Once the students are familiar with the basics of IRC, you can conduct the activity below to give them an idea of how it might be implemented in the foreign language (FL) classroom.
This activity entails creating a private channel for your class alone and then generating a target language (TL) discussion on this channel. You can create as many private channels as you have TL-specific groups in your class. YOU will be hopping back and forth between or among channels, but the students will be able to carry on a TL conversation calmly, in a controlled environment. Be sure and start logs for each channel so you can keep track of student participation, TL use, and other interaction information.
Step 1. Determine how many channels you will need and name them appropriately. For example, if you have French, German, Italian, and Spanish represented in your methods class, you will need to create 4 separate channels. You might call them
This will be sufficient if you create completely private channel--channels NOT accessible by anyone outside. The instructions on how to do this are particular to each IRC client, so check the Read-me file to make sure. It generally takes a special command, nothing tricky. I strongly recommend this (the voice of experience!) If you are not going to create totally private channels, you run the risk of someone, somewhere seeing your channel and joining in. In this case, the titles above are rather ambiguous and might attract some people. You could include your course number in the title, thus discouraging anyone who might think IRC-S was something a bit more scurrilous than it is! For example, if your methods course is EDU 447 (as mine is), you could create channels like this:
Those titles look a little more official and might not appear so attractive to people "cruising" the IRC chat lists.
Step 2. Choose a topic for the students to debate during their IRC session. Some suggested topics that might generate interesting and even heated debate are:
· Should English be the official language of the United States? Why or why not?
· Should all students be allowed and encouraged to study a foreign language? Why or why not?
· When should foreign language study begin in the public schools and why?
Another possibility is to assign or let the students pick their own secret personalities of famous people. You should have a master list, and their task is to figure out who everyone else is by a sking germane questions to determine identities.
Make sure the students understand that all discussion is to be in the TL!
Step 3. Set up the session in your computer lab or whatever facility you have or allow the students to access the session from their own computers. Make sure the IRC software is installed wherever the students will be. Provide the channel names and the topics of discussion to the students. Log on, start the channel logs for each channel, and let the discussion begin.
You will have to jump from channel to channel to make sure there are no technical difficulties, no invaders (if you are not using a private channel), and to keep the debate or discussion lively and interesting if necessary. However, my experience has been that once students begin "talking" on IRC, it is difficult to get them to stop, even when the session is over!
Step 4. In a class shortly after the IRC session, debrief the methods students about their experience. Ask them their impressions, how they liked it, how much TL they think they produced, and how they think IRC might fit in to their FL classrooms at some point. You can provide them with a rudimentary statistical accounting of the total class participation as well as each individual's contribution to the discussion. This is always surprising because individuals can "talk" at once and still be "heard." As a result, their participation almost always increased dramatically over what it would be in a regular classroom setting where students must engage in turn-taking with each other as well as with the teacher.
GOOD LUCK! BONNE CHANCE! BUENA SUERTE! BUONA FORTUNA! VIEL GLÜCK!