13. New Rules: part 2 (the one with Google Docs)

In New Rules part 1 (https://fluencyfirstelt.blog/2020/09/02/12-new-rules-part-1/), we looked at one way of generating possible rules / norms for a new class, using an opinion dictation. The lesson finished with the learners being tasked with writing their own set of rules for homework. This lesson follows on by asking learners to collaborate to create the final “product” – a negotiated set of rules for the whole class: the final contract. It’s valuable to have a tangible product as having such a contract allows you to regularly evaluate the rules established at the start of the course. The lesson uses Google Docs to help create the contract, but naturally if you are teaching face-to-face, a poster or document for the classroom will be more suitable.

The use of Google Docs with Zoom was informed by this post by Sean Hutchman: https://www.betterlanguagelearning.com/post/gdocs. It taught these old dogs new tricks when we transitioned to online teaching :-). We highly recommend reading it in full. The procedure below assumes you have read it or are very familiar with Docs, permissions etc.

For the sake of simplicity, I am going to refer to the learners bringing 5 rules to the lesson, and aiming to create a contract with 10. This may vary of course.

Pre-task (pre-lesson prep):

Note that prior to the lesson you will need to prepare one “main Google Doc” and one “room Doc” for each room you intend to use – I imagine in most cases 3 or 4 rooms should suffice. The main Doc should have links to each room Doc at the top, as well as a final contract template; and each room Doc should have a template for learners to write their negotiated rules into.

See this example main Doc (including links to room Docs) and feel free to copy it: https://tinyurl.com/y2lowwna

(NB: as this is an example, it is view only but your permissions in the lesson should be set to edit so your students can add to the Docs)

Pre-task (within the lesson):

  1. Ask the students to recall the areas of rules discussed in the previous lesson (e.g. homework, phones, distancing, cams / mics – see the list in part 1). Ask about their homework: did you manage to write 5 rules? Was it easy or difficult to choose?
  2. Tell students in this lesson you will make the “final contract” of up to 10 rules for the term. Let them know how this will happen:

a) in rooms / groups, students will try to agree on 5 rules as a group, and write these up in their own room Google Doc;

b) they will read and react to each other’s rules by visiting the other rooms;

c) together, as a class, we will decide on the final 10 and paste these into the main Doc.

  • Send the link to the main Google Doc in the chat. Ask students to look at the table there and to find their room – these are rather unimaginatively named in the example link (A, B, C, D) – feel free to be more creative! Make sure you give the students permission to edit the documents, otherwise they will not be able to add their own rules and comment on each others’ in the main task.

Main Task:

  1. Tell the students in their rooms that they should agree on 5 rules and add these to the table. Encourage them to include a variety – focusing on teacher and student behaviour, across different topics etc.. Give them sufficient time to do this, and monitor the rooms discreetly, while – if necessary – helping to nudge them along: make sure for instance, they are writing up their rules in the table; and give time limits to help synchronise the groups. Make a note of common / recurring rules as this will allow you to facilitate step 3.
  2. Once they have created their own five rules within their room / group, tell the students they will individually visit the other rooms’ Google Docs using the links that you created on the main Doc. Set their task: they should use the comment feature to give feedback on the rules, saying if they agree it should be a final rule, asking for clarification through questions in the comments (e.g. why is it important?) or saying why it is not that important to them. You can demonstrate this by adding a rule to the Final Class Contract table (e.g. we should never use our phones) and asking one of the students to select and add a comment (e.g. but sometimes it is useful for checking words). Set the students a time limit and monitor to check they are on task i.e. they are indeed moving into the other rooms and offering some feedback through written comments. By the end of this stage, each room should have been given a number of evaluative comments on their rules. Again, note rules that seem popular to facilitate the next step.
  3. Close the rooms and bring the class together; go through each group and ask them to react to (some of) the comments they were given – this could be justifying their rule or saying which seemed to be the most popular rules. From the latter, and using data from your monitoring of the above stages, now ask the group to paste 2 or 3 rules from their own table into the final class contract table. If they were given feedback on the rule, they can amend it accordingly. Try to ensure each group is represented in the final table. Check that everyone is – more or less – happy with the final rules.
  4. The rules will likely have some linguistic errors in them. See the language focus below for ways of doing remedial correction on the agreed rules. It is worth doing this now.
  5. Finish by agreeing with the group when / how often you will come back to this document to amend the rules. Perhaps return to the contract after 2 or 3 lessons: check if the rules / norms are working and make sense, or if the learners (and teacher) want to make any changes. After that, return periodically to the rules and amend if necessary.

Language Focus:

(see New Rules: part 1 – https://fluencyfirstelt.blog/2020/09/02/12-new-rules-part-1/ – for a list of relevant language areas to look out for)

  • At the end of step 3 in the main task above it is important that the list of final class contract rules is corrected. If you feel your students can do so independently, you can allow them to look through these unsupported to identify and correct issues they spot. However, it will probably be useful for you to provide some form of prompting to help with this focus on form e.g. a) a comment with a query to highlight a mistake (e.g. What verb is used with “homework”?) b) highlighting words in colours that indicate an issue (e.g. green for grammar, blue for spelling, yellow for collocations etc.). By the end of this stage, you want the rules to have been corrected. Allow the students to query any new forms you provide.

Variations and Extension: 

  • In step 1 of the main task, you can appoint a chairperson if it helps focus the stage: one of the group is responsible for deciding and writing the final wording of a rule after it has been discussed. They are also responsible for making sure 5 rules are written down within the time limit you give.
  • In step 2 of the main task, it is up to you whether students can look at the Docs belonging to other rooms individually or in pairs.