Category Archives: Speaking

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels?

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comThe ACTFL Proficiency Levels and Performance Descriptors provide a very useful tool for seeing exactly what learners are able to communicate and produce at the various proficiency levels.  I put together a graphic to visualize the output a bit more concretely.

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

The question always comes up about how students can move up in their proficiency level.  The ACTFL Text Types show the specific types of language that novice, intermediate and advanced learners produce.

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comReferencing the types of language that learners produce along with the descriptors of what learners are able to communicate we can provide a few suggestion for moving up sub-levels (low-mid-high) and levels (novice, intermediate, advanced).

To move up sub-levels in the novice proficiency range:

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comTo move up sub-levels in the intermediate proficiency range:

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comTo move up sub-levels in the advanced proficiency range:

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (The Path)

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.

Foreign Language Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish)Last 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.

Foreign Language Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish)

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.

Foreign Language Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish)Each 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.

Foreign Language Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish) Foreign Language Speaking Activity with Playing Cards (French, Spanish)Be 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:

Make Sure “I Can” Statements Are Communicative

We have made major strides toward language proficiency in recent years.  Classroom instruction, activities and tasks have all become much more communicative in nature.  Assessment has moved more toward what students can do with the language rather than simply what they know about the language.  One of the most important and effective tools available in this shift toward proficiency has been the publication and implementation of the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can Do Statements.  The simple use of the phrase “I Can” has put the focus on what students are able to accomplish in the foreign language and move beyond just listing vocabulary and manipulating grammar structures.

Is "I Can" Enough to Demonstrate Proficiency? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

The Can Do Statements are intended to be used for any language and any age or developmental level.  The reality is that a “one size fits all” approach is often challenging, particularly when a novice mid can be 6 years old or 30.  For this reason many teachers have developed classroom or unit-based Can Do Statements that are developmentally appropriate to the age of the students.  As many of us create individualized Can Do Statements it is important to keep our communication and proficiency goals in mind.  It is easy to assume that simply putting “I Can” in front of a prompt will make it communicative.

Take a look at these “I Can” Statements and determine if they are communicative and based on proficiency:

  • I can count to 100
  • I can say the days of the week
  • I can day the date
  • I can say I like and I don’t like
  • I can say sentences in the present tense
  • I can say sentences in the past tense
  • I can say sentences in the future tense

These are a good starting point, but they can be more communicative by providing context.  Essentially they should provide an opportunity for students to do something with the language that they can produce.  The above statements demonstrate what a student knows about the language, but a change in the prompt toward more communication will allow students to show what they can do with the language.

  • I can tell you my phone number, age and address (using the numbers 1-100)
  • I can tell you what day(s) I have a class, lesson, sports practice or rehearsal (using the days of the week)
  • I can tell you my birthday and the birthdays of my friends or the date of an upcoming or past event (using knowledge of how to say the date)
  • I can tell you what activities, food, movies, books, art, sports that I like to do or don’t like to do (using the phrases “I like” and “I don’t like”
  • I can tell you what I typically do during the day or on the weekend or what I am doing right now (using the present tense sentence structure)
  • I can tell you what I did yesterday, last week, last year or earlier today (using the past tense sentence structure)
  • I can tell you what I am going to do tomorrow, next week, next year or later today (using the present tense sentence structure)

The examples above show that “I can say” does not lend itself to a conversation, whereas “I can tell” invites more detail, interaction and personalization of the language.

“I can say” is good starting point when working toward proficiency, but be sure to add in I can Statements that give students an opportunity to use the language in a communicative context as well.  These are the types of tasks and prompts that will lead to increased proficiency.

Foreign Language Modes of Communication (ACTFL)

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.

The Importance of Message when Communicating in a Foreign Language (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com 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.

The Importance of Message when Communicating in a Foreign Language (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com The Importance of Message when Communicating in a Foreign Language (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

The Role of Short and Long-Term Memory in Language Learning

We’ve all been there.  Students learn a new language structure (i.e. grammar point) or vocabulary words, take a quiz, do well, and then a few days later they are unable to produce the structure or vocabulary.  What happened?  Where did it it go?

The Role of Short and Long-Term Memory in Language Learning (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.com

First, let’s look at Interlanguage.  This is the language that a learner speaks that is on a continuum between his native language (L1) and the target language (L2).  Selinker explains that Interlanguage has these characteristics:

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Bill Van Patten takes this a bit further in his work (particularly in Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen) and presents the ideas of intake and uptake along this interlanguage continuum:

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 6.36.37 AMInitially, language input becomes intake or part of the short term memory of the learner.  This is consciously attended to and learned by the learner.  When structures and vocabulary become uptake, part of the long-term memory, it is considered subconscious and acquired. The uptake is the proficiency level of the learner.

When students take a quiz on the new material and do well it is because they are being assessed on their short-term memory (intake).  When new material comes along and that older materials has not moved on to long-term memory (uptake) it is replaced by the newer material.  That’s why the grammar structure they knew so well for the quiz is not as easily produced a few days later….and the reason we need to spend so much time reviewing for final exams at the end of the school year.

So, this begs the question, “How can we help students acquire language so that it becomes part of their uptake (long-term memory)?”  The answer is not complicated and involved, but does take persistence and consistency.  It comes down to providing as much comprehensible input as possible to students, both listening and reading.  The more exposure students have to input that is comprehensible to them the more likely the language will become uptake and make its way to the long-term memory.  Again, this is mostly a subconscious process in which language is acquired so comprehensible inout is the most effective tool.  This is yet another reason to use the target language as much as possible (90-100%) in the second language classroom.

I want to end with a quick word about learning grammar and vocabulary, as opposed to acquiring.  Steven Krashen, who is best known for his input hypothesis (i+1), does speak to the usefulness of studying and learning grammar and vocabulary.  He describes this learned language as a monitor that assess output that originates in the long-term memory for accuracy.  This learned, often intake/short-term memory, language is useful in writing as well because the writer has the time to reflect and monitor the output.  When communicating interpersonally in real time the output is often less accurate with novice and intermediate students because the more accurate and native-like language has not yet made its way to the long-term memory.

VanPatten, B. (1996). Input processing and grammar instruction: Theory and research. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

VanPatten, B., & Cadierno, T. (1993). Explicit instruction and input processing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 15, 225–243.

VanPatten, B., & Oikkenon, S. (1996). Explanation versus structured input in processing instruction. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 18 (4), 495–510.

Assessing Proficiency with Student-Friendly Can Do Statements

The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines are a very helpful tool in the Foreign/World Language Classroom.  They provide teachers and students with clear guidelines and descriptions to assess proficiency levels.  They are also an effective tool for students and teachers to set achievable and concrete goals.

Assess Proficiency with Student-Friendly Ca Do Statements (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.comAssess Proficiency with Student-Friendly Ca Do Statements (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.comThe ACTFL Can Do Statements provide detailed examples of what students could/should be able to do at each proficiency level.  The challenge I have personally had with the Can Do Statements is using them for various age and developmental levels.  There are some Can Do statements that address such things as making reservations and asking questions about particular academic subjects.  While these are very applicable to older students, they are not developmentally appropriate for younger students.  For this reason I have developed, with the help of a few colleagues, Student-Friendly Can Do Statements.  These statements honor the text type (individual words and phrases, discrete sentences, connected sentences, paragraphs) of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, but are more applicable to elementary, middle school and high school students.

Assess Proficiency with Student-Friendly Ca Do Statements (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.com

Target Language Use and Student Accountability

Language teachers know the importance of target language use in the classroom.  Regular exposure and interaction with the language leads to acquisition and a higher proficiency level.  In order to promote, expect and respect the use of the target language in the classroom teachers should support students by creating a classroom community that makes students feel safe taking risks with the language and teach the tools needed to communicate.  Students should also know their proficiency level and be personally accountable for their commitment to using the target language and striving to raise their proficiency level.

Target Language Use and Student Accountability (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comIn my classroom I have a 20 point rubric that I use to assess students each week on four focus areas: Community, Commitment, Proficiency, and Preparation.

Each category is based a five point scale.  Students are aware of these criteria and they are posted in the classroom so that they can be references regularly. I typically grade each student myself for the first few weeks of the school year and then students self-assess, but I of course reserve the right to modify the self-assessment grade if necessary.  The grade is given holistically for the entire week.  Here is the breakdown of each category:

Community:

  •  5  Choices and interactions enhance the classroom community.
  • 4  Choices and interactions almost always enhance the classroom community.
  • 3 Choices and interactions sometimes enhance the classroom community.
  • 2 Choices and interactions often hinder the classroom community.
  • 1 Choices and interactions regularly hinder the classroom community.

For recommendations on classroom community building see my post on Building a Community of Confidence.

Commitment:

  • 5  Always speaks target language and circumlocutes.
  • 4  Always speaks target language with some effort to circumlocute.
  • 3 Makes an effort to speak target language, but need to circumlocute more.
  • 2 Resorts to native language; no circumlocution.
  • 1 Little use of target language.

For tools and strategies for students to remain in the target language see my  posts on circumlocution, functional chunks and language ladders.

Proficiency:

  • 5  Regularly speaks at expected proficiency level and strives to speak above level.
  • 4  Regularly speaks at expected proficiency level.
  • 3 Usually speaks at expected proficiency level and below level at times.
  • 2 Regularly speaks below proficiency level.
  • 1 Always speaks below proficiency level.

See my post on Foreign Language Goal Setting Using ACTFL Proficiency Levels to learn about assessing students’ proficiency levels.

Preparation:

  • 5  Punctual, has all materials, assignments complete.
  • 4  Punctual, has most materials, assignments complete.
  • 3 Punctual, has all materials, assignments incomplete.
  • 2 Late or missing materials.
  • 1 Late or missing materials, assignments incomplete.

Try out this rubric system and modify to fit the needs and of your individual classroom.  I’m sure you will see an increase in student accountability for using the target language and you will feel confident that you are supporting your student in their language proficiency growth.

90%+ Target Language Use, Questions and Answers

How do we get to 90%+ target language use in the foreign language classroom?  We need to rethink how we have been teaching over the past few decades and be willing to leave some of it behind.  Traditional teaching practices were not designed to promote a high percentage of target language use.

90%+ Target Language Use in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comIf you want to get to 90%+ target language use in the classroom reflect on your teaching through the lens of these four questions and recommendations.  Take some time to contemplate how you can move your teaching in a direction that is more proficiency-based and promotes regular and confident use of the target language in your classroom.

  • Q1: Are prompts and tasks at the appropriate proficiency level?
  • R1: Assess the proficiency level of students to make sure that prompts are not above students’ proficiency level.
  • Q3. Are students held accountable for using the target language?
  • R3: Include goal setting, consistency, commitment and proficiency in grade.
  • Q4. Are all the students actively engaged and interested?
  • R4: Provide choice and opportunity for personal interest and active engagement.

Language Activity : Hide and Speak (or Write)

I’m always looking for ways to get students up and moving in the classroom while they are practicing their foreign language speaking and writing skills.  This is an activity that I call “Hide and Speak (or write)” that accomplishes this goal and students enjoy it and often ask to play.  I’m happy to oblige because they speak (or write) so much during this activity.

Hide and Speak (or Write): Foreign (Wolrd) Language Activity to Practice Speaking and Writing (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.com

  • Begin by hiding 20-30 prompt cards.  These can be index cards with vocabulary words, an image, a question about a reading, or proficiency-based questions aligned with ACTFL standards.  The possibilities are endless for prompts based on the material that is being covered in class.  Memory Cards or  Task Cards work very well for this this activity.
  • Pairs of students set out to find the prompts and when they do they return to the teacher with the card and perform the task: identify the image in the target language, use the word or verb in a sentence, answer a proficiency-based question or complete a Task Card.  Lots of possibilities.  This can all be through speaking or writing.  When writing I give pairs a small white board and marker.
  • If the pair responds correctly they can get a point for their team or the teacher can make it a point for the entire class with the goal being to get a certain number of points collectively in a specified amount of time.  The teacher keeps the prompt card and the pair sets back out.
  • Be sure to tell pairs that they need to wait in line to check in with the teacher so that that they don’t call crowd in.

Check out these task cards these task cards and memory cards that work well in this activity.

Get Students Moving and Practicing Language Vocabulary

This a very effective go-to activity that requires very little prep and gets students moving and using the target language immediately.  It’s also a great way to use a set of memory/concentration cards that you may have in your classroom.  If you need cards you can find them here:

Get Students Moving and Practicing Foreign (World) Language Vocabulary (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comSet up desks or tables around room, spaced out enough for students to move around, and put several pictures on each table. Play music and kids move around (maybe dance if they are so inclined), then when the music stops students stand behind a table.

Choose a word card, say it out loud and student with that picture identified says they he/she has the corresponding picture card on his/her table (int he target language of course). He/she then uses the word in a sentence and puts a point up by his/her name on the board. Play the music again and continue the same process of stopping the music and students saying a sentence with the word if they had the picture match.

Students really enjoyed this activity, review lots of vocabulary, and speak a lot.  You can also allow the winner of the round to be the one to start and stop the music the next time, choose a word card and say it to the class.  Try this with verb forms as well, with the conjugations 0n the desks.