[quote=“spitzig”]No, I don’t take part in planning the lessons. Sorry if I implied I do. I can CHANGE the lessons, like if the students are finding an activity too easy/hard. Actually, I wasn’t aware I was supposed to do this, until recently.
But, I am frustrated by this, too. My boss, says I need to get them more involved but can’t really tell me HOW.[/quote]
Well, are you doing the things Brendon suggested? It hadn’t actually occurred to me that you might have the students sitting in rows like a lecture, and it’s not clear to me how much freedom you have (with the Chinese teacher who makes the lesson plan there in class?) to move tables around and put people in groups. But you should certainly be following his suggestions if you can and are not already!
Also I recommend you follow lostinasia’s advice about prompting them with questions. If you are going to try a discussion, you have to at least tell them how to start! Get the whole class to chorus the opening question for a discussion, to give them confidence about at least that one thing. The tallest/youngest/… student in the group has to start. Tell them this is easy because all they have to do is copy. A has to ask B. B has to answer. Then, B has to C question 2 etc (if there is a question 2 chorus this as well; so it’s not mindless, you can focus on getting the pronunciation exactly right, or intonation). You can point at students A, B, C in an example group. With your hands, show how they have to ask the questions round the group circle.
It’s usual to move from a tightly controlled model (with students just reading, say) in the direction of a discussion. In ELT in Taiwan, the (free discussion) target is sometimes not reached. Not to worry; still plenty of intermediate steps available. Write a dialogue on the board or ppt and gradually erase more and more of it. Give them tasks where one student in a pair has the book open, the other shut (and has to re-tell the story, or answer questions). Use question cues: ungrammatical lists of the needed keywords, separated by a slash /. Make the questions, write them down, then answer them.
Have them make questions which they can ask other groups. Get 2 students to leave the group and join another (1 clockwise, the other anticlockwise) and ask those questions, or report on what their old group said. Even if the old group discussion degenerated into Chinese, my experience is that students use English when temporarily assigned to a new group.
If you do activities that require brainstorming (think of as many ways as you can that we use the internet, ways we can save energy, adjectives used to describe personality…) make them appoint a secretary and write it down. This gives the task a focus. They could write keywords, or questions, or coherent sentences. You can help them to get the sentences right as you walk around (different from interrupting the flow and correcting someone’s spoken grammar, which as Brendon said you shouldn’t do). You can also refer to the sentences when discussing errors during wrap-up (or you can scrawl notes to self on paper or a corner of the whiteboard while it’s going on).
Usually students kind of know the vocab they need, but have trouble stringing it together to make a sentence. Less often, the problem is a missing vocab item. Although I try to keep things in English, I have no problem whatsoever with a student asking his groupmates, in Chinese, how to say a certain word. Or using the Chinese word and slotting it into an otherwise English sentence. If the students realize they can do this, they come out of their shells a bit more. I find.