Category Archives: Speaking

Suggestions for Foreign Language Choice Board Options

I recently wrote a post about using choice boards in the foreign language class. I included 2 ways to use Google Slides and Forms to show 9 options that include the three communication modes and choices around learning style.  You can read that post here and copy the template to your Google Drive.

Suggestions for Foreign Language Choice Board Options (French, Spanish)

The organizational part is step one, then we need to figure out what the actual choices are.  I compiled suggestions for each option below.  Since the choice board template is designed to be used for any language, theme or proficiency level I am keeping the suggestions and resources general so that you can easily adapt them to the content that you are focusing on in your classes.  Hopefully this list will spark some ideas and make the process of creating choice boards more manageable.

Nuts and Bolts:

1-Way Speaking:

  • Flip Grid
  • Vacaroo
  • Ad for Podcast
  • Ad for YouTube Channel
  • Voicemail
  • Movie Talk-watch a video clip with no sound and tell what happens
  • Describe picture or story or storyboard

Writing:

  • Create an Ad
  • Make an Infographic
  • Write a quiz
  • Make a Storyboard and write what happens
  • Comic strip
  • Write an Email
  • Write a text
  • Social media post
  • Movie Write -watch a clip with no sound and write what happens

2-Way Speaking:

  • Sign up for in-person or Zoom, one-on-one or small group
  • Role play
  • Themes in advance
  • Record (audio or video)

Listening:

Reading:

  • Websites
  • Book
  • Articles
  • Infographics
  • Lingro
  • Classmates’ writing

Art, Music, etc.:

  • Paint and describe (write or speak)
  • Draw and describe (write or speak)
  • Sculpt and describe (write or speak)
  • Write song lyrics

Web Activities:

 

Picture1

Culture:

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

There is increasing research that shows that learner independence builds confidence and increases academic performance and language proficiency. I have seen an increase in choice boards among language teachers on social media.  These boards provide students with options of how to learn and practice content or a skill.  They also encourage students to be more responsible, accountable and independent as they work at their own pace. In a time of remote/distance/hybrid learning these choice boards are a great way to keep students engaged in or out of the school building.

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

As I took on this challenge of implementing choice boards I soon realized that the challenge comes in the organization and keeping track of assignments. When students are completing different assignments at various times how do I manage it all?  So, I took to Twitter to ask teachers how they do this in their classrooms.  There were great suggestions from generous teachers all over the country.  I compiled responses and got to work creating two versions of choice boards.  One uses Google Slides and the other uses Google Slides and Forms.  There are apps, Websites and platforms out there that do this sort of thing for a fee, but I wanted to find a way that uses Google (Classroom) that does not require yet another username and password… and does not have an annual cost associated with it.

Be sure to look at this post if you would like to see ideas for each of the options.

The choice board is the same for both versions.  It is the way students submit work that differs.  Copy of the Choice Board Template to your Google Drive.

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

There are 9 options on the choice board, which include the communication modes as well as culture, Web activities and art, music, etc.  There is also a “nuts and bolts” option which all students begin with.  This is for initial presentation of content through comprehensible input.  This is all done in a Google Slide presentation that is shared with students so that they each have their own copy.  In this first version all work is put on the corresponding slides either as an image or a link to a Google doc.

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

 

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

This second version begins with the same choice board in Google Slide format, but there are links to Google Forms to submit work. Copy of the Choice Board Template to your Google Drive.

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

Be sure to take a look at this follow-up post that has ideas and suggestions for the choice board options. I hope you have success with choice boards and that these templates help to make it a little more manageable for you.

Copy of the Choice Board Template to your Google Drive

Foreign Language Speaking Activity, In-Class or Distance Learning

Like everyone else I am figuring out what I can use during distance learning.  This is a speaking activity that I do in the classroom either as a whole class or in small groups.  It has transitioned well to the remote learning classroom, particularly with platforms that allow screen-sharing. You can copy the template to your Google Drive by clicking HERE.

I call this activity “Advance” (Avancez! in French and ¡Adelante! in Spanish)

Foreign Language Speaking Activity, In-Class or Distance Learning (French, Spanish)

Here is how it works.  This is for the Spanish version, but just replace the word ¡Caramba! with Zut! for French…any language would work with the template.

Set Up:

  • This activity can be done with the whole class broken down into teams of 2-3 or in a small group of 3-4 individual players. Project the slides if playing with the entire class (share your screen if doing remote teaching).  If playing in a small group they will need one computer or a tablet with Powerpoint or Google Slides. Be sure that they play in slideshow mode so that they can’t see the thumbnail images on the side.
  • Give each group (if playing with the entire class) or each individual (if playing in a small group) two objects that they can use while playing. This can be anything really… erasures, slips of paper, popsicle sticks or game pieces.  It doesn’t matter what they are, as long as each group (or individual player if playing in small group) has 2. I just keep track of this on my own in the distance learning classroom.
  • The object of the game is to have the most points at the end.  The teacher can set a time limit to determine when the end arrives.  It’s good if you can set a timer, but without students seeing the countdown. If players arrive at the “Fin” slide activity is done.
  • Determine the order that the groups or individuals will play in.

Foreign Language Speaking Activity, In-Class or Distance Learning (French, Spanish)Foreign Language Speaking Activity, In-Class or Distance Learning (French, Spanish)

 

 

 

Foreign Language Speaking Activity, In-Class or Distance Learning (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Speaking Activity, In-Class or Distance Learning (French, Spanish)

 

 

 

 

 

Play:

  • Begin on the first slide.  The first player (or individual player if playing in small group) identifies the picture or responds to a prompt either by speaking or writing.  If correct (clicking on the slide will show the correct answer) the group or player gets a point. If the answer is incorrect no point are awarded or lost and play continues with the next group (or individual).
  • The next group (or individual) can decide to advance (¡Adelante!) to the next slide and identifies the picture or responds to a prompt. However, there are slides that say “¡Caramba!” instead of a picture or prompt and the group (or individual) loses all of their points.  At any time a group (or individual) can choose not to advance and skip a turn.  They can only to this twice in the game and must hand over the an object mentioned in the set up.

Foreign Language Speaking Activity, In-Class or Distance Learning (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Speaking Activity, In-Class or Distance Learning (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Speaking Activity, In-Class or Distance Learning (French, Spanish)

 

 

 

 

  • If a group or individual decides not to advance the play continues with the next group (or individual).
  • Once a group (or individual) has used both of their “skips” they must advance to the next slide when it is their turn.

Tips:

  • Players should not assume that there are not 2 “¡Caramba!” in a row. There is no pattern.
  • Change up the order of the slides and location of the “¡Caramba!” if you use the activity multiple times so that students can’t anticipate where the “¡Caramba!” are.
  • Depending on the proficiency level of students they can be required to identify the picture (novice level) or use it in a complete sentence (Novice High to Intermediate).  If it is a prompt it will require a novice high or intermediate response.
  • Set an alarm on a timer and when it goes off the game ends and the group (or individual) who has the most points at that moment is the winner.  It is best to play between 20-30 minutes, though the teacher can adjust this based on the dynamics of the class. Or, if players arrive at the “Fin” slide activity is done.

You can copy the template to your Google Drive by clicking HERE.  Fill in the prompts to fit your needs on each slide.  Copy as many slides and  ¡Caramba!/ Zut! that you would like and put them anywhere you would like, and as many as you would like.

Create Time Capsule by Foreign Language Proficiency Level

If you teach multiple grade levels, or various proficiency levels, you probably like to find an activity or project that can be used across levels.  I would like to share a project with you that you can use with novice and intermediate learners.  It is essentially the same concept. It differs only in how students engage with the content that they produce.

Students Create Time Capsule by Foreign Language Proficiency Level (french, Spanish)

Students create a time capsule that is a snapshot of their life over the past year.  I typically do this as the school year, so you will see 2019-2020 in the examples.  I have students do this digitally in Google slides.  I have seen in done in a journal as well with pictures and writing glued to the pages.  While the tactile nature and opportunities for creative design are more apparent with the physical product I find that that it is logistically easier to manage when it is digital.

Students begin by responding to prompts in the target language.

  • Name:
  • Town/City:
  • Birthday:
  • Age:
  • Personal adjectives (3) to describe yourself:
  • Family (name, age, relation):
  • Gratitude (3 things you are thankful for or appreciate):
  • School:
  • Teachers and Subjects:
  • Friends :
  • Activity :
    • Where?:
    • When?:
    • With whom?:
  • Activity :
    • Where?:
    • When?:
    • With whom?:
  • Activity :
    • Where?:
    • When?:
    • With whom?:
  • Music:
    •  Song:
    • Singer:
  • Film/TV/Netflix/Amazon :
    • Favorite Move or TV Program:
    • Favorite Actress or Actor:
  • Reading
    • Favorite Book:
    • Favorite Writer:

Once these are done students find pictures to go along with each of these topics and put them in google slides.  I provide the template and they fill it in.

Students Create Time Capsule by Foreign Language Proficiency Level (French, Spanish)

The final step is where the projected is differentiated by proficiency level. You can see a review of proficiency levels here.

Novice mid to novice high students write about what is “in” their time capsule and these sentences go on each slide with the images.  At this level I usually provide sentence starters as well, such as “My favorite actress is…” or ” My math teacher is…”  At this proficiency level the work is done in the present.Students Create Time Capsule by Foreign Language Proficiency Level (French, Spanish)

Novice high to intermediate low students write as if they were opening the time capsule in five years and write about they did, what they liked, who their teachers were, etc. five years ago. For languages with preterite and imperfect tenses, this lends itself to distinguishing between the preterite and imperfect.  Students at this level tend (in my experience) to be better with the preterite. For the sentences that would require the imperfect I typically provide sentence starters. 
Students Create Time Capsule by Foreign Language Proficiency Level (French, Spanish)Intermediate low to intermediate mid students write as if they were opening the time capsule in fifty years and writing about they used to do, what they liked, who their teachers were, etc. fifty years ago. For language with preterite and imperfect tenses, this lends itself to using the preterite and imperfect accurately, and it provides an effective way to contextualize the tenses.

Students Create Time Capsule by Foreign Language Proficiency Level (French, Spanish)

I also include a speaking component.  Once students are done with the time capsule, and are very familiar with all of the content, I set up time for them to have a 5-minute discussion with me about their time capsule.

 

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

As I write this post many of us are teaching remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  I have been using Zoom to teach and communicate with students.  One of the features is breakout rooms where students can be put into small groups. Other platforms offer similar possibilities.  I was trying to find a way to see what groups are doing in real time in addition to popping in and out of each group.

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

I saw on Twitter that Rebecca Blouwolf, ACTFL Teacher of the Year, was trying out using shared Google docs during breakout group time.  I have known Rebecca for over 20 years and I respect her so much.  We started our teaching career together and I have been very impressed with all that she has accomplished.  When I saw what she was doing with Google docs I knew that I had to look into it.

My first iteration looked like this.

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

I shared the doc (I used Google sheets) with all students and groups worked collectively in the same document.  I was able to see what they were entering in real time and could write a message to all of the groups (broadcast message in Zoom) when I saw saw some common inaccuracies or I could go into an individual group when I wanted to support them verbally.  There was one problem with this, they were all doing the same questions and could see each other’s responses.  It didn’t seem to be much of an issue, but I wanted to give each group different prompts while all working in the same shared document.  I could have shared different documents with each group, but that would mean looking at different documents.  I wanted the individual group work all together so that I could  see what all groups are doing at once.

So, I got back to work. This is the second iteration and the version that I have been using successfully.

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

This allows for different prompts for each group (blue column), while being able to see all responses in real time. Atelier means “workshop” in French and the is the word I use with students for “breakout room.”  They type their group responses to the right of the prompts in blue.  In addition to text, groups can insert images in response to a prompt or a link to audio or a video that that they record or through search.  My initial intent was to use this to see work done in real time in Zoom breakout rooms, but I’m envisioning using this for asynchronous (not in real time) student work as well. Though this is a work-around during a crisis, I plan to continue using it when we are back in the physical classroom.

If you would like to us this with your students, make sure that you share one document with the entire class and allow editing when sharing a Google doc. For ease of formatting I use a Google Sheet, but you can do this with any of the Google doc options.  I tell students that they can delete  it out of their Google account when done so that it is not yet another document taking up space.  I have the original with all of their responses….another benefit of having it all in one place.  You can also have a spot for groups to put their names in  next to the the breakout room.  I keep track on my own.

This link will make a copy of the breakout room document in your Google Drive (just like assigning  to students in Google Classroom)  and you can modify it for your own personal use.  This is a work in progress for me.  I’d love to see and hear about what works for you.

 

Flip Grid in the Foreign Language Classroom

I’m writing this post during the Covid-19 quarantine and distance learning.   Many teachers have had to figure out this new world of distance learning in a very short amount of time.  Though not ideal in many ways, I have had to discover new ways to keep language learning moving forward, or at the very least not regressing.  Thanks to social media and the many generous and insightful language teachers out there I have a long and inspiring list of apps, Websites and ideas to try.  There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to get to them all.  Until now.  Flip Grid in the Foreign Language Classroom

I am using this time of reinvention to look into and implement these ideas that I have come across, but have not had the chance to implement.  One of these is Flip Grid.  Now that I am using it regularly to keep students engaged in all of the communication modes I can’t imagine not continuing to use it when we get back to the classroom.  Dare I say that I appreciate the opportunity to try out new things during this time.

Flip Grid in the Foreign Language Classroom

Flip Grid allows teachers to post a prompt, such as written questions, videos or images.  Students then simply click a record button and then begin recording a video response.

Flip Grid in the Foreign Language Classroom

When done, they can edit, work with filters and then submit.  The teacher can decide which of these functions to make available.  The teacher can then choose to make the videos viewable by the entire class or to keep them private and only viewable by the teacher.  Personally, I have used it both ways.  When only viewable by me I use the platform for an assessment (formative or summative) and make the videos available to the class when I want students to interact with each other.

There are lots of things that can be done directly on the Flip Grid Website, such as students leaving video comment or reactions to each other, leaving feedback on student videos and following student interactions.  Many of these features require students setting up an account.  That may be something that you are interested in doing.  I only use the video response feature and created unique usernames for each student in the class.  You can send them direct link to the grid (prompt) either through email or directly on Google Classroom.  Students just simply enter their username and they go right to the prompt.

Flip Grid in the Foreign Language Classroom

I’m also having students watch each others videos and answering questions that I create based on each individual video.  This is a way of keeping the communication modes alive.  Sometimes the videos are spontaneous responses and I have also had students read something that they wrote. These are the videos with more accurate language that I use for follow-up questions for the rest of the class to engage with.

Flip Grid in the Foreign Language Classroom

Flip Grid in the Foreign Language Classroom

 

Flip Grid in the Foreign Language Classroom

Also… “Flip Grid, which has 20 million users from all over the world, will now be completely free for schools; previously, the service cost $1,000 a year per school. The purchase will help Microsoft in its push against Google and Apple in the classroom.”

Worth a try at that price!

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities

I’m always a fan of resources that can be easily modified to fit different proficiency levels.  I love it when I find an activity or resource that I can pull out at any proficiency level and just get students speaking or writing by simply changing the output prompt.

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

I have been creating these Zut and Caramba cards for several years.  Sometimes I used index cards and a marker, sometimes I just printed out a bunch of pictures.  While students were able to produce language rather well with this on-the-fly type resources I wanted to up my game a little with this activity.  So, I got to work on a template and used it to create Zut and Caramba cards on lots of vocabulary and language structure topics.  As I said above I like resources that can be used at any proficiency level.  These Zut and Caramaba cards a perfect fit.Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

They can be used in 4 ways:

Zut (French) and Caramba (Spanish):

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

  • This activity  can be done in small groups of 4-5 or with the entire class playing in teams.
  • Students (or teams) take turns choosing a card out of a bag.
  • Once chosen, the player (or team) can do various things to keep the card depending on the proficiency level of the students. They can the picture, use it in a sentence or even ask a question about it.
  • If they choose a Zut or Caramba card they must put all their cards back in the bag, including the Zut or Caramba card.
  • Play continues between the players or teams and the cards/points change often because of the Zut or Caramba cards.
  • If a player (or team) doesn’t know a form or meaning it goes back in the bag.  Play continues with the next student.
  • After a certain number of turns or a specified amount of time, the player (or team) with the most cards wins.

Card Find:

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

  • Place cards (#1-40) in various places around the classroom or another space. Pair students up and give them 5 numbers (between 1-40) and the pairs set out to find the cards with their numbers.
  • When they find the cards that respond to a pre-determined prompt based on their proficiency level. Students can the picture in writing or use it in a sentence. There are question words to help inspire a sentence.  They can do this on a slip of paper or a small white board.
  • When they have all five they return to teacher for verification and get another set of numbers and repeat the process.
  • Each pair gets a point for each set of 5 that they complete.  You may want to make it 3 if this moves things along better in your class.
  • After a specified amount of time the pair with the most points is the winner

Do Now:Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

  • When they enter the room, students choose 2 or 3 cards and complete a prompt based on the card. Depending on the proficiency level of the students the teacher can have students identify the word in writing or use it in a sentence.

Exit Ticket:Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

  • Just before the end of class hand out a card to each student and they respond to the prompt and hand it to the teacher (who verifies the answer) as they leave the room. Depending on the proficiency level of the students the teacher can have students identify the word in writing or use it in a sentence.

These activities can also be done with language structures such verb tenses, demonstrative and possessive adjectives, direct and indirect object pronouns, adjectives and even comparisons.  Rather than identify images the prompts require uses these various language structures.

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

 

 

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.  ACTFL has compiled a significant amount of research to support the the effectiveness of communicative language teaching.

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.”

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. One 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.