I recently attended an English conference for secondary and primary teachers, in my county. It was a fantastic day and not just because of the rare opportunity for a trip out. One of the sessions I attended was called Active Learning in Literacy and focussed on interactive activities to improve student talk in the classroom. One of these activities involved playing with dice. Now I am really quite lazy, so when it comes to making resources, if I can’t create it on my laptop, then I usually don’t bother. However, I really liked this idea because it managed to inspire a group of cynical teachers, during their post-lunch-slump, to talk with enthusiasm. And if it did that, then I believe it might just work with my year 10s.
The activity: Each group was given a foam dice, with a plastic cover over it. There were slips of paper on each side of the foam dice. On these slips were the pictures of six different characters from a short book (that we had read at the beginning of the session). We were then asked ‘What would the character say?’ and when we rolled the dice, had to write a relevant sentence for the character we ‘rolled’. After that, we shared our sentences and discussed which ones we agreed with or disagreed with, before extending our sentences.
What I really liked about this activity were the possibilities it presented. It was a fun way-in to discussing our inferences about characters in the text but the potential for use in different contexts is huge. I can see this working with comments from the perspective of different characters in a novel; comments about quotations from a text; comments about themes from a text; and many more. It could also easily be differentiated, with more challenging quotations/ perspectives given to more able groups of students. Most importantly, as we all know, meaningful student talk helps to create meaningful student writing.
I have now adapted this activity to use in the next few weeks with my year 10s, when we study ‘Of Mice and Men.’ I am sticking to a character focus to begin with and will use it as a starter after studying chapter 4 (with Curley’s Wife, Crooks, Lennie, Candy, George and Steinbeck as the dice-sides). Hopefully it will help my students to engage with the different perspectives in the novel and begin to unravel the different tensions at this point in the story.
With any luck, this dice-game will be a safe bet.
Naomi Hursthouse, October 2012