The Interruptions Game
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Although we tend to think of interrupting as negative, it is in fact an essential skill for managing turn taking in a conversation. We need to be able to interrupt for a variety of reasons:
- We need clarification on something;
- We want more information about something;
- We need to correct something;
- We are not interested in what the other person is saying; or
- We have to end the conversation.
Of course there are many other reasons why we might interrupt. We don’t want to wait until the other person has finished because by this time they may have said a lot of things which are irrelevant. It’s also possible we will have forgotten our questions or points if we wait.
Whatever the reason, it is usually better to interrupt politely at first. This game provides a fun way to practise useful language for this purpose, although could equally be used to practise impolite interruptions too.
1: Students prepare a topic to talk about with a number of points (e.g. their five favourite cities), or teacher provides a number of questions on a topic.
2: Students present their topic to a partner, or discuss the questions.
3. Introduce phrases for interruptions. You could try to elicit these from students first and then add several new ones which students haven’t mentioned. You can feed in more phrases in the later stages of this activity.
4: Select one student to come to the front of the class. This student will present their topic or try to answer as many questions as possible from the list. Give this student a time limit. Tell the other students that they should attempt to interrupt the speaker by asking follow up questions to prevent them talking about all of their points. For every point in their topic, or for every question they answer, the speaker will get a point.
5: Repeat stage three with other students. The student with the most points wins.
S1: So my first favourite city is Moscow. It’s…
S2: Can I just ask where it is?
S1: It’s in Russia. About 17 million people live there. I like it because…
S2: May I ask whether you have been to other cities in Russia?
1: In order to help students to prepare their topic with clear points to be included it is useful to provide them with a table to be filled in with the required information.
2: During each student’s turn, note the phrase that the other students use most to interrupt. Prohibit students from using this phrase in the next round.
3. Instead of using polite phrases for interrupting, you could teach more impolite phrases, e.g. Hold your horses…, That’s not right…, Shut up. This can work well with classes that have a strong sense of rapport and therefore understand that their classmates are not personally attacking them but playing with the language.
Five favourite people/cities/movies
Five key events in your life
Telling a story from pictures
Giving a talk from pictures
Five things you would like to achieve
Describing a process
Keller, E. & Warner, S. (1988) Conversation Gambits. Language Teaching Publications. p. 9
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