A Classroom Activity for All Three Modes of Communication: One Minute News

In this post, I take a break from our vocabulary blog series to look at a strategy that has been tremendously helpful for my students. 

Background

When I was student-teaching back in Maryland a few years ago, my mentor teacher Liang Hui 梁辉 demonstrated a classroom activity she called ‘one minute news,’ or 一分钟新闻 in Chinese. I’m not quite sure where she got the idea, but the students picked it up quickly and it stuck as a mainstay of all her classes for the rest of the year. As such, when I took over some of her lower-level classes that spring, having been convinced of its value, I made sure to integrate ‘one minute news’ (henceforth abbreviated as OMN) into my first ever language classes. Since then, OMN has become a staple of my language classroom, and a strategy that I feel has been integral to my students’ growth at each level. Not only this, but Liang laoshi and I even presented on OMN at an ACTFL roundtable session in 2018 in New Orleans. Let’s learn about it!

Blog Breakdown Video

In the video below, Grant breaks down one minute news and explains how to integrate it into world language classrooms.

What is ‘one minute news?’

OMN bears close resemblance to another world language classroom activity with which some of you may be familiar, “special person interviews.” Still, there are some differences between the two. The gist of OMN is as follows:

  • Each day one student from the class comes to the front of the room to present on a pre-assigned topic relating to the content we are learning at that time. The presentations last, you guessed it, right around one minute in length.

  • After the presentation, audience members then ask the speaker questions about the content, and normally this Q&A goes on for about 4-5 minutes.

  • Audience members are also encouraged to respond to what the speaker discussed and ask follow up questions related to the content, using new words and structures from previous lessons accordingly.

With this setup, OMN covers all three modes of communication in one activity. The speaker engages in presentational speaking, the audience members engage in interpretive listening (and sometimes reading, when slides are included), and both speaker and audience members engage in interpersonal speaking after the initial presentation.

Breaking it down: how does OMN actually work?

To fully understand OMN and how it integrates into your classroom, let’s break it down a bit more.

Content

What should your students talk about? At the lower levels, I think it’s best to hold off using OMN until students understand and grasp the foundations of the language. If students cannot ask basic questions and/or speak in basic sentences, it’s too early. Once they can though, go for it!

For students at novice-high and higher, I like for each OMN to have a set theme, and within that theme, a set task for the speaker to accomplish within their presentation. For example, my latest OMN in my Chinese 3/4 class has students declare who will win a local food competition based on their opinions of the competitors’ stalls (a task we did in class a week or two earlier). So, in their presentations, students talk about

  • How the food is at each stall

  • The prices of the food at each stall

  • Overall opinion of each stall

  • Who will win the competition and why

When it comes to choosing content, it simply comes down to what presentational speaking task best suits your current theme / unit. Aiming for something more opinion-based (as opposed to a fact-heavy presentation about, say, a country or a city) usually elicits a bit more of an emotional reaction from the audience.

Students from my level 3/4 class listen to that day’s presenter.

Modeling

Before any of my students present on the given topic, however, I make sure first to model what their presentation should look like and what language it will feature, while also of course presenting in an energetic and engaging fashion. That way, upon reviewing the task requirements and guidelines immediately afterward, I can easily tell my students, “do what I just did.” This is particularly helpful for classes doing OMN for the first time. And just like any other routine activity, the more students present and see their classmates present, the more attuned they become, the more they understand the expectations, and the better the outcome.

Who goes when?

Within my document for students that lays out the task outline and rubric is also a section on presenter dates. Normally, this is picked at random unless students volunteer. Important: once dates are set, put these names on the calendar of your LMS so students have a reminder.

Audience interaction via PollEverywhere

Above I mentioned that I first started using OMN during my Master’s program with my mentor teacher Liang Hui. When we first started, students were always a bit hesitant to raise their hands and pose questions, something commonly seen in other content classes. I'm not sure why, but we began using the PollEverywhere application to host student questions. On the app, teachers can create a prompt and students can submit questions that will show up on the screen. 

Some might ask, “Why use an app to host student questions? Why not just have students pose questions immediately upon the presenter finishing?” Using an application like PollEverywhere carries many benefits. For one, by granting audience members time to 1) process what they want to say, 2) type it out, 3) see it on the screen, and then 4) finally ask the question to the speaker, we allow them to take advantage of pre-task planning, increasing both their confidence and quality of output in the question portion of OMN. No, this language is not spontaneous, but for many of these students, it’s either planned speech or no speech. 

Important: as students are asking questions and they appear on screen, I make mental notes in my head of grammatical errors that I can point out. If there is one mistake that is consistent throughout student questions, I make a point at the end of the presentation to return to these questions and see if students can notice the mistake. I've found that short 'pop up grammar' lessons like this each time will stay with students, and many will try to fix these mistakes in future OMN presentations. 

Example of student questions on the PollEverywhere application(names redacted)

Technology note: I think apps like NearPod and PearDeck could replace PollEverywhere for the audience question portion, but I can’t confirm, given that I’ve only heard of these and never used them. I’ll always favor PollEverywhere though due to its ease of use and familiarity with my students.

Student presenter answering questions posted on the PollEverywhere application

How I use OMN in my classroom

Even since I began using OMN, I’ve made gradual adjustments to the activity to better accommodate my students. Here are a few examples.

  • Hosting presentations online: I have plenty of students who do not under any circumstances feel comfortable speaking Chinese in front of 23 other students, and I’m totally okay with this. As a result, I have students record their presentation and then upload them so I can watch at any time. This can be done on Extempore or any other video sharing platform (depending on if you want others to see their classmates' presentations). Sometimes though, I still have students who don't want to record themselves at all. For these students, I encourage them to meet with me privately before school or during our study hall period so they can present in front of me and no one else. This adjustment has been particularly helpful for me recently. When I decided to have my level 2 students do a OMN on their hobbies just this past month, I realized that we only had around 15 days left in the trimester. With 24 students in the class, obviously not everyone would be able to present. To compensate for the lack of days, I did just as I wrote above, having each student submit a recorded video by a set due date. No, not everyone will present, but students can still benefit from those who do.
  • "Question of the day": While the focus of the presentation is normally on the speaker, I like to encourage students to select a 'question of the day': the most creative or unique question that uses the language in new ways, instead of repeating questions we already have down. It's nice then to highlight the question poster for their creativity, and it encourages other students to experiment with the language when thinking of questions.
  • Banning basic questions or words: Once students get comfortable enough with the language, they can take more risks when asking questions, as I just noted. To further encourage this, I'll sometimes ban certain words like 喜欢 xǐhuān - “to like," 是 shì - "to be," or 有 yǒu - "to have" to see what else students can come up with. Surprisingly, they are usually up for the challenge.

  • Level-up words and rejoinders in the TL: As a way to provide students with extra high-frequency words to throw into their questions, I created double-sided strips of paper (laminated) with level up words and rejoinders. "Level-up" words include words and phrases that we might not have learned in class but are easily added into basic questions and sentences. Rejoinders, on the other hand, are ways for audience members to appropriately respond to the presenter's answers to their questions instead of just remaining silent and nodding their head. When students hear and see these words on a daily basis then, they can slowly acquire them into their lexical repertoire. See this document for specific examples.

Benefits of OMN

OMN carries many benefits for teachers, presenters and audience members. Here are some of them.

  • Daily repetition of content language, ‘level up’ words, and high frequency vocabulary.

  • The audience has an opportunity each day to experiment with the language and refine what they know, in both writing and speech (also called hypothesis testing).

  • Pre-task planning relieves pressure on audience members and builds confidence. 

  • Hosting on Extempore provides an easy way for presenters to give private feedback to all presenters. It's also particularly useful if you want to enforce time restraints. Aside from this, it accommodates students who aren't quite comfortable presenting in front of the class.
  • Finally, by its very nature, OMN is great for class chemistry and student-centered learning.

Student Reaction

One of the unintended consequences / successes of one minute news has been the mostly positive student response.

As I outlined this blog not long ago, I thought “what better way to showcase my students’ attitudes towards OMN than letting them speak for themselves?” And so, I whipped up a Google form and presented it to my students this past Monday (just a week before this blog was published, so the results could not be any fresher!). Here are some of the results.

Do you like OMN?

“Yes, because it’s cool to hear about other peoples hobbies and being able to understand all of it in Chinese.”
“yes, it’s interesting to hear about my classmates and a fun way to learn and practice the language.”
“I enjoy it. I like learning about my classmates, while challenging myself to understand in Chinese.”
“I don’t mind it if I don’t feel stressed [at the] time. The questions are fun.”
“I like one minute news because I think it’s a good way to practice speaking in front of a crowd and to better understand the language we’re using.”
“Yes, I like it. I learn about my classmates and it helps to reinforce the language”
“I like one minute news, because if you are the speaker you get really good practice by saying a little bit about yourself and then answering questions. If you are the listener you get to practice hearing the language and making sentences in a question format.”

Survey results

In one part of the survey, students answered the question below.

Out of 32 students responders over two classes,

  • 25 of them selected "using new words that we've been learning" as something that's been helpful.
  • 23 of them selected "being able to experiment with new ways to use the language and ask questions" as helpful, and
  • 21 of them selected “being able to communicate (speaking or writing) in the language every day.” 

While presenting in front of the class is admittedly stressful for plenty of students, they are still cognizant of the benefits that OMN has towards their proficiency. 

Wrapping up

Presentational speaking, interpersonal communication, interpretive listening, high-frequency vocabulary, meaningful repetition, hypothesis testing, pre-task planning, class chemistry building. It's safe to say that OMN functions as an all-in-one WL classroom activity. How might you use it in your classroom?  

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