Category Archives: Classroom Procedures

Teaching Millennials and Gez Z in the Language Classroom

What comes to mind when you hear “Millennial” or “Gen Z?”  We all know that they get a bad rap.   Generations are different, and just like the Baby Boomers had to figure out how to teach the Gen Xers we need to look carefully at what we need to do to reach Millennials and Gen Zers.  Basically, it comes down to knowing that these generations want to know the value and use of what they are learning.  Let’s take a look at how to approach teaching languages to these generations and understand all they have to offer.

Teaching Millennials and Gez Z in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

A quick review of the names of the generations over the past 70 years:

Baby Boomers

Born: 1946-1964

Age in 2018: 54-72

Gen X

Born: 965-1985

Age in 2018: 33-53

Millennials

Born: 1986-1995

Age in 2018: 23-32

Gen Z

Born: 1996- present

Age in 2018: 0-22

I learned a lot about the Millennials and Gen Z from the Millennial Impact Project (2015) & The Business of Good (Haber, 2016).  Haber’s book is about social entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs who want to make a social difference with profits from their companies.  Looks like the Millennials and the Gen Z are approaching their employment with this goal.

Here are a few things that Haber writes about these these younger generations in The Business of Good:

“They don’t wait for taxis, they take Uber. They don’t wait for emails, they text. They don’t wait to work up the corporate ladder, they start their own business. It should come as no surprise that they have no interest in waiting to make a difference. It’s as if the generation has been hardwired to believe in the fierce urgency of now.”

OK, now that I’ve made the case for not giving them the bad rap that they get, let’s look at how we go about teaching this generation of elementary, middle and high school students as well as college students.

Let’s start by looking at the the brain and cognition.  Some of this data is adapted from the work of Dr. Bobb Darnell of Achievement Strategies, Inc. (www.achievementstrategies.org)  

Before the arrival of technology, Baby Boomer and Gen Xer brains :

  • were good at single-tasking
  • were able to sustain focus for long periods of time
  • were adept on concentrating for long periods of time

After the arrival of technology, Millennial and Gen Z brains:

  • are good at multi-tasking
  • can effectively navigate multiple input streams

It is through no fault of their own, but rather the reality of how their  brains are being wired for a certain kind of learning, that Millennials and Gen Zs have/are:

  • Shorter Attention Spans
  • Uncomfortable With Boredom
  • That Fierce Urgency of Now
  • Visually Preferred
  • Interactive and Hands-On
  • Love Challenge
  • Curious
  • Success Trough Strategy

So…what we do?  What are some ways to adapt our teaching, instruction, class routines, curriculum and relationships to the reality of the Millennial and Gen Z brain?Teaching Millennials and Gez Z in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

The PDF download includes tips and suggestions for…

  • dealing with shorter attention spans and being uncomfortable with boredomTeaching Millennials and Gez Z in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)
  • responding to the fierce urgency of now

Teaching Millennials and Gez Z in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

  • preparing lessons and activities for students who are visually preferred

Teaching Millennials and Gez Z in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

  • creating opportunities for interactive and hands-on learning experiences

Teaching Millennials and Gez Z in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

  • adding challenge and elements of curiosity to classroom instruction

Teaching Millennials and Gez Z in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

  • guiding students toward success through strategies

Teaching Millennials and Gez Z in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish) One other thing to consider….Are we, in fact,  listening to our students and providing what they need to be successful and proficiency speakers of the language that we teach?  If they were aware of what their brain needs (or read this post), they would say to us:

  • Challenge me.
  • Let me work with others.
  • Let’s have fun.
  • Be flexible.
  • Encourage me.
  • Make me curious.
  • Give me feedback.
  • Learn from me too.
  • Let me give you my ideas.
  • I need to know the goal.

It is never easy to understand the experience and lens of a generation that is seemingly so different from our own.  Our parents thought that we were going to be the demise of the world because we did things differently.  Many of us are repeating the same behavior with the younger generations that we teach.  Let’s break the cycle and celebrate all that our students have to offer.

Teaching Millennials and Gez Z in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

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Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content

This is an activity that I have used with various proficiency levels.  It involves presentational writing and interpretive reading.  It can be used with on demand writing, that is writing that is generated in the moment and doesn’t go through a revision process, or polished writing that includes feedback and additional drafts.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Essentially students begin by responding to a prompt in writing and then the other students in the class read what their classmates wrote and write a response.  Depending on how lengthy the writing is students may be able to read almost all of their classmates writing and respond within one or two classes.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

This works particularly well when students are able to use language expressing opinions and agreeing or disagree with the writer.  I have students put their writing piece on their desk with a blank sheet of paper next to it.  Students then circulate and read their classmates’ writing and write a written response or reaction on the sheet next to it.  For novice level students they use chunked phrases such as “me too,” “not me,” “I also enjoy…,” I prefer….” when writing a reaction to novice level writing.  For Intermediate students they may begin by writing an opinion on a reading or a film and their classmates will write a response.  I have also had students write two reactions; one that is their own and then one that is in response an existing reaction.  This takes on the feeling of a social media thread.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Even if the original writing undergoes a feedback process, the written responses allow students to also do on demand writing and to write in response to other comments.  What the actual written responses and reactions look like will vary depending on what the original writing prompt is and the proficiency level of the class.  I have used this with novice and intermediate students with lots of success.  It take s bit more modeling with lower proficiency levels, but they are able to see how much they are able to write when the piece they are reading is at their level.  This is one of the benefits of using student-created content as the reading text.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Students like to get up an move and this allows them to do that in the classroom.  I use paper so that it is more tactile, but this type of activity could easily be done on a computer or even using Padlet.  As for a follow up activity, try a discussion of what different students read or of trends and consistencies.  Maybe ask  questions about what students learned.  Again, the type of follow up will vary based on the original writing prompt and proficiency level of the class.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Here is description of this activity that I recently did with a group of novice mid/high students.  I asked them to write a “paragraph” telling about themselves using any and all phrases, vocabulary and structures that they have acquired so far. This particular class is 6th grade and meets 3 times a week for 45-minutes.  Most of the class has reached novice high, though some are novice mid.  Students wrote their paragraphs in class with no access to technology or dictionaries for looking up words.

They focused on novice language topics such as personal info (age, name, where they live, who they live with,what they like to do, what sports/activities/school subjects they prefer). I gave some ideas of topics, but it was on demand writing, meaning all generated in the moment. For homework they typed it and added some photos. Because it is all student-generated, using vocabulary and structures that they have acquired, the reading is “at level” for classmates reading and commenting. If anything was unclear the images are there to assist.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Give this student-generated reading and writing activity a try.  It is very useful when moving the audience of student writing away from always being the teacher.

Communicative Language Teaching Mindset Shift. That Was Then. This Is Now.

The field of language teaching is always on the move.  Every decade or so there is an innovative way to approach language teaching.  For a recap of the language teaching methodologies that have surfaced over the past century take a look at this post.  Over the past decade many foreign language teachers have embraced communicative language teaching, which focuses on authentic communication over language forms such as grammar structures.

That Was Then. This Is Now. Communicative Language Teaching Mindset Shift (French, Spanish)

To be clear, a certain level of accuracy of language is needed to convey a message that is comprehensible.  The difference from methodologies of the past is that previous approaches to language teaching focused almost solely on accuracy of language.  These days we see the value in focusing on the message, even when that means looking past some errors when the learner has not yet acquired the language structure.

There has been a significant shift in mindset along with the arrival of communicative language teaching.  Previous methodologies focused on what learners did wrong rather than on their progress.  The goal was complete accuracy in the past along with the belief that a speaker would not  be understood if the language was not completely correct.  We now accept that communication can happen despite occasional inaccuracy.  This is the base of the difference in mindset, or underlying tenets that support the approaches.

Here are four areas of this mindset shift that distinguish current communicative approaches from accuracy-centered approach of the past.

Objectives and Content:

  • Past: The teacher was the all-knowing possessor of knowledge and directed all content and objectives to ensure progress toward correct language.
  • Present: The teacher works in collaboration with students and there are shared learning objectives.  Content is driven by both the teacher and the student.

Communication:

  • Past: Typically communication was focused on the four traditional language skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking.  This usually meant that these skills were practiced in isolation and were not interconnected.
  • Present: The three modes of communication (presentational, interpretive, interpersonal) are now the focus.  They provide students with opportunities to do something with the four skills.

Performance:

  • Past: The focus was on what students knew about the language and its structures.  Practice of correct grammatical forms of the language were typically done in isolation and out of context.
  • Present: The focus is on what the learner is able to do or accomplish with the language.  This is always tied to context and students communicate authentically with the language despite occasional inaccuracy in language when the message is clear.

Assessment:

  • Past: Assessments determined the level of language accuracy and the teacher could easily and quickly point out what was incorrect, such as verb forms, noun gender, adjective agreement, etc.
  • Present: Assessments are performance-based.  Teachers use tools and strategies such as backwards design and Can-Do statements to guide students toward communication.

Where are you regarding your teaching mindset?  If you want to embrace communicative language teaching, take a look at the “present” mindset statements and see where you are.  It can take some time and a solid approach is always evolving.  It doesn’t have to happen this week.   Download this PDF with some questions to help keep your lesson planning in the “present.”

Teaching Foreign Language Grammar: Inductive or Deductive?

Approaches to teaching are always improving, or, maybe we should say changing.  When there is momentum behind a new, innovative or highly-supported methodology many of us get behind it and begin to implement it, as best we can at least.  Teachers are particularly prone to “buy-in” when we see colleagues (real or virtual) having some level of success with a new methodology.

Teaching Foreign Language Grammar: Inductive or Deductive? (French, Spanish)The wave of communicative language teaching is currently, and rightfully, the foreign language teaching methodology that is supported by the foreign language teaching community. This has helped put the teaching focus on guiding students toward authentically communicating rather than simply learning about the details of the language.

One of the biggest debates or challenges among the communicative language teaching community is the topic of grammar instruction.  There are lots of questions and concerns around this.  Should we teach grammar?  Should we only provide examples of language structure through comprehensible input? What is the “right” way to teach or expose students to grammar structures in a second language?  Implicit or explicit grammar instruction?

Some researchers in language acquisition and teachers claim that grammar should be taught explicitly, as rules.  Others point to the teaching of grammar implicitly, suggesting that students acquire language structure only through meaning exposure in context.  As a result they create their own “language rules” implicitly rather than having the rules be taught explicitly.  Let’s make sure we have a solid understanding of the two approaches to language instruction.

  • Deductive instruction is a “top-down” approach, meaning that the teacher starts with a grammar rule with specific examples, and the rule is learned through practice.
  • Inductive instruction is a “bottom-up” approach, meaning that the teacher provides examples of the structure in context and students make observations, detect patterns, formulate hypothesis, and draw conclusions. PACE Model is an example of this approach.

I prefer to move beyond anecdotal evidence and consider the benefits of the two type of grammar instruction as they are presented in language acquisition research.

Brown (2007):

  • “While it might be appropriate to articulate a rule and then proceed to instances, most of the evidence in communicative second language teaching points to the superiority of an inductive approach to rules and generalizations.”

Shaffer (1989) :

  • “Evidence against the notion of an inductive approach should not be used for difficult structures.”

So, where does this leave us?  As much as we as teachers would like one tried and true way we all know that teaching and education is mostly a mixture of effective techniques.  To this end here are some thoughts from Shaffer:

  • Implicit grammar instruction is effective for language structures that are regular and consistent as this allows students to observe patterns, make generalizations and form linguistic rules.
  • Explicit grammar instruction is more effective for language structures that are irregular, inconsistent and less commonly present in communicative language.

Ultimately it would seem that a varied approach is necessary depending on the regularity or irregularity of a the focus structure.  The important thing to keep in mind is the active engagement of the student in whichever process is used. The inductive approach lends itself to active engagement using a process such as the PACE Model.  When teaching irregular language feature deductively be sure to provide opportunities for students to use the structure communicatively and also provide additional comprehensible input activities that contain the focus structure.

Brown (2007).  Principles of Language Learning and Teaching.  Pearson Longman

Shaffer (1989).  A Conversation of Inductive and Deductive Approaches to Teaching Foreign Languages. The Modern Language Journal 73.4

Bloom’s (updated) Taxonomy in the Language Classroom

 Alan Bloom’s taxonomy (1956)  is a classification system used to define and distinguish different levels of human cognition (thinking, learning, understanding). Teachers use Bloom’s taxonomy to guide assessments, curriculum, and instructional methods.

  • Knowledge: Learner’s ability to recall information
  • Comprehension: Learner’s ability to understand information
  • Application: Learner’s ability to use information in a new way
  • Analysis: Learner’s ability to break down information into its essential parts
  • Synthesis: Learner’s ability to create something new from different elements of information
  • Evaluation: Learner’s ability to judge or criticize information

Bloom's (updated) Taxonomy in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Alan Bloom’s classic 1956 learning taxonomy was revised and refined by Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl in 2000.

  • Remember: Learner’s ability to recall information
  • Understand: Learner’s ability to understand information
  • Apply: Learner’s ability to use information in a new way
  • Analyze: Learner’s ability to break down information into its essential parts
  • Evaluate: Learner’s ability to judge or criticize information
  • Create/Design: Learner’s ability to create something new from different elements of information

Theses updates reflect of a more active thought process and include three main changes:

  • Category names were revised from nouns to verbs.
  • The last two stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy were switched so that evaluation (evaluating) comes before synthesis (creating).
  • The knowledge (remembering) category was updated to reflect four knowledge dimensions instead of three.

Bloom's (updated) Taxonomy in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

More specific to foreign language learning it is important to recognize that these skills are not a hierarchy, but are interrelated and dependent on each other to function most efficiently and effectively.  Language creation is dependent on understanding, analyzing, evaluating and applying knowledge.

Bloom's (updated) Taxonomy in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comHere are questions to use when creating tasks, activities & assessments in the world language classroom using the updated Bloom’s taxonomy categories:

  • Remember: Can the student recall or remember the information?
  • Understand: Can the student explain ideas or concepts?
  • Apply: Can the student use the information in a new way?
  • Analyze: Can the student distinguish between the different parts?
  • Evaluate: Can the student justify a stand or decision?
  • Create/Design: Can the student create or design a new product or point of view?

Download a pdf with a list of over 60 verbs to use when creating tasks, activities & assessments in the world language classroom using the updated Bloom’s taxonomy.

Bloom's (updated) Taxonomy in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl : A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York : Longman, ©2001.

Feedback in the Foreign Language Classroom

Feedback is information that teachers provide to students regarding where they are, how they are performing, and what they need to work on to progress in their language proficiency.  We tend to think about feedback as only corrective in nature, but we also provide supportive and encouraging feedback.

Feedback in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

If video if better for you, take a look at the livestream videos that I did on the topic of effective feedback on Periscope and Facebook Live.

Feedback in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Feedback in the foreign language classroom can be looked at in three ways.  These three types of feedback are not given in isolation, but should be used together to provide information for language students who are working toward increased proficiency.

Appreciation

  • This involves encouragement and indication that the efforts on the part of the learner are paying off and helping them progress in language proficiency.  Motivation is an important part of language learning.  We as teachers need to find the progress (big and small) and point this out to our students.  If they see no progress in language learning they are likely to lose motivation.

Coaching

  • Along with the appreciation and building motivation and confidence in our students, we also need to coach them in the process.  Just like an athletic coach who suggests different approaches and shows the path to the objective, we as language teachers should approach our language coaching in the same way.  This is not so much about correcting the language, but more a question of creating learner experiences in which learns can use the language they have and grow in proficiency.  We should guide their path to the goal, but they are responsible for making the goal on their own, just as a soccer player would do.

Evaluation

  • Our evaluation of language learners is feedback on where they are regarding their present proficiency level.  This is not about pointing out what is incorrect or inaccurate, but more a matter of concretely showing students where they are on their language learning journey.  This will also provide information about where to go and what to work on so that students can continue to grow in proficiency.

Feedback in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Teachers are often wondering what to do when they encounter learner language that is inaccurate.  Is this an opportunity for correction?  Is it useful?  Will it stick?  The answers to these questions depend on whether or not the learner has had sufficient input with the inaccurate structure or if it is an attempt at language creation. It is important to distinguish between and error and a mistake in learner language.

  • Mistakes are performance errors, where the learner has acquired the accurate form, but in a particular moment produces inaccurate language.
  • Errors occur in the learner’s interlanguage because a learner has not yet acquired the accurate form, and they are making a guess, often based on their native language and their current knowledge of the target language.

When students create with language and hypothesize a form or word in the moment and make an error we should use this information as an indication that students are “ready” for (i.e.need ) this structure in their language learning journey and we should then begin using the structure more often and providing comprehensible input.  In this situation we as teachers are getting the feedback that we need to adjust our instruction.

As teachers, we should focus language feedback on mistakes because this is what our students should be able to do in the target language.  If a student has had sufficient input and exposure to the structure and there is inaccuracy in the student language we then take on the role of coach.  This means that we create situations in which we guide the student toward the accurate structure.  Here are some suggestions for how to coach students in this situation.

  • Clarification requests : If there is a mistake in the vocabulary or verb form a question about the inaccurate wording brings attention to the error.
    • “I go to the store yesterday.”
    • Yesterday?
  • Elicitation: If you hear a mistake in the student language, repeat the sentence and pause at the place where the mistake was made.  This provides the learner with an opportunity to correct his own mistake by concentrating only on that word or structure.
    • “I go to the store yesterday.”
    • Yesterday, I….
  • Repetition: When there is a mistake repeat exactly what the learner said. Emphasize the mistake. This will indicate where the mistake is located, and gives the learner an opportunity to focus on that particular part of the output and, upon reflection, produce accurate language.
    • “I go to the store yesterday.”
    • I GO to the store yesterday?”

Providing effective feedback is one of the ACTFL Core Practices for effective language learning and instruction.  Use this post and the information to provide feedback to your students that will guide them toward a higher lever of language proficiency.

Be sure to check out the  livestream videos on the topic of effective feedback on Periscope and Facebook Live.

Feedback in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Foreign Language Exercises and Tasks; Task-Based Activities

There are many different types of activities that we create for our foreign language students.  In the communicative language classroom there are two broad categories of activities: exercises and tasks.

Foreign Language Exercises and Tasks, Task-Bsed Activities (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

What is a task?

  • A task requires the use of the target language in order to complete a task. The goal is the completion of the task, though the expectation is that the target language is being used to complete it.

What is an exercise?

  • Bill Van Patten describes “exercises” as activities that focus on language mechanics and often use language out of context.
  • “Tasks,” in contrast, are activities that have a product, goal, objective or outcome that require using the target language to achieve it, but are not focused on mechanics.

With tasks the goal is independent of language. Research overwhelmingly shows that language used in context is most beneficial to language acquisition. Tasks are an effective way of providing communicative activities to students.

Foreign Language Exercises and Tasks, Task-Bsed Activities (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Is the activity an exercise or a task?

Consider these aspects of activities when determining if it is an exercise or a task:

The Activity is an exercise if it…

  • focuses only correct examples of language.
  • uses language out of context.
  • focuses on producing small amounts of language.
  • doesn’t focus on meaningful communication.
  • dictates language structures and vocabulary.

The Activity is a task if it…

  • focuses on achieving communication.
  • focuses on meaningful use of language.
  • employs communication strategies.
  • does not use predictable language.
  • links language use to context.
  • does not dictate language structures.

Foreign Language Exercises and Tasks, Task-Bsed Activities (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com 

How do I design task?

  1. Choose a theme and a goal. Keep in mind particular vocabulary themes or language structures that you would like students to use and craft the activity accordingly.
  2. Explain the task and desired outcome.
  3. Pairs/groups engage in task. Teacher engages as necessary to keep task on track.
  4. Pairs/groups share out their goals with other groups or as a whole class.
  5. Teacher provides an individual extension activity.

Foreign Language Exercises and Tasks, Task-Bsed Activities (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Take a look at this SlideShare that explains the difference between exercises, activities and tasks.

Also have a look at this post with lots of task-based activities for the French and Spanish classroom.

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

Here 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.

  • Activate 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.

Foreign Language Lesson Planning with Backwards Design

One of the ACTFL Core Practices is to teach with the Backwards Design Model. Backward Design is a teaching method that involves designing educational curriculum by setting goals before choosing instructional methods and forms of assessment.  This teaching model lends itself very well to proficiency-based language teaching as it requires the teacher to focus on what students will ultimately be able to do with the language, rather than simply knowing about the language.

Foreign Language Teaching with Backwards Design (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Traditional language teaching has often focused on learning and producing language structures and vocabulary through practice-type activities.  When it comes time to assessment (or testing) it has typically been a matter of verifying what students can tell the teacher about the language, such as  vocabulary lists or verb forms, rather than demonstrating what he or she is able to do with the language.

Backwards design planning and execution happens in three phases or stages.

1. Identify Desired Results

Consider these questions when identifying these goals and desired results for a foreign language unit or lesson.

  • What will students do with the language?
  • Does this goal only focus on what the students know about the language?
  • What is the current proficiency level of the students? (novice mid, intermediate low, etc.)
  • What is the text type that students can produce? (lists, chunked phrases, discrete sentences, connected sentences, etc.)
  • Is this goal specific?
  • Can I create 2-3 can do statements to focus on this goal?

2. Determine Acceptable Evidence

Consider these questions when determining acceptable of language learning and progressing in proficiency.

  • Are there opportunities to demonstrate proficiency in the three communication modes? (interpretative, presentational, interpersonal)
  • Are the prompts at the appropriate proficiency level?  (novice mid, intermediate low, etc.)
  • Do the prompts focus on the text type of students at this proficiency level? (lists, chunked phrases, discrete sentences, connected sentences, etc.)
  • Is there opportunity for student choice?
  • Do the assessments provide insight in to students’ ability to perform the can do statements articulated in the goals and desired outcomes?
  • Are there opportunities for spontaneous language production?

3. Plan the Learning Experience and Instruction

Consider these questions when planning instruction to move students toward the desired outcome of the unit or lesson.

  • What are the vocabulary themes necessary to reach the goals and desired outcomes?
  • What are the language structures necessary to reach the goals and desired outcomes?
  • What activities will provide opportunities to meet the goals and desired outcomes using the three communication modes? (interpretative, presentational, interpersonal)
  • What tasks will provide students with opportunities to use the language to accomplish a goal that is independent of practicing the language structures and thematic vocabulary?

Foreign Language Teaching with Backwards Design (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com Foreign Language Teaching with Backwards Design (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

The PACE Model: Teach Foreign Language Grammar Inductively as a Concept

The PACE MODEL is a very effective way to use one of the ACTFL Core Practices, which is to teach grammar as a concept and to use the structures in context.  Essentially this means that students should focus on the forms of the grammar structure after they focus on the meaning.  The PACE Model (Donato and Adair-Hauck, 1992) encourages the language learner to reflect on the use of target language forms.  The teacher and learners collaborate and co-construct a grammar explanation after focusing on the meaning in context.  The PACE model provides a concrete way for teaching grammar as a concept.

Teach Foreign Language Grammar Inductively as Concept: The PACE Model (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comMuch like  authentic language  learning that happens outside of the classroom, this approach stresses that learning happens between people through social interaction (reminiscent of Vygotsky).  The PACE model requires the learner to be an active participant in the language learning process.

The PACE model is a “four-step” process that includes elements that encourage student comprehension and participation. The four stages are:

1. PRESENTATION :
The teacher foreshadows the grammar structure with an appropriate text, with emphasis on meaning. Typically, the teacher recycles the storyline through pictures, TPR activities, etc., to increase comprehension and student
participation.  The focus is not on the grammar structure at this point, but it is used by the teacher and in the text.

2. ATTENTION :
The teacher now has students focus on the language form or structure through the use of images, powerpoint slides or highlighting a particular linguistic form.

3. CO-CONSTRUCTION :
After the teacher has focused student attention on a particular target-language form, together they co-construct the grammatical explanation. The teacher provides scaffolding and assists the learners with questions that encourage them to reflect, predict and form generalizations regarding the consistencies of the language.  Students construct their own grammar rules, guided by the teacher who will make sure that they end up with an appropriate explanation.

4. EXTENSION :
The learners use the grammatical structures to complete a task relating to the
theme of the lesson, which helps the language remain communicative while also highlighting a particular structure.

Reference: Donato, R. & B. Adair-Hauk. “A Whole Language Approach to Focus on Form.” Paper presented at the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. San Antonio,Texas (1992).