Teaching legal thinking to LLM students: Oral vs. written

SocratesAs I continue to work through the “multiple model answer approach” in my experiment with teaching legal writing to LLM students this semester (aka the banana peel/jogger question), I’ve also begun exposing the students to multiple recorded oral model answers for the same question. That is, I’ve recorded a number of native English speaking law students (or law school graduates) answering the the banana peel/jogger question.

I’ve incorporated the recordings by assigning the students one recording at a time for homework. The students are also provided with a transcript of the recording (typed by me) that they initially review for comprehension and also to try and identify the IRAC components. Then they are required to put the transcript away and attempt to transcribe the recording by listening only. They can start and stop and rewind as much as they need to. And then, in the next class, I play the recording again and ask them to transcribe in order to assess how much they’ve practiced and how much they’re understanding whens supported with a combination of repeated listening plus background knowledge.

The underlying idea is that the way we organize our thinking and communicate, including the language and grammar we use, is different in writing than in speaking. Also, if I believe that the best way to improve writing is to expose students to multiple models of the kind of writing that’s expected of them, then it follows that the same would apply for speaking. The students do not currently have a strong sense of how to speak in class if asked for an answer to this type of question, and working with these oral model answers gives them the opportunity to notice, analyze, and compare what a typical answer contains and what it should sound like.

At the same time, it’s an excellent opportunity for students to improve their listening skills using authentic speech from native English speaking, law school-educated individuals. Plus, it’s a great way to recycle vocabulary, expose students to new vocabulary using an “i+1” text (i.e., input that’s slightly more advanced than the students’ level), and reinforce the IRAC concepts by having students identify the issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion in the oral responses.

Bonus activity – Note taking practice: In class we review the transcript and talk about what kind of shorthand and abbreviation might be appropriate for key words in the text along with connector words such as “with” (w/), “because” (b/c), etc. Then I have students listen to the recording a few times and practice using that shorthand to take notes in order to build note taking speed. (Here’s an earlier post on teaching note taking.)

Thus far, the students have responded positively to the experiments and activities in this vein. I’ll continue to post updates on the topic.

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