Silent Post-it Chats

How do you get a class of over 30 students to really communicate with each other in a way that involves everyone and doesn’t cause chaos in the confined space of a classroom? This clearly is one of the challenges I feel myself most often confronted with in my daily routine as an English teacher.
A few months ago I tried some sort of analogue chatroom activity based on Post-it notes and it worked very well. In fact, I’ve tried the same method again since and have played around with it a little.

Now here’s what I did…
We were discussing the role of the English language in the world and one of the students asked if there still was any need for learning a foreign language other than English. I thought this was a question worth discussing so I played the ball back to the class.
I handed out Post-it notes and divided the class in groups of 4 to discuss the question. The aim was to create a real-time ‘chat’ using the post-its to post individual arguments and comments on the walls of the classroom. The students would stick their posts just underneath the one before them, thus creating a thread of posts. Talking was not allowed during the activity.
There were 20 minutes of intense concentration that produced a lot of good arguments and – best of all – a lot of good language.

Now, keeping students occupied communicating for 20 minutes is alright, but…
There are several ways of taking this activity further. The most obvious is working with emerging language in a dogme style approach. While the students are ‘chatting’ walk around the room taking notes of emerging language to focus on later. Select vocab/patterns you find useful and write it on the board. Explain the language to your students and do some spontaneous exercises.
A good follow up could also be to let students write a quick summary of their chat or even present it in class.
Post-it chats can can also replace a first brainstorming for writing an essay. Let the class create clusters/clouds from the posts re-arranging them in a mindmapping sort of style. Students should be given the time to read through the rearranged posts and make a thorough plan for an essay that has to be written at home.
By using different colours for individual students you are also to work on or assess communication skills.

Advanced Post-it chats
An advanced version of this activity would give the thread the possibilty to branch into subthreads creating a growing post-it tree.

UPDATE: Her is an example of a thread made of sticky notes created by four of my students during a warm-up phase in which they could choose their discussion topics. Before the lesson started I had arranged the tables in the classroom in a way that suited groups of four. On each table I layed a piece of paper on which I had written a question for the students to talk about. When they entered the room they could choose a table to sit at / a topic to talk about. One table had an empty sheet of paper for students who wanted to choose their topic all by themselves.

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