This activity simulates online written chat, a popular communication process which has features common to both speaking and writing. It can be used in the classroom for students who like a little thinking time before they speak, and also to help students move away from being overly concerned with accuracy towards focussing more on successful communication.

Preparation

You will need one piece of paper per pair of students for writing on. To encourage students to write brief messages each time, this could be in the form of a ‘chatting page’.You can download this below.

Procedure

The first time you do this activity with a class, spend a few minutes discussing online ‘chatting’ with students, highlighting some of the key features through concept-checking questions, such as: ‘Do you spend a long time thinking how to formulate each message when chatting?’; ‘What is more important when chatting, writing everything correctly, or communicating quickly?’.

Next, elicit/pre-teach some useful emailing/chatting abbreviations. Basic items could include: u=you; 2=too; c=see; 8=ate, (and any more you/your students might know). Students should also be encouraged to use contractions, and forms such as ‘gonna’, ‘wanna’.

Then arrange the classroom so that each student is sitting back-to-back with a partner.Choose a suitable subject for the students to ‘chat’ about, such as: ‘Discuss your favourite sports’. Subjects requiring students to reach a solution are particularly effective, for example: ‘Arrange to meet up with your partner at the weekend and decide what you are going to do together’.Explain to students that in order to communicate, they write a message on the first line of their paper, say ‘Hi, how are you?’, and ‘send’ it over their shoulder to their partner, who will respond and pass the paper back as quickly as possible.Set a time limit for the activity, say fifteen minutes, and then students start chatting.Whilst students are chatting, stand back and observe, only getting involved if anybody seems to be interfering with the communication process by taking too long to write back.At the end of the chatting session ask students to report back - either on the content of their chat or on how successfully they communicated. More advanced students can analyse their messages and discuss how in this situation communication is more important than accuracy.Another follow-up activity can involve students talking aloud with their partner about the same subject they chatted on (i.e. redoing the activity, but without that extra ‘thinking time’).

With higher-level groups, you could also encourage students to start off several conversations, so as to ‘chat’ with different people at a time.

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