Category Archives: Activities and Games

Design Communicative Activities in the Foreign Language Classroom

There are six ACTFL Core Practices that serve as guide for teachers as they teach toward increased foreign language proficiency in their classrooms. Once of the key core practices is designing communicative activities for students.

Design Communicative Activities in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Design Communicative Activities in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

The wave of communicative language teaching began several years back when the language teaching community (linguists, teachers and students alike) took a hard look at the “best” practices of language teachers and came to the conclusion that these practices were not leading students toward being able to use the target language.  Much of the language teaching that was happening several decades back was focused on what students knew about the target language (i.e. verb conjugations, adjective forms, pronoun placement) and not what they were able to accomplish or do with the language that they were learning.  When it became clear that students were not able to communicate effectively using the target language it was clear that we needed to modify how we teach languages.  This was the birth of the concept of communicative language teaching.  Essentially it is an attempt to guide students toward an increased ability to communicate.

What is a Communicative Activity?

There are three concepts of communicative language teaching that set it apart form more traditional approaches:

  1. The focus is on communicating and doing something with the language as opposed to practicing isolated language features out of context.
  2. It is student-centered as opposed to teacher-centered.  Students create with language rather than having the language explained to them.
  3. The approach is focused on understanding the message being conveyed by students despite inaccuracy in language form as opposed to being focused on correct usage of language structures and only secondarily tending to the message.

Design Communicative Activities in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Tips for Designing Communicative Activities

Her are a few tips and ideas to keep in mind as we design communicative activities.  Remember, communicative language teaching, or teaching that will guide students toward confidently communicating in the target language, is focused on the message, not practicing language structures out of context.

  • Active background knowledge  (pre-speaking activities) on the topic of the activity and/or choose a topic with which students are familiar.  When the focus is on communicating and building confidence we want students to be comfortable with the topic.  If they have the language proficiency, but lack content knowledge they will not communicate as much as they would if they were more familiar with the topic.
  • Use open-ended prompts and questions when designing an activity or task.  Prompts that are more finite will not allow for opportunities to engage with the topic and negotiate meaning.
  • Design prompts that require that pairs or groups of students must rely on and listen to each other.  If the prompt requires sharing an opinion, but not finding a commonality or difference with their speaking partner the task is more presentational in nature.
  • Create questions and prompts that require pairs and groups to collaborate and use the language to arrive at a product, not necessarily something physical that they will produce, but more finding a collaborative solution.
  • Be sure that the tasks students complete are at their proficiency level.  Know what their level is and the text type (lists, chunked phrases, discrete sentences, connected sentences, paragraph).  Design a task that will require creating with language using these text types.  A prompt for intermediate low students that requires speaking in connected sentences will lead to a communication breakdown because the text type for their proficiency level is single, discrete sentences.

Design Communicative Activities in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Is the Activity Communicative?

Of the three modes of communication (interpersonal, interpretive, presentational) communicative language teaching lends itself best to interpersonal communication.  This mode is about active, real-time exchange of ideas and messages in a two-way (rather than one-way) exchange.  Often when teachers create activities that appear interpersonal they are actually more presentational.  Here are some questions to keep in mind to make sure that the activity that you are designing is actually interpersonal:

  • Is the activity student-centered, rather than teacher-centered?
  • Is the language spontaneous and unrehearsed, rather than prepared and practiced in advance?
  • Is the focus on conveying and understanding the message, rather than on correct language forms?
  • Is the communication a two-way exchange, rather than one-way, requiring response, reaction and spontaneous follow-up?
  • Do students have opportunities to negotiate meaning if they don’t fully understand, rather than understanding all vocabulary and language structures?
  • Do students have communication strategies that they can employ (language ladders, functional chunks, circumlocution)?

Design Communicative Activities in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Examples of Communicative Activities

Here are few examples of activity structures that, regardless of proficiency level or content, take into account the concepts of communicative language teaching outlined above:

  1. OWL (Organic World Language) Conversation Circle
  2. Info-Gap Activities
  3. Jigsaw Activities
  4. Picture Prompts
  5. Task-Based Activities

I created a PDF with one-page description of communicative activities along with a lesson template and an example lesson.  Download it HERE.

Move Student Speaking and Writing from Novice to Intermediate

At the novice level, students are speaking and writing with single words and lists initially, then move on to chunked phrases.  Here are some examples:

Novice Low/Mid:

  • green
  • apple, banana, orange
  • Josué
  • soccer, football
  • movies, restaurant

Novice High:

  • My favorite color is green
  • I like apples, bananas and oranges
  • My name is Josué
  • I play soccer and football
  • On the weekend I like to go to the movies and to a restaurant

Move Student Speaking and Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comAs students move up to the intermediate proficiency level they begin to create discrete sentences on their own that move beyond chunked phrases.  This tends to be the most challenging for students as they begin to create with language and are not relying on memorized phrases to chunk together.  Rather than changing the detail after a memorized phrase such as “my favorite ______ is _______” and “I like __________” they are moving on to changing subjects, using various propositions and varying their verb forms and tenses.  Teachers can help scaffold this process for students by assisting them in creating sentences.  Students are often challenged by how to add details to a sentence to make it their own, particularly when writing.

I have found that using question words with students is a simple and effective way to have students add details to their sentences that move from memorized, chunked phrases to discrete sentences that are created by the student.  The more they do this the more they will grow in confidence and begin to do it on their own when writing.

A simple reminder of question words as students  write about a topic will guide them toward writing discrete sentences that they create on their own and and will move solidly on to the intermediate low proficiency level. For example, if a student writes ” I like to swim.” suggest a few question words to help make the sentence a bit longer and more detailed.  With whom?  When?  Where?

This will move the sentence from “I like to swim” to “I like to swim with my friend Julie on Saturday at the community pool.”  The more students get accustomed to adding details this way the more they will do it on their own when speaking and writing.

Here are a few posts I’ve written that have some suggestions and resources for guiding students through this process of moving their speaking and writing from novice to intermediate.  Click on the images to see the posts.

Spanish & French Verb Tense and Sentence Writing Powerpoint Activities

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Students rise in proficiency, but what about language accuracy?

It’s the question on everyone’s mind.  What is the role of accuracy in foreign language as students grow in proficiency?  Do we tend to accuracy?  Do we just focus on proficiency and assume that the language will become more accurate with time and practice?

Students are rising in proficiency, but what about language accuracy? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

The ACTFL performance descriptors are an effective tool to determine precisely what students can do at each proficiency level (and sub level).  The descriptors go on to state what the language output of students looks like at each level.  Take a look:

Students are rising in proficiency, but what about language accuracy? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

While these are very useful, we are often met with the issue of inaccuracy in language.  To be clear, proficiency is about communicating a message and is not so focused on polished and accurate language forms.  Essentially the language structures need to be accurate enough for the message to be understood.  It is generally understood in second language acquisition research that continued exposure (input) to language structures in context will lead to internalization and acquisition of the native-like language structures.

The issue here is that it is often challenging to focus specifically on a particular language element or structure when providing students with contextualized input.  Is there are a way to provide this focused input to students?  Is there a way for students to be actively engaged in the content, which will peak their interest?

I have been faced with this challenge of students moving up to the intermediate proficiency level and speaking and writing in complete, discrete sentences, but the verb forms are often not correct.  Students communicate their message, but I want to provide contextualized input of a particular structure so that students  move toward more accurate language as well.  I’m assuming you have been here?

In an effort to make input compelling and interesting to students I try to have them create the content as much as possible.  The more they choose the topic the more they will be interested and will pay attention to the themes and language structure being highlighted. Combining student-generated content and a focus on a particular language structure I developed these activities.

Students are rising in proficiency, but what about language accuracy? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com Students are rising in proficiency, but what about language accuracy? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Students begin by  writing the correct form of the verb when given the subject and the infinitive.  To reiterate  the correct form students them locate the subject, infinitive and verb form in the grid.  It works like a word search.  Until this point, it’s a very mechanical exercise that is devoid of context.  So, the next step is to write a sentence with each subject and verb form.  This is where the student-generated content comes in.  Some students choose to write personal sentences, other prefer to write about topics that interest them and some prefer to be humorous.  Regardless of the sentences, in the end the correct verb forms in a contextualized sentence provide very focused input for students.

I have seen a marked increase in accurate verb forms when students use this type of writing activity.  The word-search element provides an interesting way to focus on the correct verb form and the sentences that are student-generated highlight correct usage in context. You can take a it a step further and use the student sentences to create a task such as collating sentences into different categories and graphing results.  The important thing to keep in mind is that all the while students are seeing and using the sentences that contain the accurate verb forms in context.  Increased exposure to these language forms is what is needed to move toward acquisition.

If you would like to help your students  polish their language structures, take a look at these activities.  There are many topics in both French and Spanish.  Click on the links below to access these resources and watch the accuracy of your students’ language rise with their proficiency.

Spanish:

French:

Foreign Language Speaking Activity with Playing Cards

I am always a fan of repurposing things in my classroom.  Why completely reinvent the wheel when you can just spin it in a different way?  Playing cards are something that I always seem to have so I got to work trying to figure out how I can use them to get students speaking the target language.  I always want to make sure that in addition to practicing vocabulary and language structures (initially) that activities and tasks also provide ample opportunities for authentic communication as well.

Foeign Lanuage Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comLast year I wrote a blog post about an activity that I crafted using playing cards.  You can read the details of that those activities HERE. I was looking though Pinterest and saw that there was a math game that many teachers are doing using playing cards and I started thinking about how I could do this type of activity with my foreign language students.  The teachers were having groups lay out the cards in a path of their choice and using them as a sort of playing board.  I thought that this be easily modified for use with foreign language vocabulary and language structures and it also lends itself very easily to proficiency levels depending on the task and prompts given to the students.

In my previous playing card activity post I wrote about a reference sheet that I created for students that coincides with each card in the deck.

Foeign Lanuage Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com Foeign Lanuage Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

 

 

 

 

I decided to have students use this same reference sheet to engage in this new activity.  Students have a chance to get a little creative with how they lay out the card path.  Once laid out they get a copy of the reference sheet.  This can be pictures, time, subject/verb pairings, questions…unlimited possibilities.  In addition to the deck of playing cards and the reference sheet, each group of 3-4 students also gets one die and a playing piece, such as different coins or any small object that distinguishes the players.

Foeign Lanuage Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com Foeign Lanuage Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comEach player takes a turn by rolling the die and moving the number of spaces (cards) along the path.  They find the box on the reference sheet that corresponds with the card they land on (4 of diamonds, king of hearts, 10 of spades, etc.) and speak using what is in the box.  If students are novice they may identify with a singe word or phrase, but intermediate students could use the word or picture in a complete, discreet sentence.

The first student to reach the end of the path is the winner.  This can sometimes move quickly, so I have students keep points by the number of wins and go back and start again each time there is a winner.

Foeign Lanuage Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com unspecified-3-1Be sure to keep this communicative by asking students to do more than say a verb form, time or vocabulary word.  Consider what the proficiency levels of the students are and have them speak using the reference prompt in context and with the text type that is at their proficiency level.

You can get these card reference sheets on a number topics by clicking the links below.

Spanish:

French:

Spanish Tab Books to Learn, Practice and Apply Grammar and Vocabulary

I wrote a post recently on foreign language class lesson planning that follows the “Learn, Practice, Apply” sequence that I learned about from the teachers that I work with in Nicaragua.  I have found this simple framework very useful when planning lessons and activities in my foreign language classroom. I created these Spanish Tab Books that follow this sequence.

Spanish Tab Books to Learn, Practice and Apply Grammar and Vocabulary www.wlteacher.wordpress.comThe first pages provide scaffolded notes so that students get familiar with the new material, then they practice the material on the next pages, and finally students apply the material on the last page. The “apply” stage is often left out when teaching new material. These tab books assure that  students get to this stage in the learning process.

Setting Up the Tab Book:
-Cut the pages in half on the dotted line.
-Cut out the box on the bottom of each page along the dotted lines.

Spanish Tab Books to Learn, Practice and Apply Grammar and Vocabulary www.wlteacher.wordpress.com Photo Feb 13, 8 29 31 PM-Place the pages on top of each other so that the tabs are visible on the bottom.  Students can highlight the tab titles.
-Staple the pages together in the upper right corner.  Students can also highlight the tabs on the bottom.

Spanish Tab Books to Learn, Practice and Apply Grammar and Vocabulary www.wlteacher.wordpress.com

These Tab Books can be glued into an interactive notebook and/or referenced as needed when reviewing. It has all the information needed to review in one convenient place.

You can get over 30 versions of these French Tab Books by clicking the link below.

French Tab Books to Learn, Practice and Apply Grammar and Vocabulary

I wrote a post recently on foreign language class lesson planning that follows the “Learn, Practice, Apply” sequence that I learned about from the teachers that I work with in Nicaragua.  I have found this simple framework very useful when planning lessons and activities in my foreign language classroom.  I created these French Tab Books that follow this sequence.

French Tab Books to Learn, Practice and Apply Grammar and Vocabulary ww.wlteacher.wordpress.comThe first pages provide scaffolded notes so that students get familiar with the new material, then they practice the material on the next pages, and finally students apply the material on the last page. The “apply” stage is often left out when teaching new material. These tab books assure that  students get to this stage in the learning process.

Setting Up the Tab Book:
-Cut the pages in half on the dotted line.
-Cut out the box on the bottom of each page along the dotted lines.

French Tab Books to Learn, Practice and Apply Grammar and Vocabulary ww.wlteacher.wordpress.com Photo Feb 13, 8 27 16 PM
-Place the pages on top of each other so that the tabs are visible on the bottom.  Students can highlight the tab titles.
-Staple the pages together in the upper right corner.  Students can also highlight the tabs on the bottom.

French Tab Books to Learn, Practice and Apply Grammar and Vocabulary ww.wlteacher.wordpress.com

These Tab Books can be glued into an interactive notebook and/or referenced as needed when reviewing. It has all the information needed to review in one convenient place.

You can get over 30 versions of these French Tab Books by clicking the link below.

French and Spanish Vocabulary and Grammar Tab Books

I recently wrote a post on foreign language class lesson planning that follows the “Learn, Practice, Apply” sequence that I learned about from the teachers that I work with in Nicaragua.  I have found this simple framework very useful when planning lessons and activities in my foreign language classroom.  I created Tab Books on a number of French and Spanish vocabulary and grammar topics that follow this sequence.

French and Spanish Vocabulary and Grammar Tab Books www.wlteacher.wordpress.comThe first pages provide scaffolded notes so that students get familiar with the new material, then they practice the material on the next pages, and finally students apply the material on the last page. The “apply” stage is often left out when teaching new material. These tab books assure that  students get to this stage in the learning process.

Setting Up the Tab Book:
-Cut the pages in half on the dotted line.
-Cut out the box on the bottom of each page along the dotted lines.

French and Spanish Tab Books www.wlteacher.wordpress.com
-Place the pages on top of each other so that the tabs are visible on the bottom.  Students can highlight the tab titles.
-Staple the pages together in the upper right corner.
-These Tab Books can be glued into an interactive notebook and/or referenced as needed when reviewing. It has all the information needed to review in one convenient place.

You can get over 50 versions of these French and Spanish Tab Books by clicking the links below.