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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
Posted in Classroom Procedures, Listening, Reading, Speaking, Teaching Methodology and Research, Writing
Tagged ACTFL, communication, Foreigh Langauge, french, language learning, proficiency, spanish, teacher
What is the purpose of communication? Is it to practice language? Maybe it is to polish our verb forms and word order? Perhaps it is to use all the vocabulary that we have learned in a language? Hopefully, we can all agree that this sort of “communication” that has not have a clear goal is not the reason that we engage in language learning. The reason we communicate in any language in any form is to convey or understand a message.
When it comes to understanding or conveying a message there are three ways of looking at the communication. The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines put communication to these categories: interpersonal, interpretive and presentational. Each of these modes of communication looks at the message in unique way. A solid understanding of how a message is conveyed or understood when speaking, writing or reading is essential to using various tools needed to effectively communicate.
Presentational communication is one-way speaking or writing that does not allow for real time clarification of meaning. This means that the speaker/writer has to be sure to “fill in the gaps” and have a solid understanding of what the listener or reader knows or needs to know to interpret the message.
Conversely, interpretive communication is one-way listening or reading that also does not allow for real time clarification of meaning. When reading and listening in this context the reader/listener needs to fill in their own gaps in understanding. This may require accessing personal knowledge of the topic or doing research. The most effective tool is the use of context clues and identifying what is understood to make meaning globally.
Interpersonal communication, on the other hand, is two-way speaking that allows for clarification of the message in real time. When communicating interpersonally all speakers and listeners are involved in creating and interpreting the message and work together to assure that there is a collective understanding.
These tables below lay out the three modes of communication.
Students can write the numbers 0-9 on index cards to do this activity, or you can use the cards from an UNO deck (digit cards only). Students take one of each number (0-9) and lay out the cards in front of them. Students can do this in pairs or individually.
The teacher says a number and the students build that number using the cards in front of them. The teacher can easily do a quick check and redirect any students who may have an incorrect number (in the target language of course). Depending on the level of the students, numbers can go as high as 9 billion. I usually stick to numbers under 100 for beginners or in the hundreds and thousands for more advanced students, but it could be a good challenge to go higher. Just keep in mind that numbers can’t be repeated (22, 336) since there is only one of each digit. Of course, the teacher can provide multiples of each digit, but I find that there are to many cards to manage. It’s great when students get the hang of it and want to say the numbers for their classmates to build.
Students can progress in their foreign language writing skills, spelling and identification of sound-letter (or letter combination) correspondence by doing dictations. The traditional use of dictation in the language class did not provide much opportunity for student engagement or interaction. Below is a dictation process that I have created to make the process of doing dictation in the foreign language classroom that is more engaging and interactive for students. The 5 steps can be done in one class or spread out over two or three days. The topic should include vocabulary and verb forms that are familiar to students.
- The teacher reads the entire dictation at a fluent speed.
- The teacher then reads each sentence slowly, word by word, so that students can write the sentences.
- The teacher finishes the dictation by reading the entire dictation a last time at a fluent speed.
- Students copy the dictation from a handout, the board or a projected screen without referring back to the dictation that they wrote in the first step.
- Students should be expected to write the dictation perfectly as they are copying it.
- Students read through the dictation that they wrote in step 1 and correct any mistakes they made, using the dictation text that they copied as a reference.
- Students pair up and take turns reading the dictation (that they copied in step 2) to each other and writing it out.
- Students then trade and correct each other’s work using the dictation text that they copied in step 2.
- The teacher repeats step 1.
- The teacher then grades the final written dictation.
Clothespin activities are an engaging way to practice listening and speaking skills in the target language. Everyone has a card and a clothespin. They hear a question or prompt and clip the clothespin on the card to mark the answer. Clipping on the clothespin engages students and the teacher can quickly check the answers visually.
Clothespin activities can provide excellent listening and speaking opportunities. Students can ask the questions and take turns giving instructions to the group or they can work in pairs. You can make this more interactive with cards that students flip over with a picture and words to pin or subjects and infinitives with conjugated verb forms to pin. This is a a good version for small groups or pairs and it can be a little competition.
With this Interactive Crossword Puzzle students have the opportunity to practice speaking, listening and writing in the target language.
- Partner #1 has the A picture sheet and the B crossword puzzle.
- Partner #2 has the B picture sheet and the A crossword puzzle.
The two partners alternate reading a clue out loud from the crossword clues on his/her crossword puzzle sheet. The other students has the answers on the picture sheet and provides the answer orally at which point the student reading the clue fills in the answer.
These can be created using websites to create word puzzles or you can download the activities below.
French Interactive Crossword Puzzles:
Spanish Interactive Crossword Puzzles:
Give your students an opportunity to practice and gain confidence in speaking, listening and writing in the target language. This activity can focus on any verb tense as well various other grammar points.
Students circulate in the classroom and ask each other questions using the subject pronoun and verb (in the correct form) found on their paper. The objective is to find the other person who has the same 6 sentences. My activities typically include 6 matches. If there are more than 12 students in the class, I simply photocopy additional slips and students need to find their group of 3 or 4 that all match.
When a match (or group) is found, the students work together to write the six sentences in the target language. The entire activity can easily take place in the target language. The example below is for reflexive verbs in French. These two papers match, but only these two. The other four have one verb that is different.
Here is a template to create your own
Complete French Activities:
Complete Spanish Activities
This is a great activity that I use to get students moving around the classroom and speaking to each other in the target language using reflexive verbs along with reflexive pronouns. Student ask each other when they do certain activities (wake up, go to bed, wash up, etc) and record answers. I provide students with a question sheet as well as an answer sheet ( which includes times to use in response to questions). All information is presented with pictures to avoid translation. A follow-up activity requires students to ask about another person so that a different reflexive pronoun is also used. Students have a lot of fun with this communicative activity.
You can create these activities in WORD or you can download complete activities that are ready to use here:
This is a project that can be done with level 1 students in a foreign language. It gives them an opportunity to use the vocabulary and structures typically taught in a first year course.
The focus of this project is travel and geography vocabulary. Once students make the scrapbook of a trip, there are opportunities to use the books to do additional speaking, reading, listening and writing activities.
- Begin by giving a sheet with directions for creating a travel scrapbook with directions for each page including examples.
- Then hand out a storyboard for students to do a rough draft of their book.
- Students then assemble the travel scrapbook.
- When the books are done, students read their book to the entire class or to a small group.
- Provide a sheet to those students who are listening so they can fill in information when they are listening to other students in the class read their final book.
A final activity gives students a chance to use the information that they recorded during the presentations to write sentences about that they heard and saw. You can download complete, ready-to-use versions of these projects here:
These are very interactive music activities that I came across on Lyricsgap.com. The songs are on video (linked to youtube) and for each song there are 2 types of activities to practice the lyrics: Fill in the missing word or phrase (three levels) and karaoke.
There are lots of song in different languages and you can even add to the activities or upload your own song to the site. The song and activities are assessed and approved before they are placed on the site. These are fun activities for students to do individually or in pairs: