One of my favorite activities to do in an intermediate communication skills class is an interview circle because it not only keeps the students actively speaking and listening the entire class period, but we can also practice several other skills.
How It Works
Arrange half of the desks in a circle with their backs facing the center of the circle and the front facing the walls of the classroom – i.e. the opposite of a discussion circle. This first circle is the inner circle. For the outer circle, place a desk facing each desk of the inner circle. The students who sit in the inner circle are the interviewers, and they are to remain in their seats for the first half of the activity. The students in the outer circle will rotate desks every few minutes.
The interviewers have one question to ask each student who rotates through the desks of the outer circle. Once the students in the outer circle have been interviewed by everyone in the inner circle, the roles shift; the interviewers move to the outer circle and become interviewees.
Vocabulary: I do this activity for every unit in our textbook, and the questions contain vocabulary words from the unit.
Pronunciation: The students practice syllable stress with the key vocabulary word. Also, once they get used to doing this activity, I like to include other pronunciation practice like word stress. The interviewers aren’t allowed to let the interviewees read the question, so if the interviewee cannot understand the interviewer, he/she must keep repeating the question and is allowed to paraphrase/explain unknown words. In this process, I encourage clear enunciation. If space allows, I sometimes position the desks several feet away from each other so that students have to speak loudly and clearly to be understood.
Synthesis/Summarizing: I give the same question to two students, one who begins as an interviewer and one who begins as an interviewee. After the interview circle is complete, I have the students with the same question work together to synthesize and summarize the answers. I ask them to look for patterns of repetition and to highlight answers that were particularly interesting.
Speaking: In addition to the one-on-one conversation that happens during the interview, students also negotiate with their partners to summarize the information. Once they have done that, I ask them to report their answers to the whole class, giving an opportunity to practice speaking in front of a large group.
Grammar: When the students report to the class, they are asked to use reported speech when explaining the question they’re about to discuss . For example, “we asked 15 students whether they agreed with increased surveillance on city streets.”
Listening/Note-taking: The interviewer records each student’s answer in note form.
Using interview circles is great for engaging students for the entire duration of the class and for practicing several skill areas. Try it out, and please comment with any variations you think would be useful.
Alexis Olson is an instructor with Academic English Studies at Lewis & Clark, Portland, Oregon.