How Can Mediation Skills be Taught in the Classroom?

Mediation skills are a vital tool of communication both in your own language and also in the language you are learning. To communicate, we all have to take information, understand it, and then explain it to others. This sounds simple and easy, and you may ask, why do we need to teach this in our lessons? It takes a unique set of skills to be able to do this well and not to be either too dominant or unforthcoming when speaking with others, thus we need to focus on helping our students to develop this skill in class. Furthermore, it is a key assessment component in many exams, and the CEFR upon which many exams are based, breaks down the meaning of using mediation in groups and the English level to which they correspond:

Mediation scales

(Image taken from Completing the CEFR Descriptive Scheme: The CEFR Companion Volume, 2022)

 

What is mediation?

In simple terms, mediation means the ability to read or hear a message, understand it and then communicate it appropriately. This is more than just simple interaction, as mediation implies skills like leading a discussion, managing conflict within a group, proposing solutions, simplifying a message and so on. It requires the speaker to be aware of who they are speaking to and the context they are in to communicate successfully. The Council of Europe has broken down this concept into the image below:

Mediation

(Image taken from The Council of Europe, 2020)

As you can see, these skills are not only useful for students to use at school but are the types of skills most in demand by universities and employers. They are often referred to as future skills or employability skills in teaching course books. These refer to skills that cannot be carried out successfully by technology and still rely on humans to act. It is therefore well worth working on these in class to prepare our students for the future.

 

Teaching mediation skills in class

Your World, the Pearson course book for teenagers, is a great example of a book that consistently incorporates teaching future skills in class, especially mediation skills. Let’s look at an example of how to teach a mediation skills lesson in class. The lesson example comes from Your World 2.

Activity 1 & 2:

Mediation activities

 

The aim of the activity is for the students to participate in a group discussion and make a decision.

The mediation skill in practice is to collaborate in a group, work towards a common goal and give the opportunity for everyone to contribute their opinion. If we refer back to the Council of Europe mediation levels above, this activity is aimed at students wishing to achieve a B1 level.

Mediation

 

The activity begins with a warm-up for students to recall vocabulary regarding holidays and practice speaking interaction skills. The prepare stage helps students to understand and respond to the reading task about different styles of holidays. They are practicing their comprehension skills and learning new vocabulary. These four holiday suggestions will be used later in the mediation task.

Activity 3:

Mediation activity

The next stage is the scenario. It gives a realistic reason for students to talk together and presents some problems that they must consider when discussing. For example, it talks about what Sophie and Alex like and do not like which will also have to factor into what the students themselves like and dislike. This type of activity is by far the best kind of collaboration activity as it asks students to solve a problem together, as they would in real life. The question asks students to summarise in their own words what they have to do (which is another mediation activity: understand and summarise a text). An example answer could be: We need to agree on the best summer holiday activity for our group of friends.

Activity 4:

Mediation Activity 4 - Your World

The activity now clearly shows the students the aim of the activity. The aim is not a linguistic one – it is not ‘I will practice the present perfect’ (the course book has other grammar pages where this type of aim can be found) – but instead it is ‘ask others for their opinions, listen to their opinions and express your own opinions clearly, but respectfully.’ We obviously want students to practice their English language skills, but the focus in on how they interact in a group in order to achieve a desired outcome.

As the activity is clearly labelled as ‘mediation’ and the aims are written down in an easy-to-understand way for the students, they are very clear on how you will be assessing them as the criteria for success is clear for all. Furthermore, to help students achieve the task in English, there are some useful language expressions which students have already seen in an earlier unit in a different context, so it is an opportunity for students to practice and reinforce what they have seen before. As teachers, we can always extend the list of phrases if we feel our students need an extra challenge, and we can add in a pronunciation stage here to make sure that our students will be saying these phrases correctly.

Activity 5 and 6:

Mediation activities - Your World

Now students attempt the task. An example of a successful group task would look like this:

An example of a task that has areas to improve for next time would look like this:

Ma

Monitor students carefully as they do the task. Write down any errors they make, both mediation errors (e.g. if they laughed at a student’s idea and it was not very respectful) and also linguistic errors, such as pronunciation or grammar, but also make a note of things they did well. You will use these notes later.

Ask students to self-reflect in stage 6, which can help them to understand the feedback from you better. Students being able to recognize their own strengths and areas to improve on helps them to become more autonomous learners. Also, invite thew whole class to comment on what the group finally chose, as each group is likely to have chosen something different. Finally, you can put the positive feedback and areas to improve that you wrote down while students were completing the task on the board for whole class feedback. You can then let each group know what score they received for the task (this can be done privately or whole class depending on how you would like to give the feedback) and future recommendations.

Reflection

These types of tasks may seem very familiar to you already – setting a context for speaking, then monitoring and giving feedback. However, most teachers are still focusing on language errors during these activities. When practicing future skills such as mediation, please bear in mind that you need to be helping the students to develop other skills, and looking at the CEFR descriptors will help you when designing activities, modifying activities in your course book and then assessing them correctly. This will help students at school, during exams where they have a collaboration section that is assessed, and also in the future at university or at work.

Future skills: The best ways to implement them in the classroom  

Future skills: The best ways to implement them in the classroom  

Jobs of the future and our way of life is changing thanks to a variety of interconnected factors, such as globalisation, the growth of cities, artificial intelligence, technology and the environment. Therefore, preparing our students while they are at school to become comfortable with these changes and be leaders of the future is at the forefront of education plans across the globe.  

In Spain, the LOMLOE education law makes specific reference to this by focusing on digital competence, sustainable development and being a global citizen. Within that, there are 8 cross-curricular competences that children are developing throughout their school years to help them adapt to the world of the future. They are: 

  1. Linguistic  
  2. Plurilingual  
  3. STEM  
  4. Digital  
  5. Personal/Social/Learning to learn  
  6. Citizenship  
  7. Entrepreneurial  
  8. Cultural and artistic 

The Pearson and Oxford Martin School research project makes nuanced predictions about the future of work and skills in 2030 and beyond. According to their research, the most in-demand skills mirror what has been changed in the education system and what curriculums are focusing on. 

Top Future Skills for 2023

 These Future Skills can be placed into four main categories, making it easier for teachers to plan their lessons. They are: 

  • Communication 
  • Critical thinking 
  • Collaboration 
  • Creativity 

Traditionally, teachers have been paid for their skill in imparting knowledge and teaching memorisation techniques. This is now becoming obsolete. The widespread use of artificial intelligence means that the technology itself can reproduce facts at the touch of a button, thus reducing the importance of memorised details by our students. What artificial intelligence cannot do yet, or cannot do well, is to understand and use complex social, emotional, and creative skills. The teacher’s role is now about teaching how to work effectively. Students need to learn how to communicate a message clearly, work together, be creative and think critically. We, as teachers, need to place emphasis on teaching these skills, as they are very much taught and practiced, not developed naturally by students.  

How can we make a start in this? 

First of all, try to choose newer course books and materials that specifically address the needs and competencies outlined above. The Pearson course book Team Up Now! Is specifically focused on addressing the cross-curricular competencies outlined in the LOMLOE law, and each lesson plan is designed with those in mind, as well as the four Future Skills categories, the language goals and methods for evaluation. 

Future Skills activities - Team Up Now!

If you are not able to access materials of course books where these skills are added for you, then here are some ideas to incorporate them into your classes yourself. 

Communication 

This is what teachers have been planning and practising for decades – practising speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in class. But it is always good to remember some advice to help our students get the most out of a lesson.  

  • Try to limit your teacher talk time so that students can talk more together during the class. For example, instead of asking questions one by one to a class and students raise their hands to answer (you will always get a teacher-one student ratio), place the questions on the board and ask students to discuss in pairs. In that way, all your students are talking at the same time.  
  • Make sure students have a reason to listen to each other. Placing them in pairs for a discussion sometimes doesn’t work as they don’t see the need to listen to each other and wait their turn. If they can fill in information on a worksheet as they speak, or that they know you will ask them after the activity to give you a summary of what they discussed, students are more likely to pay attention to their partner! 
  • Once your class has learnt the rules of a fun activity with you, e.g. a speaking game, try handing over the role of the teacher to a student or students, thus minimising your speaking time. 
  • Make sure that sentence starters are visible on the board so that the discussion can go as smoothly as possible, phrases such as ‘I reckon…’ ‘I see what you mean, but…’ 
  • Every page of a course book has the opportunity for you to ask a question that personalises the learning. For example, if the Unit has been about travel, it is easy to add questions for students to discuss, such as how do you travel to school? What was your favourite ever journey? What do you think is the most comfortable/exciting/boring way to travel? 

Critical thinking 

Critical thinking practices and develops organizing, categorizing, predicting, interpreting, analysing and evaluating, summarizing, and decision-making skills.  

 We often use these skills in our course books with vocabulary, e.g. organising and categorising groups of words, 

Team Up Now! - 2nd Activity

and the rest of the skills we use them with listening and reading texts, such as here in activities 1, 3 and 4. 

Reading Activities on Team Up Now!

To help practice critical thinking skills, try: 

  • Think, pair and share: Before a story of listening, ask some questions to the students. Before they respond, they think about the answers themselves, quietly. Then, they talk to their partner and discuss their ideas. Finally, they share what they and their partner discussed with the class. 
  • With any vocabulary, you can invent some categorising criteria for students to sort, such as the sports example above. It is fine of some words overlap into multiple categories, as this will provoke discussion in pairs as to which category is the best fit.  
  • Use brainstorming charts to document students’ thoughts regarding “What I Know” and “What I Want to Know” before starting a unit and after learning has occurred, “What I Learned.” If any of the ‘What I Want to Know’ questions have not been addressed, add an extra stage before moving on to the next unit to either find out or discuss.  

Collaboration 

The ability to work with others is crucial. Making sure that students work in pairs, small groups, large groups is vital, a balance of gender grouping them with students of a similar level, or a mixed level are ways in which teachers can vary these interactions. This kind of collaboration also practices conflict resolution. Conflict will happen, as it is a part of life, but students get to practice how they resolve it in a safe environment and under your care.  

Here is a great lesson plan about conflict resolution from Education Foundation of Sarasota County and a conflict resolution wheel that can be used in class.  

Future Skills - wheel

Creativity 

This section is often the most fun in our lessons, and often it is the final project where most creativity takes place, but that doesn’t have to be the case. You can tweak and change your course book so that students can demonstrate that they have understood something, such as a grammar rule, by being more creative with how they show you.  

Ways to show what you know

This picture from www.fortheteachers.org shows that students can get creative in all stages of the lesson. For example,  

Team Up Now! Activity

In this lesson, students communicate by asking and answering their partner what they are good at. Instead, students may choose to practice the grammar by pretending they are interviewing each other on a talk show, inventing a questionnaire about what the class is good add and displaying the information in a chart format. It’s a great way for students to be themselves and get creative with what interests them.  

This article has barely scratched the surface of how you can incorporate Future Skills into your classroom, but it is important to note that it doesn’t need to be time consuming or take your time away from teaching a language. When planning a lesson or series of lessons, try to identify tasks in the course book that could or do practice these future skills. Is there a balance of tasks, or are you mostly covering communication skills and not enough critical thinking skills? From there, you can identify where would be a good point to add in a mini-stage or activity to address the balance.