Post now updated with post-data – see bottom of entry.

I have often been disappointed at the reaction that some students have had to activities I’ve prepared, especially the ones I’ve been excited about. I once tried to do an activity with eighth graders that was essentially an improvisational exercise utilizing an understanding of the four types of sentences – declarative, exclamatory, interrogative, imperative – based on an improv bit that was done on the late great improv show Whose Line Is It, Anyway? where the participants are given a certain type of sentence and can only use that type of sentence to carry on a dialogue. (The Whose Line? bit focused on questions, and they also did something similar with song titles.) I thought it would be fun and it would engage current knowledge – well, it bombed, badly. Part of it was a lack of understanding of what they needed to do, and part of it (I think) was a lack of motivation to be creative.

So when I started planning an activity today, I decided to temper my enthusiasm with a little cynicism about how well it will be received.

A brief explanation: We’re covering speeches in my sophomore English class, starting with informative speeches. I wanted to focus on the nonverbal elements today, but I decided to take a different approach than I did with my juniors, where I simply gave them the material verbally. Think about that for a minute: I used verbal communication almost exclusively to deliver material about nonverbal communication. If that isn’t wrongheaded, I don’t know what is.

Thus my idea for today was conceived: give the students an opportunity to present the material to each other nonverbally. You can think of it as sort of teaching-by-charades, except that verbal communication is acceptable (and sometimes necessary) to present the various elements of nonverbal communication (NVC). For instance, one of the elements I want students to be aware of is pitch/tone, specifically to avoid monotone speaking. It will be essential that the student speak in order to convey this issue.

I have an envelope right now of a dozen or so different NVC elements that students will choose at random and then take a few seconds to figure out how to deliver without stating them directly. It’s a chance for students to get a little creative and crazy with the class in a (hopefully) productive way.

So here are my ratings of this activity:

  • Personal satisfaction: 8 out of 10
  • Student satisfaction (ideal): 6 out of 10
  • Student satisfaction (probable): 4 out of 10

We’ll see if I’m wrong or I’ve understated how they’ll respond; it might also depend on the class and the individual students. I’m still hopeful, but I’m not going to get my hopes up – they have been dashed too often for me to feel too confident about the activity for the first time.

Go on, sophomores – prove me wrong. Let’s have some fun.

Update (15:16, 10/27): My final assessment after using this activity – about 5-6 out of 10. Better than hoped, but not as good as my initial assessment. I think that this approach to activities I really like might be somewhat more realistic.

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