Two years ago I had the pleasure of being the teacher sponsor for Jake West, who because of his creativity and confidence has become an excellent teacher. His site is here. Jake introduced me to the idea of using mini-seminars in class which has become a valuable teaching and learning technique. I have used it in Social Studies 9 and BC First Nations 12 to great effect and have modified it into what I call micro-seminars that I have used to cover a number of complicated land mark legal cases involving First Nations people in Canada in my BC First Nations 12 class.
Here is how the mini-seminar works:
Students or the teacher select pairs or small groups. Students are presented with an event that involves conflict between two groups of people. They are provided with material to read from their text, and other sources supplied by the teacher.
In their groups they take turns reading aloud as the other students read along silently. They then discuss what they think are the important points in the reading they have done and take notes together. This is in fact a seminar among the students themselves although it has not been implicitly described to them as such.
They then must practice presenting from their notes to each other what they have learned, but are not allowed to rehearse only one particular part of the story. They are aware they must know the whole thing and that the order of the presentation is decided by the teacher.
When they present to the teacher they are allowed to use their notes but must try to tell a story and have a discussion rather than simply read what they have written.
I have found that there are natural points in each story to interrupt and ask for judgments of individual players actions. Motivations of historical players become clearer or more open to analysis and speculation through discussion. Students naturally come to analyse events rather than simply try to remember them. I have often been exposed to viable interpretations that had not occurred to me.
Once they have tried this method students like it and become good at it. While one group is presenting, the rest of the class is practicing or working on something else.
The micro-seminars work the same way, but are used once the students are familiar and comfortable with the method. They are used for smaller chunks of material and can be done quickly.
Check out the use of this activity for the Chilcotin War on my class blog here.
This is one of those ideas that once you use it makes you think "Why didn't I think of this?". It is simple and works.