Updated: Mar 18
Guest Author - Shane Hill
When presenting seminars in high schools I would often discuss with the students our inherent capacity to store and recall vast amounts of information in a limitless variety of forms. I would suggest that although they may have already seen hundreds of movies in their lifetime, chances are the students could probably remember some degree of detail from every one of those movies. I would remind them of their ability to identify thousands of different people just from their facial features. I would speculate as to how many hundreds or thousands of songs they may have listened to and would remember if they heard again. I’d then play the first two beats, about half a second of sound, of a popular song at the time and it was always instantly identified by students.
The problem we face as educators is that despite this extraordinary human capacity to retain information, our students are faced with this information in the form of words all day long and words are the most difficult thing for most people to remember. If I gave you just one paragraph… let’s say the first paragraph of this blog post… how long would it take you to remember the paragraph word for word, exactly as it is, such that you could recite it or write it with ease? My guess is that some people might take hours of practice getting to that point.
The same could be said for your students so let’s get on and see how much we can accelerate learning, comprehension and recall with a game called Smooth As A Baby’s Bum. In History (HT5) students study the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (UDHR), a document of statements and paragraphs. Once you have introduced the UDHR to your class and briefly discussed its purpose, have the class divide into teams of four to five students, sitting in a circle, and provide each person with a photocopy of the UDHR and at least one dictionary per team. Ask the teams to invent a team name, write down each team’s name on a small square of paper and put the squares into a container to be used by you later.
The UDHR is composed of a numbered list of ‘articles’ of varying length. Allocate an article to each team and perhaps two articles to a team where the articles are quite short, such as articles three, four, five and six.
The students should first read their article within their team and ensure that everyone in the team understands every word of what is being stated. The dictionaries can be used for word clarification.
Now here’s the game! The team must speak aloud the article as a team but with each student saying only one word at a time, that word being the next in the sentence. Their challenge is to have their article sound as much as possible as if one person is doing the speaking. The team must find the flow and the rhythm which will give life to the article, should give attention to which words would be emphasized if it really was one person speaking, and should agree on the manner, style or mood of their article. In essence, the greater the cohesion within the team, the better they will sound.
It’s actually quite a tricky thing to do well but of course, it’s about the journey and not the destination. The journey of trying to get the article to sound as smooth as a baby’s bum, of repeating the words again and again, is where the students are playing with the information and the learning is being absorbed.
Give the students up to ten minutes to prepare their articles. A group of enthusiastic older students might use the full ten minutes to practice their delivery but it can sometimes be too long for younger students so monitor the level of focus. During the ten minutes move swiftly from team to team checking that they understand every word of their article(s) and what each means. This allows you to check their comprehension.
When the preparations are complete, let the fun begin! Everyone loves seeing how well the other teams do. Points are allocated for the following criteria with a maximum of ten points for each criteria and a maximum total of forty points:
Fluidity – how much did it sound like one person talking?
Team Cohesion – your observations of the team throughout the game
Clarity – was the article heard and understood clearly?
Impact – did the team get the varying emphases and inflections right for maximum effect
An alternative method of awarding points is to provide photocopies of a score sheet to each student and have them do the scoring. This way has risks, of course, when students get strategic in their scoring but considering the character and intention of the UDHR, an opportunity exists to emphasise the egalitarian nature of what you are asking the students to do.
Bonus points can be awarded when, after a team has performed and points have been awarded, a person from another team can state in their own words the meaning of the article just recited. Using the squares of paper with the team names written on them, choose randomly from the container and announce the team. A person from the team has three seconds, counted aloud by you, to stand and give their explanation or their bonus point opportunity is forfeited and another team is chosen. Note that the student has three seconds to stand up, adding to the pressure and excitement of the game, but they should have up to twenty seconds to give their explanation.
Points should now be added up and written on the board for all to see. Round two of this game is the challenge round. All teams have a final opportunity to win points and maybe even wrest the lead from another team. Give these two options. Teams can choose one article of any length and prepare it for delivery to be scored in the usual way OR team A can prepare an article already delivered by team B, declaring a challenge to team B. If team A scores more points than team B’s original score, their points are doubled. If team A scores less than team B, their points are awarded to team B. Give the teams a moment to discuss and decide what they’ll do, then announce that they have only seven minutes preparation this time and start the clock.
While it’s not essential to play the challenge round, it is great fun and it does reiterate everything learnt throughout the game. You could also broaden the scope of delivery in the challenge round by allowing the addition of beat-boxing, chanting, singing, rapping, clapping, stomping and even miming, wherein a student mimes speaking the article as the team speaks it.