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- Teaching Foreign Language Grammar: Inductive or Deductive?
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- Digital Google Slides™ Activities to Focus on Foreign Language Verb Accuracy
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Tag Archives: proficiency
At the novice level, students are speaking and writing with single words and lists initially, then move on to chunked phrases. Here are some examples:
- apple, banana, orange
- soccer, football
- movies, restaurant
- My favorite color is green
- I like apples, bananas and oranges
- My name is Josué
- I play soccer and football
- On the weekend I like to go to the movies and to a restaurant
As students move up to the intermediate proficiency level they begin to create discrete sentences on their own that move beyond chunked phrases. This tends to be the most challenging for students as they begin to create with language and are not relying on memorized phrases to chunk together. Rather than changing the detail after a memorized phrase such as “my favorite ______ is _______” and “I like __________” they are moving on to changing subjects, using various propositions and varying their verb forms and tenses. Teachers can help scaffold this process for students by assisting them in creating sentences. Students are often challenged by how to add details to a sentence to make it their own, particularly when writing.
I have found that using question words with students is a simple and effective way to have students add details to their sentences that move from memorized, chunked phrases to discrete sentences that are created by the student. The more they do this the more they will grow in confidence and begin to do it on their own when writing.
A simple reminder of question words as students write about a topic will guide them toward writing discrete sentences that they create on their own and and will move solidly on to the intermediate low proficiency level. For example, if a student writes ” I like to swim.” suggest a few question words to help make the sentence a bit longer and more detailed. With whom? When? Where?
This will move the sentence from “I like to swim” to “I like to swim with my friend Julie on Saturday at the community pool.” The more students get accustomed to adding details this way the more they will do it on their own when speaking and writing.
Here are a few posts I’ve written that have some suggestions and resources for guiding students through this process of moving their speaking and writing from novice to intermediate. Click on the images to see the posts.
It’s the question on everyone’s mind. What is the role of accuracy in foreign language as students grow in proficiency? Do we tend to accuracy? Do we just focus on proficiency and assume that the language will become more accurate with time and practice?
The ACTFL performance descriptors are an effective tool to determine precisely what students can do at each proficiency level (and sub level). The descriptors go on to state what the language output of students looks like at each level. Take a look:
While these are very useful, we are often met with the issue of inaccuracy in language. To be clear, proficiency is about communicating a message and is not so focused on polished and accurate language forms. Essentially the language structures need to be accurate enough for the message to be understood. It is generally understood in second language acquisition research that continued exposure (input) to language structures in context will lead to internalization and acquisition of the native-like language structures.
The issue here is that it is often challenging to focus specifically on a particular language element or structure when providing students with contextualized input. Is there are a way to provide this focused input to students? Is there a way for students to be actively engaged in the content, which will peak their interest?
I have been faced with this challenge of students moving up to the intermediate proficiency level and speaking and writing in complete, discrete sentences, but the verb forms are often not correct. Students communicate their message, but I want to provide contextualized input of a particular structure so that students move toward more accurate language as well. I’m assuming you have been here?
In an effort to make input compelling and interesting to students I try to have them create the content as much as possible. The more they choose the topic the more they will be interested and will pay attention to the themes and language structure being highlighted. Combining student-generated content and a focus on a particular language structure I developed these activities.
Students begin by writing the correct form of the verb when given the subject and the infinitive. To reiterate the correct form students them locate the subject, infinitive and verb form in the grid. It works like a word search. Until this point, it’s a very mechanical exercise that is devoid of context. So, the next step is to write a sentence with each subject and verb form. This is where the student-generated content comes in. Some students choose to write personal sentences, other prefer to write about topics that interest them and some prefer to be humorous. Regardless of the sentences, in the end the correct verb forms in a contextualized sentence provide very focused input for students.
I have seen a marked increase in accurate verb forms when students use this type of writing activity. The word-search element provides an interesting way to focus on the correct verb form and the sentences that are student-generated highlight correct usage in context. You can take a it a step further and use the student sentences to create a task such as collating sentences into different categories and graphing results. The important thing to keep in mind is that all the while students are seeing and using the sentences that contain the accurate verb forms in context. Increased exposure to these language forms is what is needed to move toward acquisition.
If you would like to help your students polish their language structures, take a look at these activities. There are many topics in both French and Spanish. Click on the links below to access these resources and watch the accuracy of your students’ language rise with their proficiency.
- AR Verbs
- Regular Verbs
- Stem-Change Verbs (o-ue)
- Stem-Change Verbs (e-ie, e-i)
- tener, venir, oír, decir
- ser, estar, ir, hacer
- Preterite (regular verbs)
- Preterite (irregular verbs)
- Reflexive Verbs
- Simple Future (regular verbs)
- Simple Future (irregular verbs)
- Conditional (regular verbs)
- Conditional (irregular verbs)
- Bundle of all 15 Spanish Topics
- ER Verbs
- Regular Verbs
- Accent-Change Verbs (e-è, é-è)
- mettre, prendre, voir, venir
- être, aller, faire, avoir
- Imperfect (regular verbs)
- Imperfect (irregular verbs)
- Passé Composé (regular verbs, avoir)
- Passé Composé (être)
- Passé Composé (irregular past participles)
- Reflexive Verbs
- Simple Future (regular verbs)
- Simple Future (irregular verbs)
- Conditional (regular verbs)
- Conditional (irregular verbs)
- Bundle of all 15 French Topics
Most teachers are required to give number or letter grades in their foreign language classes. Even though there is some level of autonomy regarding how this might be done, the reality is that at the end of the term, semester or year we have to provide one holistic grade. This is often a challenge due to the sometimes ambiguous nature of communicative language teaching. Our grading systems are based on a right/wrong approach to assessment. It’s not easy to honor proficiency progress with a grading system that is set up this way.
It’s a simple fact that does not seem to be evolving any time soon…schools require teachers to give a letter or number grade when assessing students. Along with this reality we as teachers want to provide students with useful feedback on their progress. Collectively, the hope is to provide this much-needed feedback and assessment while following the grading protocol in our schools. Ultimately we would like to combine both what is useful to our students with what is required of us professionally in a sustainable way. Does this even seem possible?
I’ve been there. Several years back as I began researching and deepening my understanding of ACTFL proficiency levels and communicative language teaching. It soon became clear that the fluidity of proficiency levels did not integrate well into a concrete grading system. Essentially, like most teachers, my grades at the end of the term were more a reflection of what students knew about the language than what they could do with the language. As I wrestled with this reality I worked to create a grading program that concretely assessed student proficiency levels while honoring the grading requirements in my school.
As you grapple with this issue, I suggest that you begin by familiarizing yourself with the ACTFL proficiency levels and the text types that are associated with each level. These text types are the output that students produce. Knowing what the student output will be is the first step in creating tasks that will assess students.
Once you know what the expected test type will be decide what thematic vocabulary you’d like to assess along with the anticipated language structures. Once you know what the text type should be and you have a solid idea of what the anticipated vocabulary and structures are you can then create a prompt or task that students can complete and be assessed on.
This sort of backwards planning is essential. If you begin with the prompt without considering the text type output or the vocabulary and structures the prompt is not likely to have the intended outcome.
Once you have the task ready to go, you will need a proficiency-based rubric to assess what the student is able to do. It is essential to include all the elements that that are part of language proficiency. In particular, text type, language control, vocabulary and strategy use.
You can download three types of rubrics HERE. These rubrics include a lesson plan template and are applicable to any proficiency level. In addition, you will find assessment rubrics for presentational, interpretive and interpersonal communication.
Once you use these rubrics you will quickly see how efficiently you can assess proficiency and easily integrate the grade into your overall grades in your class. Without them you will likely find yourself where I was a few years back…ready to embrace communicative language teaching, but unable to assess in a productive and sustainable way.
Take a look at your foreign language textbook. How long has it been used in your department? Look at the publication date (the original one, not the new edition with new photos). Does foreign language education look the same today as it did when that book was published?
The reality is that when many of these books were first published they were based on current foreign language teaching trends at the time. But, times change. As much as we try to keep up with new research and do our best to modify our teaching to keep current many times we are restrained by textbooks that were published before the dawn of the age of communicative and proficiency-based foreign language teaching. If we continue to use (sometimes because we are mandated..I get it) these textbooks and accompanying materials we are unable to fully embrace proficiency.
It takes years to write and publish a textbook and the cost of buying new textbooks needs to justify the investment, which means that the book will be used for many years. The issue here is that teaching changes quite a bit on a regular basis. So what is a teacher to do?
Several years ago I completed a graduate program in applied linguistics with a research focus on psycholinguistics and second language acquisition. I had already been teaching for ten years, but my understanding of technique and methodology changed so much throughout my research and studies. I was devoted to embracing communicative and proficiency-based language teaching, but, of course, the textbooks in my classroom were not going to be helpful. Don’t get me totally wrong here. There is surely a place to focus on the accuracy of language typically presented in traditional textbooks, but there was clearly a void when it came to proficiency. Back in 2009 I started googling around and found Teachers Pay Teachers. There I found materials from teachers who had also embraced proficiency-based language teaching and were making their materials available. For me the true genius and worth of Teachers Pay Teachers is that it allows educators to quickly and efficiently adapt to the changing climate of education and provides materials that respond to this change in a fraction of the the time and cost that it would take to write, publish and purchase a textbook. Teachers are dedicated to keeping up with teaching trends and methodology and now there is a way to share well-vetted resources with the larger teaching community.
If you have spent any time here on my blog, you know that I am dedicated to foreign language proficiency and bringing tips, tools and resources to teachers so that their students can rise in proficiency and communicate with confidence. I often present these ideas at conferences and throughout social media. The immediacy of sharing out in the constantly-changing world of education has been invaluable. Teachers are held accountable for emerging standards, curriculum, evaluations and expectations, but traditional resources, such as textbooks, can’t keep up. This is the beauty of Teachers Pay Teachers. The resources on the site are from teachers in our situation who are providing what we need to succeed. The fact that it is an open marketplace means that you can see the reviews of other teacher and determine very quickly the quality and usefulness of a product. Does this happen when it comes to textbooks?
I’m assuming if the title of this post piqued your interest that you are in fact interested in staying up-to-date in the changing world of foreign language teaching. I’m sure that you create great materials for your students in your classroom. Keep it up. Take a look around by blog by clicking on the categories to the right. You will see some interesting topics and new ways of approaching foreign language teaching. You’ll also see posts describing proficiency-based speaking and writing activities available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Read the comments and decide if these products will help you foster language proficiency in your classroom.
Here are some posts to get started:
- Is My Textbook Based on Proficiency?
- Foreign Language Lesson Planning
- 90%+ Target Language Use
- Student-Friendly Can Do Statements
- Balanced Approach to Fluency and Accuracy
- Chat Stations
- Powerpoint Writing Activities
- 10 Ways to Use Task Cards
- Tab Books
- Interactive Speaking Activities
This is a typical writing and reading (Emerging Literacy) activity that I do with novice students (with the goal being to read and write at a novice mid sentence level*). In this particular version, my 3rd graders had learned lots of words for animals and we had recently begun learning the words for places in nature where they can be found.
The class could list about 20 animals (individual words-novice low*), and they are beginning to recognize how they are written. We started this class by listing the words on the board (animals and places in nature), then I gave them the verb “est” (is) and some prepositions to go along with the places (as phrases; “sur l’herbe” -on the grass). Students then put the structure together verbally in pairs to makes sentences (novice mid). We then moved on to writing the sentences and drawing a picture to show the meaning (novice mid*). Once done, I went around to each student and had then read the sentences, then I covered the sentences and had them describe the pictures orally.
*ACTFL Proficiency Scale
This activity gives students a chance to express themselves confidently at their current proficiency level. It is easily adapted by simply prompting students as to how they should speak (text type).
Typically I have students work in pairs or in groups of 3. Begin by setting up a sheet with 12 categories on it that are number 1-12. Provide 2 dice along with this paper. Give each pair or group a small bag (not transparent) with small slips of colored paper along with a sheet that has a point value assigned to each color. For fun I also include a “Zut” or “Caramba” color which has no points assigned. You could also put slips of parer with point values in the bag, but I like to keep it more engaging and colorful. You can project the category sheet that the entire class can reference, but again I prefer to keep the activity centered in the group, so I provide an individual reference sheet. The plastic frames that can hold a sheet of paper have come in very handy for me with various activities.
Students begin by each individually rolling 1 or both dice and attend to the category of the number. If done correctly (group consensus), the student chooses a colored slip out of the bag and keeps a running total of points. He/She puts the slip back in the bag. After a predetermined amount of play time, the “winner” is the students with the highest points.
The teacher can easily adapt the speaking to the proficiency level of the students by using the tasks/functions and text types by ACTFL proficiency level. You can learn more about these asks/functions and text types on the ACTFL OPI website. Be sure to download the OPI Familiarization Manual.
If the students are at the novice level, they will give one word answers or short phrases, most likely giving an example of something in that category. If they are at the intermediate level they can speak using a series of sentences or be required to ask a question of another player about the topic. If students are at the advanced level they can speak at length in paragraph form. The categories at this level will need to be more complex in nature, perhaps pertaining to world events or characters and plot in a story.
The 100th day of school is a very important day in many elementary schools and there are lots of activities to celebrate, all based on the number 100. Each year, I challenge my 3rd graders to list 100 words and expressions that they know in the target language in 20 minutes. I give pairs of students a card with a category and they brainstorm words and expressions. It’s a great way for them to use category words in preparation for circumlocution.
We then write the list. I always hold off on using the words for numbers, unless they are needed to reach 100. We did not need to resort to them this year. It is all about the context. Rather than listing words for fruit, ask students to tell you which fruits are their favorite, or to describe the colors. Instead of asking for examples of verbs, have students tell you what they like to do on the weekends with their friends, and follow it up with when and where. Once they communicate in context the words and expressions keep coming.