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Chat: Tips for use in the classroom

December 16, 2008 by Doug Worsham

A great chat, like any lesson, requires some planning beforehand, some good decisions during the class, and a little help from your friends at each step along the way. After observing a number teachers lead successful chats, we’ve compiled this list of tips on both teaching and technology, to help you make your chat sessions great.

Why hold a chat session with your students?

Chatting online has two benefits.  First, it is an informal and quick medium requiring students to activate their knowledge in a social context, much as they will need to in contexts outside the classroom.  Second, it leaves behind social barriers that occur in the traditional classroom, such as when students feel uncomfortible speaking up in front of other classmates, so that there can be more fluid and lively dialog among students.  Since one can usually pause to think more acceptibly during a chat, and edit one's post before sending it, it is perfect for subjects requiring lots of new and challenging vocabulary.

Getting your class ready to chat with each other

Conducting a successful chat requires more than making sure the equipment works. Here are some strategies that we've seen instructors use to prepare a class for a great chat.

Teaching tips

  • Review - Remember that you don’t have to jump directly into the chat. You can start with a short review, to help students remember the language, ideas, or skills they'll need in the chat. Some instructors start with short warm-up games, others try a pair or whole class discussion to help students review before the chat. Another technique is to have students work in pairs or small groups to generate a list of questions they want to ask during the chat.

  • Rationale - We've found that students often perform better when they understand why they're chatting. Some instructors use a short discussion of the rationale, or the reasons for the chat, as a way to warm students up for the chat itself. Other teachers like to wait until after the chat to talk about the rationale with the students. Either way, it usually takes less than a minute and really helps students to walk away from the chat with an understanding of its benefits and a renewed respect for their clever, cutting-edge teacher!
  • Anticipate student needs - In some classes the students have called out questions to the teacher verbally, in others the students type a message in the chat to the teacher or their peers to ask a question. Let your students know beforehand how you'd like them to ask for help. Some teachers even do a quick review of help questions to make it easier for students stay in the target language throughout the class.
  • Groups - You may want to organize your students into groups so that they are chatting with only a few other people.  Typically you'll want to organize them randomly into groups so they talk to people they are unfamiliar with.

Technology Tips

  • Get the instructor's computer set up before the chat starts
    - Take the time to set up the instructor’s computer and get signed in to all the groups before your students start chatting.
  • Get help from the AV Pool
    - If you need additional help, ask the lab attendant in the AV pool to assist you. The AV Pool lab attendants are familiar with the chat and can help you and your students get started.

During the chat

Teaching tips

  • Have a plan - Participating in a single chat room can cause sensory overload as you try to keep track of the multiple strands of the conversation. Watching five chats at the same time, while also trying to think about good pedagogy is too much for anyone. The key here is to have a plan for dealing with the language you'll see in the chat. Here are some questions to think about:
    • How will you deal with errors? Is your focus more on fluency or accuracy in this activity? Do you want to deal with errors by explicitly pointing them out, modeling the correct forms, or ignoring them during the chat and going over them afterwards? If you are responding to errors during the chat, which errors are most important?
    • How will you deal with language they shouldn't be using (such as their first language, in a foriegn language chat)?
    • How involved do you want to be in the chat? Will your students benefit more if you take the role of a discussion leader? An equal participant? A language helper? Or a silent observer?

After the chat

Teaching tips

  • Consider leaving time for a follow-up activity - In many of the chats we've seen, the students chat right up to the minute the bell rings. This seems great, because often the students are really enjoying the chat, but unfortunately, they don't get a chance to use their newfound confidence as communicators in a face-to-face discussion. Improving the ability to talk face-to-face is the ultimate goal of a chat, so it can be useful to give the students some sort of
    follow-up activity that lets them try to accomplish orally some of what they've accomplished in the chat.
  • Think about how to use those chat logs - One of the amazing things about chat is that it gives you some real insight into your student’s communicative competence. Chat logs are also a rich source of materials for future lessons. Sentence auctions, error-hunts, and info-gaps are just a few of the many activities you can use to follow up on a chat. The most important thing here is to be sensitive about sharing your student’s writing. Some teachers block out or change students' names, most ask students beforehand to make sure it is OK.

Technology tips

  • Leave some time to log the chat - The chat logs will be an interesting record of student performance, so leave a few minutes to copy and paste the chat logs into a word document or your email for later review.

For additional assistance in preparing a successful chat, please contact Theresa Pesavento at theresa@lss.wisc.edu.

Also, if you have any other tips or feedback on chatting, please let LSS know!

 

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