For the second installment of my lesson plan category, I want to share one of my most popular lessons: speed-dating. Obviously, I’m talking about an activity using a speed-dating format, not real speed dating. That would probably be a disaster.
Here’s how it’s done:
Usually, this activity has students arranged in two circles, one inside the other, like a doughnut. Students discuss a topic for an allotted time before moving one space to the left or right. Only the students in one of the circles should move, periodically giving everyone a new partner.
Because of the way my classroom was set up, I changed it just a little. I actually had students form two lines. After a student reached the final chair, he or she would walk back to the designated starting chair on the other side of the room. This format allows students to work as undefined small groups instead of pairs. New students would arrive to have a conversation with other nearby students. As the moved, however, they would gradually join new conversations that were geographically closer to them. It took the pressure off the students to have constant one-on-one conversations, but still allowed them to speak with many different faces. It made the transitions from one partner to another partner very smooth.
The first advantage is that it maximizes student talk-time. With lectures or bigger groups, only one person can speak at a time. The pairs/groups are small enough that students can’t silently hide behind the more talkative students and with dozens of conversations going on at once, everyone gets plenty of talk-time.
Students tend to sit together in groups that are not always ideal for learning. In my English Corners, the all-stars tend to sit together. At another table, the less advanced students join forces with the introverted students. There is always a group of noisy boys. Finally there’s my “gaggle of giggling girls” who always sit on the right. I find that if I mix the groups up, especially among sexes, it works better. Advanced students help others, participation goes up, and classroom management issues go down. But I don’t always like to be the bad guy who breaks up families. This is a great way to sidestep that issue. After the activity starts, students will gradually move away and new members will be introduced. Even if a group stays together on one side, the focus is the interaction with the student across from them, not their friends.
This lesson is fun. My students are pretty social, so it’s comes naturally to them. Better yet, I can pick the content; I offer them a creative or humorous subject and they run with it. It avoids dull worksheets, lectures, or dreary exercises that everyone has tried before. The lesson is easily customizable to any subject matter. It’s also great for teaching specific material. I’ve done it twice. The first time I made it into a kind of mini-debate. The moving side had one position and the other side had the opposing view. The second time, I focused on giving advice. I paired it with a short lesson on sentences like, “in my opinion…” and “I think you should…” This helped them with a specific grammar construction but still allowed them to be creative with their solutions.
Finally, if any student isn’t participating it is easy to pick them out and subtly address it with him or her. With speed dating, if one student is sitting silently while everyone talks around him or her, they are really going to stick out. I can then wonder over and discuss the topic with students on an individual basis. It’s more difficult in small or large groups to address one student who needs a little encouragement.
It gets LOUD. I taught this lesson in a corner, which didn’t help. The echoes added to the already boisterous students all talking at once. Both times I taught this lesson, all the Chinese teachers poked their heads out of the office to see what all the noise was about. Chinese classrooms tend to be rigorously policed for silence and discipline, so my Western style is not always fully understood. Both times, Camille, one of the course consultants, came to check out the racket. She kind of paced around the edge of the class looking worried for a solid 3 minutes. It was her subtle way of telling me to quiet them down. My solution to this was to be an adult and pretend I didn’t see her. The students were having self-directed fun, learning, being creative, and speaking in English all at once. That’s teaching nirvana for the small cost of Camille’s Chinese sensibilities. Since I’m the only teacher, it’s not like my lesson was disrupting other classes. However, other teachers might have to police the noise a little more.
I can only think of one other downside to this lesson. I had to move some tables and chairs around. This is much easier if I get to the classroom early and move them before the students arrive and sit down.
I recommend moving students every 3-5 minutes for an hour-long class. Conversations should be fast. If students are having particularly good time with one of the topics, allow 5-7 minutes. I also change topics every time the students move. That way there is always a fresh conversation. I only need about 10 topics to fill an hour-long class, allowing for some time to set up, explain the activity, and wind down.
Use PowerPoint, if you can. I find it impossible to interrupt the class every 3 minutes to explain a new topic. Using paper handouts is wasteful and tends to distract the students. Inevitably, someone will use the wrong topic or get confused. With PowerPoint, students can reference the display as needed. It’s easy to make 10 quick slides with one-sentence discussion topics.
I start with something easy like, “I want to lose 5kgs. What should I do?” to get them started. After that, I might then move onto something more fun challenging to their creativity. Hopefully this is helpful to some teachers out there. Below are some of my PowerPoint slides to give you some ideas. Enjoy!