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- What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels?
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- Foreign Language Assessment Rubrics (Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentaional)
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- Teaching Foreign Language Circumlocution
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Tag Archives: Speaking
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- AR Verbs
- Regular Verbs
- Irregular Preterite
- Reflexive Verbs
- Class Objects
- 20+ additional verb form and vocabulary topics
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.
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.
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?
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:
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:
Initially, 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.
I’ve been working on writing with my novice mid class (3rd graders). They are consistently in the novice mid range when speaking.
In this activity I first gave students a sheet with pictures of words that they know well orally and have seen written. They wrote in the words as they remember them (challenging in French because there are lots of unpronounced letters..but their spelling is recognizable to a sympathetic reader). I then gave them picture sentences and they wrote the sentences using their reference sheet. In this video I am going around and asking students to “read” the sentences without looking at what they wrote.
In a follow-up they cut out the sentences that they wrote and the individual pictures. They then reconstructed the picture sentence based on what they wrote. This is helpful to reinforce syntax.
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.
Feedback is an important and much-needed part of learning. It is important that students have a clear understanding of what the goal or end product is so that they don’t feel that they are working just to work. How many of us have heard students ask, “Why are we learning this?” or “When will I ever need this?” Students ask this when they are not motivated to learn because the goal that they are working toward is not clear and obvious. Teachers need to clearly understand what the end goal or product will be, and this needs to be shared with students at the beginning of a unit or lesson.Throughout the unit or lesson the formative assessment and feedback should always be in relation to the goal. Comments such as “good work” or “nice job” are not specific and in relation to the goal. When the goal is presented early on it is more productive to assess formatively and provide feedback toward the goal. For example, if the goal is to narrate an event in the past, feedback such as, “Your mastery of these regular verb forms will help you to speak confidently about what you did last weekend. Now turn your focus to these irregular verb forms that will help you speak or write about more events.” Information from Formative Assessment provides data during the instructional process. Without a clear goal, it is difficult to answer these formative assessment questions:
- Where am I going?
- Where am I now?
- How can I get to where I am going/need to be?
Here are some ways to keep the goal the focus of the a unit or lesson.