The importance of teaching and learning vocabulary in context is spreading. Gone (hopefully) are the days of teaching words in isolation and out of context. We need to keep this in mind as well when students write. I am guilty of asking students to “write each vocabulary word in a sentence” when the sentences are in isolation and don’t follow any sort of logic or context.
When would anyone need to write like this? The answer is never, or only in a foreign language class. So, I needed to change my writing prompts to make sure that students are writing with a context. This tends to be a bit more manageable with students that have a higher proficiency, but I wanted to make sure that I was instilling the concept and skill of writing in context with my younger (lower proficiency) students early on so that this would become the norm as they gain in proficiency.
Here is an example of a writing assignment that I do with my elementary students to scaffold them into writing in context. It is a foldable that represents a house. They begin by “building” their house, which is simply folding a piece of paper in half, then folding in each side. Students then cut two lines on each flap and glue on a roof. Next, they write the names of rooms in the house (and the yard) on the flaps, which represent doors or windows.
Students then write six sentences stating what they like or don’t like to do in each room in the house. This gives them an opportunity to use all the verbs they have learned in context along with the rooms in the house. Once I go over the draft sentences with each student, they write the sentence inside the room.
Finally, students cut out a picture of the activity and glue that inside the room as well. This is a great way to reinforce the meaning of the words in the sentence without resorting to translation.
When finished, these can be used to have a conversation with students where they read the sentences of other students and respond to react to what they read.
Lots of possibilities with other concepts. I’m just getting starting. Please comment on other ideas.
Students are more motivated to write when the topic is of personal interest. I recently saw a colleague, Katya Hottenstein, working with a Spanish class on writing short poems. The poem was the classic Cinquian, but she took it a step further and the students created artistic representations of their poems. The topics were chosen by students and the artistic rendering was left up to the writer. Cinquain poems are typically written in one of these forms.
- Line 1: One word
- Line 2: Two words
- Line 3: Three words
- Line 4: Four words
- Line 5: One word
- Line 1: A noun
- Line 2: Two adjectives
- Line 3: Three -ing words
- Line 4: A phrase
- Line 5: Another word for the noun
- Line 1: Two syllables
- Line 2: Four syllables
- Line 3: Six syllables
- Line 4: Eight syllables
- Line 5: Two syllables
Here are some examples of the creative writing projects that the students created.
When I read about Chat Stations on the Cult of Pedagogy website and I immediately saw how this could be very beneficial in the world language classroom. This procedure gives students an opportunity to work cooperatively in the target language while moving around the room and working with different prompts.
The types of prompts can be as simple as makings lists for novice learners (fruit, vegetable, clothing, city locations), describing a photo for intermediate learners, or stating and supporting opinions for more advanced language learners. It is a fairly easy set-up and follow-up as a large group will be much richer once students have worked on the prompts in small groups. This type of activity is also an effective opportunity for formative assessment and feedback from the teacher as the teacher circulates among the groups and interacts as necessary to clear up any language issues that groups may struggle with. Here is a video from Cult of Pedagogy explaining how to use and set-up Chat Stations.
Novice learners are often intimated to begin using a new foreign language that they are learning. One activity that I do with them begins with the class co-creating a dialog that uses many of the functional chunks, song lyrics and vocabulary words that they have learned. We purposefully leave out some information that students add in later based on personal information or choices.
Once this is done, groups of 2 students pair up to practice the dialog. For some added fun I often let them use puppets and they can use a funny voice. This helps to break down any inhibitions that they. After practicing with the written dialog for a little while, groups continue working with the dialog without the text. They then switch partners and continue communication interpersonally without the scaffolding of the written dialog. The questions and answers often change with each new partner, but communication stays in the target language.
To begin this activity, show students two pictures that are different in some way. Ask them to take a close look and interpret how they are different. Then, they write one word for each picture that best describes it. Limiting it to one word causes students to focus on one aspect. Once they do this, the teacher can have them talk in small groups about why they chose these words or they can write about it. The activity and also be combined and students and speak in groups after writing about it. This activity lends itself to the ACTFL standards fairly well as students can be guided to speak or write in the text type of the various levels (individual words, phrases, sentences, strings of sentences, connected sentences or paragraphs). A great starting point or hook for conversations. This particular picture inspired such great conversation that I decided to make a bulletin board out of it with different languages.
The Peace Corps has been working internationally for more than 50 years in more than 139 countries. The Peace Corps has kept true to its mission over the years, “to promote world peace and friendship.” The Peace Corps is more vital than ever, working in collaboration with partner organizations and using cutting-edge technologies and well-tested best practices to enhance impact.
What better way to have students learn about the world than to partner with a Peace Corps volunteer in a country where the language they study is spoken. There is a division of the Peace Corps dedicated to providing these opportunities to teachers. It is called Global Connections and teachers can search for lesson plans and also apply to get a Peace Corps Exchange Partner. This program connects classrooms with a Peace Corps Volunteer serving abroad. Peace Corps Volunteers in the field exchange emails, letters, videos, photographs, and telephone calls with classrooms.
I have had a Peace Corps Exchange partner for several years and I have had novice and intermediate level exchanges between my students and students in a school in Senegal. Culture can start at the novice level. In fact, my 3rd grade class had an informative and interesting exchange. They began by writing a few sentences about themselves on one side of a sheet of paper (in French) and drew and labeled their family and home on the back. We sent these to Sam, our Peace Corps Volunteer, in Senegal along with blank copies of the paper that my students completed. Sam did the same activity with her students and sent them back. There were so many great conversations that happened simply by looking at way my students drew and labeled their families and homes and how that compared to the drawings of the Senegalese students.
Take advantage of the many great opportunities out there to connect students to the culture of the language that they are studying. No need to wait for intermediate or advanced levels, it can start at the novice level.
On Wheel Decide, teachers can type in the words that they want displayed on the wheel and on each click the wheel spins and lands on a random word. There are so many uses for this online tool. Fill in verbs and students write or say a sentence; type in vocabulary words and students write sentences or say a sentence in small groups or pairs; type in topics for pairs or small groups to use as speaking prompts; type in student names for setting up groups…so many possibilities.
The teacher can even save the wheels that he/she creates for future use. It takes only minutes to create a wheel and you will be using it instantly. And the best part is that it’s free.
Take a spin of this wheel that I created to do a review activity with a 7th grade class.
This wheel is from an activity with Spanish verbs.
Padlet is an online, electronic “wall” where students can post comments or answer questions for the entire class to see and respond to. The possibilities are endless since the link can be shared with students who can easily access the wall electronically.
The teacher can upload videos, photos or documents. It can easily be used for a virtual exchange as well with another school. All students involved can comment on the same photo or video and everyone can see the different responses. Padlet can also be used in real time in class with all students entering comments on the board at the same time. Each comment begins with the student’s name so that everyone looking at the board knows who wrote the comment.
As language teachers we should ask our students to perform at their proficiency level and provide opportunities for them to progress in their proficiency by prompting them to perform slightly beyond their current level (i+1). This seems simple and obvious, however, what often happens is that we jump to much higher levels too quickly and this causes a sort of linguistic paralysis or a realization that they don’t have the language proficiency to perform the task.
This is typically when students resort to looking up lots of words in a dictionary (that doesn’t make for an engaging conversation) or resorting to a translator when writing. If it takes the teacher longer to provide feedback (on a writing prompt for example) than it took for the student to write it, the level of the prompt was too high.
This can be a tricky task for the teacher. We want our students to feel confident, which might lead to keeping them in the comfort zone of the their current proficiency level. But, we also want them to progress. Language teachers (and learners) can approach this more effectively by having a clear understanding of the current proficiency level and providing prompts that are one level above (i+1). The ACTFL Can-Do Statements are very helpful in this area. It is also important to be aware of the functions and text types that we are asking students to use. The ACTFL criteria for assessing language level can be used with the can-do statements to have a clear understanding of the types of prompts that are appropriate to help the student progress.
Asking a novice level learner to narrate and describe events in paragraph form (text type refers to speaking as well as writing) skips the intermediate proficiency level. A solid understanding of the text types can be very helpful in figuring out what types of prompts and questions are appropriate to determine the current level of proficiency as well what types of questions will help a learner progress to the next proficiency level.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Darcy Rogers and Organic World Language (OWL) for making this so clear for me.
This is a fun an interactive way for students to practice writing vocabulary, verb forms or sentence. The complexity of the activity can be easily increased or decreased based on the language level of the students.
On one side of the room, set up clip boards with pictures of vocabulary, subject/infinitive pairs or full sentences. Number the items on the paper. Cover the paper with a colored piece of paper. I use a different color on each board so that groups know which board is theirs.
On the other side of the room, line up chairs with another clipboard that has the numbers of the items on the other sheet with a blank line for writing.
Students work in pairs (or groups of three). One student begins sitting in the chair with the clipboard and a pencil. When you begin the activity, the second students runs to the clipboard on the other side of the room, lifts the colored paper and begins with number one. He/she memorizes the picture (if doing the activity with vocabulary), the correct verb form or the sentence. He/she then runs back to the student in the chair and says what the word, verb form or sentence is and the student in the chair writes it on the paper. They then switch rolls and continue until all the lines are filled.