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.
This is a fun activity to practice vocabulary that involves the entire class. It is a great way to practice new vocabulary and the spelling of new words and it is an effective go-to activity to review previously learned vocabulary. I call this game/activity “Who has what I have?”
Begin with a set of pictures that represent the vocabulary that you want to review. Take a few minutes to review the pictures and vocabulary orally with the class before beginning the activity and keep the pictures visible (pictures on board, LCD, etc.). The class should sit in a circle facing each other. Give each student a small white board and market. You can also have students do this on paper, but I always find that they enjoy using the white boards and markers. Instruct the students to choose a picture and write down the word without showing it to anyone else. When everyone is done, count to three and have everyone reveal the word that they wrote. They then look around at everyone else and see of there is a match. They all get a point for each match that they have. Repeat the activity, but instruct students not to repeat the word that they previously wrote.
It is important to tell students not to communicate with each other while writing. They soon realize that it is more fun to see the matches at the reveal so they usually don’t have a problem with this. I usually change the image/vocabulary category a few times so students review several themes during the game. The winner (or winners) is the one with the most point when the time is up.
This is a fun and easy way to review vocabulary and spelling. It is also a good idea to teach a few useful phrases to maintain the target language during the activity (“We match” “We get a point”, etc.)
Choose a target language passage, phrase, object or a picture and place it in the center of large sheet of paper and have students write 1-2 short sentences about it. The complexity will depend on the level of language that students have. It might a well thought out opinion, or a simple state of personal preference if the prompt is a piece of fruit. If it is a photo, students can write about what they think is happening. Students then write responses to the phrases of other students.
This is an engaging way for students to collect their thoughts on a topic and respond to the ideas of their classmates in quick, informal writing before engaging in a conversation. This can work with advanced students with access to more complex grammar structures and vocabulary or with beginner and intermediate students if the prompt is less complex or visual.
Do this activity before engaging a class discussion as a pre-speaking task and you will see how much more students have to offer. They can also have these conversations in small groups. This works best with no more than 6 students per prompt, so several station will need to be set up to account for all students in the class. The prompt can be different each station, then groups can rotate to a new station and write their thoughts, then respond to the other comments. After a few rotations there are lots of thoughts to comment on. The conversation can take place between each rotation or at the end. This activity could be used just as a writing activity without the conversational follow-up.
I am always looking for new ways to use the plastic magnetic letters that I have. This activity is called “fishing for letters”. Students use a string with a paper clip or other small metal object and a bowl of plastic magnetic letters. They fish out 3-4 letters in small groups and write words in the target language beginning with those letters. The first group to write a word for each letter wins the round. It is also helpful to give categories if you want students to review a particular vocabulary theme. You can also have them try to build the longest word that they can using in the letters that they fished out and adding in any additional letters that they need to spell out the word. A second round can involve groups writing sentences with their words. This idea could work well with Scrabble tiles as well. I usually take out the letters that less commonly appear at the beginning of a word.
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.
This is a great activity to get students saying (or writing) complete sentences in the target language that demonstrate the meaning of the verb. Powerpoint animation can be a very effective tool for these writing and speaking activities.
Here are two possibilities:
- Students write sentences based on the subject and infinitive on each slide when a infinitive and a subject pronoun are revealed. Students also see 4 possible verb forms. An additional click can reveal the correct form for students to verify their answer and present a question word so that students can complete the sentence with an answer to the question word.
- Another option is for two students to go to the board (where powerpoint is projected) and each one has a fly swatter. The activity begins just as the first activity, but in this version the first student to slap the correct verb form says a complete sentence with the correct verb form once the form is revealed and the question word appears.
These are fairly straight-forward uses of powerpoint animation. You can also download complete version with 50+ slides here:
This activity helps students build sentences in the target language in a very visual, concrete and tactile way. Students cut out the individual words, assemble sentences and then write them. This is a great way to help with individual student problem areas (verb forms, word order, negation) in a very concrete way since the papers can be swapped out along with a concrete explanation.
These documents can be created in WORD or you can download several Spanish and French verb form versions below:
This activity gets students writing sentences with correct verb forms that demonstrates that they know the meaning of the verb and its various forms. Begin each slide with a single click that reveals the verb (infinitive) and 3 subject pronouns with question words. Students have 40 seconds (the line on the bottom of the slide disappears to show time passing) to write three sentences that include the subject, the correct form of the verb and the additional information based on the question word(s). The next screen shows the three verb forms that students should have written so that they can check their work. The teacher then has students share their examples with a partner or with the class. This activity works well individually or in pairs. Students can write the sentences on small white boards or on a sheet of paper.
This activity can be done using Powerpoint animation. Below are some complete activities to practice various French and Spanish verb forms.
This is a great activity that use powerpoint to get students writing and practicing verb forms. The teacher begins each slide with a single click reveals three number combinations.
The first number is the subject and the second number is the verb. Students then have 30 seconds (the triangle disappears to show time passing) to write the three subjects with the correct form of the verb. An additional click shows the three subjects with the correct verb forms so that students can check their verb forms. Here is an example of a French writing activity.