It is that time of year again when thousands of teachers and students head back to their classrooms, possibly enthused by the potential of a new school year but also somewhat anxious. As I see it, the first days of school are among the most exciting moments. Meeting my new students is always exhilarating and I take particular care to ensure that their first impression is a most positive one. Here is an activity that I have tried and tested successfully at the beginning of the scholastic year.
Whole Class Discussion Based on Short Film Extracts
Time: Approximately 1 hour
We started the activity by watching two episodes of Virago in class. Virago is an online series, led by the actress Aude Gogny-Goubert, and it portrays women who took important actions in their life. Each episode lasts about 3 to 4 minutes and is realised in a humorous and dynamic way, Aude GG playing both the role of a chronicler and of the woman character. At the end of each video, I asked my students the following questions:
The students were invited to answer the questions on post-its on the board. We read them all together, and followed with a whole group discussion:
Here are a few comments my students came up with at the end of this discussion: :
Time: 30 minutes
Secondly, I invited the students to stand in pairs for a first step towards teamwork. Since the aim of the activity is to break the ice and meet with each other, I didn’t let them choose their mate.
The pairs were invited to follow these instructions:
You are a journalist, and you have to conduct an interview with your classmate. Each of you will have to find out the following information about your partner:
I advised all the students to take precise notes of what was said.
Partly in class, partly out of school…
Once all the students had their interviews done, I mixed up the pairs to make groups of three students (four if necessary). I paid attention to the fact that no one would be in the same group as before. Here is what I asked them to do:
For each interview, you will create a short film inspired by Virago’s format (1 minute-film maximum), which will present your classmate and his or her achievement. In each group, there will be:
The roles have to be distributed among the group participants and can either be fixed or flexible.
The students had 10 days to make the videos and were finally asked to send the final products to me by email
Watching the Videos
Time: A few minutes at the beginning of the lesson over several weeks.
The final step was to watch all the mini-documentaries in class – two or three videos at a time at the beginning of the lessons, in order to create a convivial climate in the class.
At the end of the whole session, I facilitated a debriefing with the students around the following questions:
When talking about “meeting the students”, I usually thought about my meeting them. But I realized that one of the first classes of the year could also be an occasion for the students to meet, not only as friends or classmates but as work partners, belonging to the same team. With this activity, I wanted to enable them to discover classmates with whom they wouldn’t spontaneously have talked. Furthermore, being presented by someone else and having the responsibility to present someone else can be as much a way of strengthening contacts between the students as a way to give food for thought about truthful representations.
During this activity, the students were engaged in different working methods that will be used during the year: whole class discussion, pair work, and cooperative group work.
By presenting actions the students are proud of, this activity emphasizes everyone’s strengths. It shows that everyone is able to succeed. his is necessary in order to boost the students’ motivation at the beginning of the year.
Secondly, the actions presented often take place outside of the school. This shows to the students that I am also interested in what they do beyond my lessons.
“Tous extraordinaires!” aims at presenting one another, but it also gave the students an occasion to use several skills and competences. Active listening and curiosity, when it comes to discussing and gathering information about a classmate; oral expression, when it comes to expressing one’s idea or acting it out in front of the camera; analysis and creativity for what concerns the final Virago-like production.
Some colleagues and friends who had a look at my project to give me some feedback raised two questions about it. Here they are, and the answer I gave them.
First, what if some students refuse to talk about about themselves or say that they never accomplished anything that they could be proud of? Actually, I had to face this situation with one of my students. This gave me the opportunity to have a first informal talk with her, to see if I could help her. In the end, since she couldn’t find anything she was proud of, I ended up telling her that it didn’t matter for the activity, but that she would still be free to tell a story of her own if ever she could think about anything in the future. This helped me realize that I have to pay extra attention to this student and find ways to make her more confident. Secondly, what if some students produce videos that might mock the others or present a provocative action? Since the students have to email me the videos, I’ll be able to screen such behaviours in advance. Tensions, conflicts, mockeries are things happening in a class. I think that it is better to face them as soon as possible. There again, my intention would be to lead a discussion with the students.
In any case, what I hope through this activity is to develop a good relationship with every student and promote dialogue, curiosity, respect and cooperation to build a good community that can solve eventual problems together.
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