn’t unique to ELT. Of the 1.5 million peer reviewed articles that appeared (I think he said last year), 82% of them never got cited in subsequent articles, and only about 20% of articles in the humanities are ever read. He added that SLA research was often inconclusive or didn’t fit teachers’ ideas of plausibility.

He then quoted Penny Ur who also believes research plays second fiddle to classroom practice.

‘For the ELT practitioner the main source of professional learning is classroom experience, enriched by discussion with colleagues, feedback from students, and – for those teachers with the time and inclination – input through reading, conferences and courses, of which research is one important component. Research is not the primary basis of ELT knowledge for the practitioner, but it is a valuable supplement.’

Ur, P. (2012) ‘How useful is Tesol academic research?’ The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/oct/16/teacher-tesol-academicresearch-useful

So how does the researcher communicate with the practitioner or consumer? An idea borrowed from agriculture is of a country agent who mediates by bringing news from the science establishment. In our context, methodology books take the place of the county agent. Thorbury stated that this mediation was influential therefore imbuing it with some responsibility. To explore, this he posed eight reflective questions to Ur, Harmer, Scrivener and Harmer.

Now these responses were mighty revealing. Have a look at what Scrivener has to say in response to the question ‘How important is it, do you think, to link research and classroom practice?’

JS: I’ve never found much formal “research” very helpful to my own classroom work. I am not “antiresearch” but I do carry a suspicion of many statistical studies in teaching. My teaching is not applying linguistics. Rather, it is about tuning in to people and attempting, moment by moment, to help create a space where learning can happen. I more often look at the literature to see if it can help me understand what I have already noticed myself.

And have a dekko at what Ur has to say in response to the question ‘Do you feel you have an ‘agenda’, i.e. a bias towards a particular theoretical (or a-theoretical) position? If so, do you think this matters?’

PU: I really try hard in my own writing to be as objective as possible. The problem arises when a researcher’s data seems to contradict my own experience-based opinions: so then I have to read the research very carefully, re-examine my own experience, and try to decide who is right, or how they might both be.

The responses make for a fascinating read – the presentation can be accessed and downloaded from this link.

Thornbury makes a number of conclusions but two really stood out for me:

Methodology writers have an interest in keeping abreast of developments in research, but largely as filtered through their own experience and ‘sense of plausibility’.

Methodology writers use research findings less to promote new practices than to validate existing ones.

This throws up some critical questions: how much of what we read in books that we consider seminal in our field are the products of confirmation biases and lenses with a particular world view? And what impact does this have on our practices, beliefs and development as a professional community?

IATEFL 2017

Empowering teachers through CPD | IATEFL 2017 Plenary summary

Maggioli IATEFL

The full title of this talk is ‘Empowering teachers through continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises’. The speaker, Gabriel Diaz Maggioli is from Uruguay and delivered this year’s opening plenary. 

Maggioli kicked off his talk with a quote from Dennis Sparks about professional development lacking focus/effectiveness which I suspect comes from Designing Powerful Professional Development for Teachers and Principals. He stated that he wanted to probe what had been going on in CPD in the last 20 years. He felt professional development was oscillating between individual development and the institutional development which is more about advancing the community. He perceived the former as piecemeal and the latter as more systemic. He went on to suggest that top down reforms usually don’t involve the teachers who need to be ‘fixed’ (he used this odd word often, perhaps on purpose) and as a result are not successful and that a better way to think about development and change is a learning community which is a group of individuals who come together because they have some mutual interests.

Maggioli described two diametrically different roles for teachers within professional development programmes: the teacher as a technician who just implements policy and the teacher as a transformative intellectual who propels the development of learning communities. He argued that professional development that was effective drew on targeted professional expertise (based on teacher needs), adopted structured peer support, and provided opportunities for reflecting on why something worked or didn’t work. For these reasons, professional development, he suggested, ought to be done in-house.

Professional development is inquiry oriented learning sustained over time. It requires the the use of tools and protocols that help create coherence, sustain learning and make evidence collection manageable. My favourite quotable quote was when Maggioli suggested that professional development should be done WITH teachers not TO teachers. In his own research, he discovered that teachers listed surfing the web to find ideas and free webinars as their top two professional development channels.  From the institutional perspective, there was only mandated INSETT in the list of responses but these weren’t focused on teacher needs and were often disconnected from the reality of the classroom. Respondents described INSETT as having the following faults: no follow up, too much talking very little doing, too short, a low level, and a lack of access to resources to apply this learning.

Maggioli portrayed traditional professional development as untimely and not tailored to the career stages of teachers because teachers are seen as having to perform a function which explains the manufacturing-style one size fits all approach. He spoke about he doesn’t perceive career stages as a continuum but a loop and that every time we move into a new role or context, we kick-start the loop again. He suggested that teachers need time, resources and support and that any kind of CPD in the absence of these three things was futile.

He then shared some approaches to CPD.

  • Mirror coaching – Teacher-initiated; a peer takes notes during your lesson. You are accessing your own behaviour from someone else’s eyes. Maggioli stated that this wasn’t the same as watching a recording.
  • Co-teaching: You and your co-teacher model behaviours and learn from each other. expert coach – not from  deficit perspective (easier said than done).
  • Expert coaching: The teacher is coached by someone who is acknowledged as an expert in the area that they’re getting feedback on.
  • Study group: A teacher shares something she did in class with her peers. They then ask her questions which records. The group then goes on a coffee break during which time the teacher prepares to answer questions which is what happens when everyone comes back from the break.
  • Collaborative action research: groups of teachers who plan and implement interventions.
  • Exploratory action research
  • Lesson study: This technique apparently comes from Japan.
  • Learning circles: Ad hoc professional development meetings that follow a structured process.

Learning cirlces

  • Mentoring
  • Professional portfolio

These activities sit within a simple but interesting framework for raising teacher awareness and also identifying those within the learning community who can share, coach and/or mentor:

Maggioli finally ended by exhorting the audience to commit to some actions:

While I don’t think there was anything new or revolutionary in what Maggioli was suggesting, it is I suppose food for thought given how often we talk about CPD, extol CPD frameworks and construct CPD plans. To what extent are these frameworks and activities effective and do they adopt a deficit approach to development?

Dennis Sparks’ book is available as a free download for educators from this link.

IATEFL 2017

A round-up of IATEFL 2017 Pre-conference interviews

IATEFL 2017

Here’s a round-up of some of the pre-conference interviews that were conducted on April 4, 2017

Jim Scrivener: Scrivener talked about a recent study he conducted in China where he observed over 50 teachers teaching English lessons and concluded that the lessons were largely teacher-led with passive students, taught in L1, and with a focus on learning definitions. This is of course nothing new. What’s interesting is that during the conference, Scrivener is going to be contrasting his ‘Western’ views about effective learning with a Chinese counterpart who will talk about the historical and cultural basis for the way teaching and learning takes place currently in China. There’s been lots of criticism of CLT particularly from Asia where I recall someone describing it as a Western ’boutique’ approach. I haven’t heard the Chinese take on this so this symposium if livecast will be worth watching. The question is whether he and the audience will truly be open to understanding an approach that contravenes the established norms of what we perceive as ‘effective learning’.

Jo Gakonga: Well-known for her CELTA videos, Gakonga is currently engaged in research into feedback and has been looking at it through the lens of Brown & Levinson politeness theories in how teachers provide feedback to other teachers particularly in mentoring relationships. Her rationale for using Brown & Levinson is that it’s a framework for thinking about how you give feedback so the recipient can take it on board.  Politeness theory has two aspects: positive and negative. Positive politeness is about making people feel wanted and a part of the group and negative politeness is about making people feel that you are not telling them what to do so you decrease the possibility of rejection. Gakonga suggested that teachers could audio-record their feedback, transcribe it, and do some discourse analysis on it in order to reflect.  This seems like a really simple technique but I have to confess I’ve never used it. She also mentioned that some people find it natural to reflect on their practice and others don’t – an observation I too made on my CELTA tutor-in-training program. My supervisor and I discussed whether this could by caused by cultural factors and differences in education systems but that’s a topic to explore in another post.

Carol Read: Read is going to be talking about values education with children during the conference. Understanding values education requires us to unpack what values are (cognitive, affective, behavioural dimensions), whose values they are, and whether we are imposing these values on children or using a model of influence where children make decisions. She spoke about a gap between a child getting an awareness of values and putting it into practice in their daily lives e.g. children may understand fairness and justice but do they apply these behaviours in the playground. Read pointed out that we are never just language teachers with children but more holistic educators. In her conference workshop, she is going to be covering life skills. She thinks the most important are the ones listed in the UN’s core skills framework: critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving & decision making, communication, empathy, relating to people and resolving conflict. She believes that using everyday classroom activities such as stories and topics could enable teachers to encompass life skills training as well as language, potentially enriching language curriculum.

Pete Sharma: Sharma is one of the big names in terms of tech in ELT and incidentally he was interviewed by Nik Peachey, another tech evangelist. They discussed the potential virtual reality has for things like role play but suggested that it would be presumptious to say that something is definitely going to be the next big thing. There was an interesting aside on how tech evolves from its original intended use: Youtube was intended for dating videos and Twitter was a way for children to let their parents know where they were. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI), there’s a risk of translation devices entirely disrupting our industry. Peter argued that AI may not do away with language teaching entirely because technology may not enable you to engage with culture or literature more deeply. Peachey, however, pressed on with the question that if technology translates for you, why would you want to learn a language to which Sharma reiterated his point about both (technology and teaching) co-existing but ended with an ominous “I hope”.

Marek Kiczkowiak: Kiczkowiak is the untiring voice behind TEFL Equity. He stated that 88% of job ads in the Middle East were discriminatory. In the EU, adds now deceptive words like native-like or native-level to mask their real intent. He suggested that there was an urgent need to address these issues on pre-service courses like the CELTA. Jason Alexander who did a study with native and non-native CELTA trainees found that their needs were different. Non-native trainees often came to the course with language and teaching qualifications. He also suggested that we need to talk about the international nature of English on pre-service courses and that by not doing it, we aren’t preparing teachers for it who in turn aren’t preparing students for it. This was something I was wondering about as well while I was getting trained up on the CELTA. Kiczkowiak also touched on the lack of diversity in marketing materials which sets the wrong expectations and that there’s a need to influence the agents who are responsible for recruiting teachers and pitching courses to students.

You can catch the livecast of the IATEFL 2017 plenaries here.

Go wide & then narrow | Reflections on life, career & the future

Go wide and then narrow.jpg

Go wide and then narrow. 

I know I’ve been a wee bit quiet for a while.  Mark Armstrong was perhaps a little hasty in suggesting I was hyper-prolific.  I’ve had so very much on my plate since the beginning of the year. I came back from a holiday in Cambodia to an insane amount of work. Because I work across so many contexts, projects, and organisations, I was spread very thin; to the point of losing my sanity. I suddenly realised how stupid I’d been. I wasted years at university studying economics instead of linguistics because I’d thought I would need a career that would get me job. And here I was doing a rinse and repeat. I was delivering corporate training that I didn’t enjoy. I suddenly found myself teaching things that made no sense to me (some faff called team dynamics and some other crud about leadership). I was being bullied by the organisations I worked with. And yes it all paid really well but money as you well know isn’t everything.

The breadth of activities was useful in giving me insight into the bigger picture and making my approach more multi-disciplinary. However, ELT is where I want to be. It may seem narrow but this is the field I find most fulfilling.

Go shallow and then deep 

Regardless of what folks might say about ELT practices not being backed by adequate research, this is, in my opinion, perhaps the only field in the wide spectrum of learning-related disciplines that actually attempts to base its practices on research and tries to (truly) consider the learner experience. If you’re cynical about ELT, you ought to see the crud that passes for learning in corporate contexts. I can barely hide my sneer when I see the words ‘centre of excellence’ on a business card. An overwhelming majority of what’s on offer is thoroughly underwhelming: the latest digital learning (crappy presentations converted into elearning), on-the-go mobile learning (same crappy presentations in a mobile format), and engaging instructor-led training (crappy presentations being talked through by a Charlie who ought to have his lips sown).

Although I have worked across different ELT contexts (General English, Business English, ESP, EAP and teacher training), I feel like I’ve barely skimmed the surface. I haven’t done any formal study since my DELTA three years ago. Teacher training and materials writing are areas I want to explore more deeply.  Young learners and refugees are contexts I want to work in. I’d also like to get more involved with professional associations and other ELT collectives and churn out some papers and maybe even an ebook or two. In other words, I gotta dig deeper.

I’ve recently been approved to train CELTA courses as an Assistant Tutor, a move that will help me consolidate my portfolio of activities and facilitate the depth that I’m looking for.

Go fast and then slow

This past year has been frantic. I’ve been spread so thin that I’ve hardly had any time for myself, let alone for people I enjoy spending time with. I didn’t go the theatre, barely got any exercise, didn’t go trekking during the monsoon, didn’t participate in eclectic workshops, didn’t read as much, didn’t learn any new languages, didn’t meet new people … and the list goes on. I even spent my birthday writing training materials, albeit at a beautiful beach side hotel in Goa.

When I quit a full time job, I thought I’d have more time, not less, to do the things I love. It turns out that freelancing, especially when you have niche skills in a market full of people with generic offerings, is just a volley of clients and institutions putting pressure on you to over-commit. As a result, you end up in the perpetual fast lane and half the time you don’t know if you’re coming or going.

I just have a couple more contractual obligations to complete and then I’m taking the first exit. I’m really looking forward to 2017-18 which is going to be filled with meaningful projects, and at least half as much time with family, friends and doing things other than work.

Whereabouts are you now? Are you going wide, shallow and fast? What will it take for you to go narrow, deep and slow?

Image attribution: Dive! | Robbie Sproule | Flickr | CC by 2.0

My very first plenary presentation | Reflections

adi-rajan

Last week I co-presented a talk with a colleague at the Learning for a Sustainable Future – Teacher Conference in Delhi. It was my very first plenary presentation and there were hundreds of attendees. We were presenting our initial findings from piloting a new assessment approach (with behaviour libraries within a smartphone app) in a project we are working on in the south of India.

Here are some quick reflections with presenting to a large audience in this format for the first time.

WWW (What went well)

  • We went after someone who did a fairly high-level talk on the assessment approach  we were piloting. This really helped our presentation because many of the attendees came to me later and said that it wasn’t till they heard our experiences from the field that it all made sense to them.
  • We incorporated a task for the teachers to try their hand at crafting their own criteria, which helped make the session a bit more engaging.
  • We’d done a shorter version of the same presentation for a group of policymakers the previous day which helped us anticipate questions.
  • We constructed our presentation in a way that was of value to both teachers who are familiar with approaches to assessing non-academic skills as well as those who were completely new to the topic.

EBI (Even better if) 

  • We made it less impersonal. I reckon we kept it a bit business-like. We could have throw in some humour and perhaps taken advantage of the fact there were two of us on stage and engaged in a more natural dialogue rather than “you take this slide, I’ll take this one.”
  • We expanded on our experiences and shared more anecdotes because the audience seemed to respond to stories far more than factual information.
  • We made it even more relevant to the audience who were mostly K12 teachers. This was a bit challenging because we were merely reporting from our project which looks at assessment from the perspective of project outcomes rather than tracking progress of individual learners (which is of course what teachers are interested in). It may have been worth exploring how the teachers could have used the same assessment approach with their own learners.

During a subsequent talk, I noticed that the erudite looking woman sitting in front of me had dropped her notepad. When I was passing it back to her, she suddenly realized that I looked familiar and she said “great presentation” and then added “I shouldn’t say this, I’m a teacher after all, but you have a sexy voice.” Nonetheless, I’m dreading the prospect of watching myself (uggggghhhh) whenever the video gets uploaded to YouTube.

A smorgasbord of drama inspired activities

drama-activities

On a whim, I attended a Facilitator workshop at Adhyayan who work with schools in India and it turned out to be a lot of fun. It was facilitated by Jemima and Nina, students from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London who are in India doing workshops and working with schools as a part of their study in applied theatre. The teachers and trainers I work with are always chewing my ear off with their requests for warmers and I got a veritable smorgasbord from Jemima and Nina who were kind enough to recap all of them at the end of each day and encourage participants to adapt them for other uses.

Activities for checking in 

I liked how they used the term ‘check-in’ instead of warmer. Their rationale was that participants or students need to check in to the special micro-community at a workshop or in their school and need some way of physically transitioning into the role they’ll play in this micro-community.

  • Action introduction: Introduce yourself with an action that expresses how you feel e.g., I yawn and say “My name is Adi”. All the other participants repeat the same action and say “His name is Adi”.
  • Throw your name in a bucket: Have participants stand in a circle and ask them to imagine that there’s a big red bucket in the centre. Have them throw their names into the bucket. As they perform the action of throwing, they say their names really loudly.
  • Bing Bong Name: Participants stand in a circle and the facilitator stands inside the circle. She points at any one participant who must raise their hands and say “Bing” at a higher pitch, she then immediately points at someone else who has to drop down and say “Bong” at a lower pitch. The third person she points to must say their own name. The facilitator continues the sequence of bing, bong, name.
  • Name impulse: Get participants to sit in a circle. The facilitator is also a part of the circle. The facilitator turns to the participant to her left and says “one two three go”. The participant must then say her own name to the person to her left as quickly as possible. This person then says his own name etc. For example, Abha, Neel, Sarita, Hema, Varun etc.  Once the participants have had a go at it, ask them how much time they  think they can complete a full circle in and then ask them to beat the clock. The facilitator times them as they complete the name impulse circle. Now suggest that there are two teams, team A (the circle to the left of the facilitator) and team B (the circle to the right of the facilitator). Get both teams to compete against each other – this is tricky because the names will need to cross at some point. Time them and announce the winning team. Then, ask team A to raise their hands, and then team B (obviously, everyone will raise their hands for both teams) and applaud all participants for winning and beating the clock.
  • Impulse clap: Exactly the same as name impulse but participants pass along a clap.
  • Line up alphabetically: Ask participants to line up alphabetically without speaking to each other and then form a circle. I know this warmer but I hadn’t realised how apt it was for beginning a workshop and challenging participants to remember each others’ names.
  • Likes & dislikes: Have participants stand in a circle. Each participant introduces the person to her left by saying “This is Rhea. She likes reading, and she dislikes rainy days”. They are allowed to make up the other person’s likes and dislikes but the first letter/sound of the like or dislike must be the same as the person’s name. What I liked about this simple activity is how it subtly suggests to learners that there is no right or wrong answer.
  • An object you are: Ask participants to describe themselves as an object using the words “If I were an object, I would be a …” Participants then introduce themselves using this sentence with an appropriate action.

Activities for introducing the topic 

  • Post-its: Each participant writes five qualities of, for example, a facilitator. She then works with a partner to whittle the 10 they have collectively down to five. Participants then share their qualities in a whole class discussion while a volunteer records their items in a collaborative mindmap.

Activities for energising 

  • Boom chicka boom: My absolute favourite. It’s a call response style chant. This YouTube video suggests that it’s meant for kids but I’m going to use it with adults – it’s too much fun to pass up.

I said Boom chicka boom

I said Boom chicka boom

I said Boom chicka rocka chicka rocka chicka boom

Ah haan

Oh Yeah

One more time

Say it (quietly/loudly/opera style/in an English accent/grandma style/rap style

  • Hee Haw Ho: Get everyone standing in a circle. Place your palms together and stretch out your hands pointing at someone across the circle while saying HEE. The person across the circle places her palms together and stretches her hands above her head while saying HAW. The two people adjacent to her place their palms together sideways as if chopping wood and chop away at the HAW person while saying HO. the HAW person then points to someone else and says HEE and so on. Make sure everyone is saying the sounds with a lot of energy.
  • Sssss… strawberry: Participants stand in a circle with the facilitator in the middle. The facilitator points to one of the participants and says Ssssstrawberry. This participant must say “Strawberry” before the facilitator completes the utterance. However, if the facilitator points to someone and only says “strawberry”, they mustn’t say anything.
  • Number swap: Make chits with numbers on them, as many as there are participants. Everyone stands in a circle with one person in the middle. Announce the range of numbers e.g., there are 14 participants so we have 14 numbers. The person in the middle calls out a pair of numbers from this range except her own such as 4 and 12. Participants who have these chits need to discretely indicate to each other that they have these numbers and swap places without the person in the middle grabbing one of their spots. Introduce challenge into the activity by asking the person to call out two or three pairs. Periodically ask participants to place all the chits in the middle and take new ones. You might need to mark out positions using chalk or some such.
  • Swapping places: Everyone stands in a circle. A pair of participants make eye contact and swap places without speaking. There should only be one pair swapping at any point of time. Then ask two pairs to swap simultaneously, then three or more. Participants are still not allowed to talk to each other and must coordinate non-verbally through eye contact.
  • Banana song: This call-response chant was shared by one of the participants at the workshop. The children dance along while repeating the words, acting out the verbs.

Peel banana, peel peel banana

Chop banana, chop chop banana

Eat banana, eat eat banana

Smash banana, smash smash banana

Shake banana, shake shake banana

  • Zip zap boing: Participants stand in a circle. One person sort of claps his hands together to the person to his right while saying ZIP. This person can pass the ZIP along to the person to her right by saying ZIP. She could also pass it to someone across the circle by pointing using both hands and saying ZAP. Participants can also BOING in response to a ZIP to change its direction. The action for boing is a bit like a bit of wound up spring with your hands in the air. Here’s the confusing bit: you can’t boing a boing, boing a zap, zap a boing or zap a zap.
  • Zombie: Participants stand in a circle with one person in the middle who is the zombie. In the first variation of this activity, the zombie puts her arms out and approaches one of the participants in the circle. This participant needs to make eye contact with someone else who says their own name out loud. The zombie then changes directions with a near target. The trick is to make eye contact and get someone to say their own name before zombie gets to you. In the second variation, the person being targeted by the zombie says someone else’s name to get the zombie to change directions.
  • 7-up: Participant sit or stand in a circle. Each person says a number in sequence: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 but the seventh person says 7-up while placing their hand on their head. The direction of the hand indicates who should start counting again from 1 (the person to the left or right). Now ask participants to choose another number and replace it with a sound. As the group gets progressively confident, get them to replace one more number with an action.
  • Jump in, jump out: Participants jump in to the circle when you say “jump in”. They must repeat your words. Get them used to the other instructions “jump out”, “jump left” and “jump right”. Then introduce some complexities: do the opposite of what I say, but say what I say; do what I say but the say the opposite of what I say etc.
  • Who stole the cookie: This is a call response chat. Get it started along with some accompanying actions like slapping the front of your thighs, clicks and claps and then progressively introduce the rest of the chant.

Everyone: Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar

Everyone: Tina stole the cookie from the cookie jar

Tina: Who me?

Everyone: Yes you!

Tina: Couldn’t be!

Everyone: Then who?

Tina: Amit stole the cookie from the cookie jar.

Amit: Who me?

etc.

Activities for sharing

  • The sun always shines on … : Participants stand in a circle with one person in the middle. The person in the middle says “The sun always shines on people …” and completes the sentence with something that is true about themselves such as “… people with black hair”. Everyone with black hair then swaps places. The person in the middle will need to run and grab someone else’s spot so that there’s a new person in the middle. Once participants have got used to the procedure, ask them to share deeper things about themselves. For example, in a teacher training context, you could say “The sun always shines on teachers who feel nervous before walking into a new classroom”.
  • Agree disagree compass: Ask participants to imagine that there’s a compass in the room and the directions read ‘agree’, ‘strongly agree’, ‘disagree’ and ‘strongly disagree’. Read out statements and ask participants to move to different sides of the room. Ask them to share their reasons or experiences.

Activities for connecting & collaborating 

  • Ribbon shapes: Get a long length of ribbon and tie it so it becomes a circle. Ask participants to hold a piece of the ribbon and form a perfect circle. Challenge them to create different shapes such as triangles, squares, rectangles, and pentagons without placing it on the ground while working with some constraints. The constraints you could impose include not talking to each other, eyes closed or both.
  • Routes: I blogged about a similar activity drawn from the improv repertoire several years ago. Get everyone standing in a circle.
    • Introduce route 1: Have all the participants raise their hands. The facilitator calls out the name of a participant who lowers her hand. This process continues until all hands are lowered. The last person to get called needs to say the facilitator’s name. Now, get participants to become comfortable and quicker with this route (no more raising or lowering of hands).
    • Introduce route 2: Stop route 1 and introduce a new route. Ask participants to raise their hands. The facilitator walks to a participant who then walks to someone else etc. until all hands are raised. Point out that this route does not involve talking. Now, get participants to become comfortable and quicker with this route (no more raising or lowering of hands). If participants find themselves adjacent each other, encourage them to visibly walk out in a loop so it’s clear that movement has happened.
    • Merge routes 1 & 2: Start route 1 again and once participants have become comfortable with it, introduce route 2 so there are two routes running concurrently.
    • If participants are able to crack this challenge, introduce subsequent routes such as throwing a ball.
  • Tower building: Standard tower building with a twist. Give the participants blutac, paper clips and post-its. Give them a couple of minutes to plan how they’ll build a tower using these resources. At the end of the planning time, take one participant from each group who took on a leadership role and swap them. Give participants time to build their freestanding towers. Ask them to then reflect on how swapping their team members may have affected their performance.
  • Balloon pop: Ask participants to blow a balloon each and name them. Participant share the names of their balloons. Announce that they have three minutes at the end of which they must have safeguarded their balloons then handout thumb tacks. Debrief by asking participants why they did what they did and how the act of naming the balloon made you feel far worse when your balloon was popped.
  • Yes let’s: Anyone in the group can use the stem” Let’s (fly like airplanes) and go for a whirl around the room. Everyone else responds by saying “Yes let’s” and does similar actions around the room. Participants can spontaneously come up with their own Let’s statements.

Activities for language development 

  • ABC: Each participant has to share a sentence with the format of Person, Thing and Place starting from the same letter such as Adi sells apples in Amsterdam. The facilitator stands in the middle and points to people and says a letter. This person needs to quickly make a sentence with three nouns (person, thing, place) starting from the same letter.
  • Picture drawing: You’ll need two copies of the same picture for this activity. It’s probably better to have a picture that has lots of different elements and characters in it. We had a stylized illustration from a children’s book with lots of children and animals at a zoo. Divide your class into two groups and select a volunteer in each group. The picture is given to the volunteer but she is not allowed to share it with the rest of the group. One group asks only close ended questions of their volunteer who must answer using only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. The group then tries to draw what they think the picture contains from these responses. The other group is allowed to only ask open ended questions. This group must also draw what they think the picture looks like. While debriefing, elicit how important it is to ask a combination of both open and close ended questions while facilitating, and how the two serve different purposes and often work in tandem in getting a discussion going.

Activities for going on a breaking

  • Lunch fish: Tell participants that they look hungry but they’ll need to first catch a fish for lunch. Place one hand horizontally in front of you (this is the water line), and use your other hand to mime a fish poking around for food. Tell participants to clap at the same time to catch the fish when it comes to the surface.

Activities for coming back from a break 

  • Aah sound: Suggest that the letter A or sound aah can be said in many ways. Demonstrate some. then ask participants to turn to the person to their right and express how they are feeling at that point using some form of the Aah sound. Now ask them to turn to the person to the left and do the sound that was just shared with them. Then, get the participants to stand up. Everyone collectively throws their sound into the middle of the circle.

Activities for gaining attention

  • Ensemble clap: Tell participants that they must watch you and clap at the same time. Bring your hands close together and clap when they are least expecting it. Challenge them to watch you closely and clap at the same time.

Activities for storytelling 

  • Three person image: Participants stand in a circle and spontaneously become parts of an emerging story. Participant A comes into the centre and takes up position and says something like “I’m a gecko on the classroom wall”. Participant B then joins A in the centre and says “I’m the fly the gecko is trying to catch”. Finally participant C joins them and says “I’m the little boy who is more interested in the gecko than in the lesson.”
  • Whoosh: You’ll need to prepare a story with lots of characters. Participants stand in a circle. As you read the story and introduce characters, tap participants on their shoulders. Participants enter the circle enact the story being read as one of the characters. Prime the participants to notice when your fist goes up in the air because that means they all need to do an old-style toilet flushing motion while saying WHOOSH. Participants in the centre head back and the facilitator continues reading the story while selecting new participants to play characters.
  • Freeze frame: Ask participants to work in pairs to share a positive or a negative teaching experience or similar. Then re-pair participants and ask them to share the stories they heard. Re-pair participants once again and ask them to choose from the four stories they now have (besides their own). They should role play the story and select a visual frame from it that they can share with the group. Get each pair to come up and set up this visual frame. Ask the other participants to describe the frame by first using “I see” statements followed by “I think” statements. The facilitator then taps each of the ‘actors’ in the frame and asks them to share what the person in the story is thinking at that point. Then ask the pair to validate what was shared.

Warm up exercises for process drama

  • Lead with your …: Ask participants walk around but being lead by different parts of the body. Announce the first prompt: lead with your nose, then gradually bring in others, let your elbows lead you, your knees, your shoulders etc. Walk slow, walk faster, higher, lower. Ask participants how this might change their ‘character’.
  • Exploring voices: Ask participants to make for example a pirate noise and walk around making this noise. Introduce layers: do it quieter, louder, shriller etc.

Activities for reflecting 

  • I am sentences: Ask participants to think about their identity at the moment and write as many sentences as possible starting each with the stem “I am”. Give them a couple of minutes. Then ask them to write sentences about someone in their profession who they look up to using the stem “S/he is”. Lastly ask participants to think of a child who has made a big impact on them using the “This child is”. Get participants to analyse their sentences for patterns, commonalities and surprises.

Activities for closing

  • Hooked thumb circles: I don’t know what to call this one. Ask participants to form a small tight circle, placing on their right hand towards the centre, palm down, thumb out to the left. Ask participants to now close their fingers around their neighbour’s thumb. You’ll have a really tight circle kinda like the one in this picture. Ask each participant to share one take-away from the session.

Image attribution: Backstage – The artists of Kathakali by Sreeram Narayan | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0