It's January– you're tired, they're tired. Routines have started feeling...routine...and the same old challenges that you've been dealing with since the fall are starting to feel really old.
Now is a particularly great time of year to be predictable in expectations but unpredictable in planning. Instead of starting the next unit or chapter and working through the same predictable lesson plan patterns, put classroom life on hold for a day and do something crazy!
What is a Wacky Chat?
From time to time, a set of questions will circulate amongst my Facebook friends: 10-30 fairly random questions that are fun to answer and create connections between friends. Wacky Chat is that, applied to the classroom context. Basically, you're asking somewhat random, probably bizarre questions to your students (or to a group of your students).
Whereas a Special Person Interview has historically been used to create connections between students through sharing fairly standard personal information (how many siblings, birthdate, house color, etc.), and Weekend Chat gives students a chance to talk about their lives, Wacky Chat gives students a chance to laugh and be goofy.
Wacky Chat Questions
The key to a good Wacky Chat is a zany list of questions. These questions don't have to be inherently weird (although they could be); just... unexpected. Here are some examples:
- What color is your toothbrush?
- Is your left foot or your right foot a little bigger? Or are they exactly the same?
- What is the best kind of cereal?
- Would you rather have an extra finger or an extra toe?
- What were you doing 45 minutes ago?
How to lead a Wacky Chat
Wacky Chat is a communicative activity: all students will be engaged in interpretation, expression, and possibly negotiation of meaning (BVP's definition). If you want students to communicate with you and with each other, however, you've got to make sure that they understand both the questions and the developing conversation. Successful communication requires comprehension!
What kinds of questions to ask?
Before you begin, decide whether you want to ask "Confident" questions or "Stretch" questions!
What is a Confident question?
"Confident" questions are those questions that I am CONFIDENT that my students will be able to understand WITH CONFIDENCE and to which they will be able to express an answer in the target language WITH CONFIDENCE (whether a word, phrase, or complete sentence.)
What is a Stretch question?
Stretch questions are those questions that are a stretch for students to understand and respond to: questions that require a little bit of extra support for communication to happen!
Confident or Stretch: which to ask?
Asking Confident questions leverages comedic pacing: Wacky Questions are usually the most fun to ask and answer when the questions strikes us as funny (perhaps because of its randomness) and when the subjects respond quickly with the first thing that comes to mind. Confident questions allow students to interpret the questions quickly and with ease and recognize the fact that a question is random.
When you ask stretch questions, you run the risk of sucking the fun out of the activity. Sometimes, the work (establishing meaning) takes so much time and effort that the comedic value of the question is lost: you had to work so hard to help students understand it that the question is not fun anymore.
So, how to ask a Stretch question such that it's still fun?
- Make it a SMALL stretch. Ask a question that only includes one or two words or constructions that will be a STRETCH for your students to understand. Embed what students don't know in a context that they do understand. It's easy to establish meaning for one word or phrase without sacrificing the momentum of the conversation.
- Repeat the same stretch. Ask questions that share a linguistic feature. For example, in a single sitting ask a set of "Would you rather" questions, "Have you ever" questions, or "What were you doing" questions? To further facilitate comprehension, use the same verb with the question frame! The first question in the series might feel laborious, but each question after can be asked and answered with greater confidence and improved comedic pacing.
You're hopefully seeing that planning your questions is key! As you look over lists of possible questions, note which ones are confident and can be asked anytime. Then, group together stretch questions by common feature. Ask them in the same class period, or ask one per day for a series of class periods!
Choose a format
After you have an idea of which questions you'll ask, determine how you are going to ask the questions to your students. The format is largely dependent on the kinds of questions that you plan to ask your students!
Formats for 'confident' questions
If you plan to ask CONFIDENT questions during your Wacky Chat–questions that your students will be able to understand and respond to with confidence–you have a lot of flexibility in format. You might share the questions in one of these ways:
- Whole-class discussion
- Personal Interview
- Gallery Walk
- Paper survey (a question page for students to fill out)
- Quiz Quiz Trade
Formats for stretch questions
If you plan to ask questions that your students might not understand or to which they might have trouble responding in the target language, plan to ask your wacky questions in front of the whole class, question by question. As you do, you can take time to establish meaning for unfamiliar words and linguistic patterns and support students in expressing their response in the target language.
Stand at the front of the room and ask each question to the whole class, à la Personalized Questions and Answers (PQA). Take time to support comprehension using techniques like translation, gesture, contrasting meaning, and asking circling questions.
When students want to contribute a response, allow them to do so however they can. Depending on your convictions and their skills, you might accept answers that are expressed...
- in complete sentences.
- as single words.
- with disjointed phrases.
- in English.
- using gesture.
The important thing is for students to be able to share their answer quickly– so let them communicate in such a way they can actually communicate! Once their answer has been expressed and understood–in some format–YOU can reframe it in the target language and make it understandable to the rest of the class.
Run the Wacky Chat as a twist on a Special Person interview, with one student at the front of the room as the subject of the conversation. You can still reflect each question to the rest of the students in the class, thereby providing students with that repeated exposure to language that maximizes linguistic processing and intake.
Panel Interview: my preference!
Class Discussions and Personal Interviews are great, but my preference for a Wacky Chat is the Panel Interview format. Place five chairs or stools at the front of your room, and pick five students to sit in them (you could choose your students strategically, ask for volunteers, or draw names out of a popsicle stick cup).
Starting with a different panelist each time, ask the same question to everyone on the panel. Really take your time with the first student, making sure that all panelists and all audience members understand the question. Then, move more quickly through the Q&A with remaining students. You'll be maximizing comprehension even as you stretch students, and the pacing can still be sufficient to keep the activity feeling silly.
PRO TIP: Use projectable slides to further support comprehension. Get 80+ question slides here!
Give it a try!
Sound like fun? Well, that's because it is! Download our list of 80 questions and read through all of them. Plan out which questions you'll ask (based on what your students can understand and do with the language), choose a Wacky Chat format, and hop to it! Create connections with your students as you share laughs and learn unexpected and random facts about each other. Have FUN!
When you're done, you might want to try these similar activities: