As students grow in proficiency beyond the novice level, where they are parroting language structures and chunks, they aspire to create with language and speak and write on their own. As teachers we need to provide opportunities for students to create with language. This can be an intimidating prospect for the novice high/intermediate low language learner. It is best, in my experience, to scaffold this language creation in a way that makes students feel confident that they are creating messages on their own, but at the same time not feeling too overwhelmed by the process.
To assist students in this process of moving toward creating their own sentences that move beyond memorized chunks of language I made these tactile sentence writing activities. They are set up to provide some scaffolding in terms of the types of sentences that writers create, while also ultimately leaving the content of the sentence up to the student.
There are two versions of these writing activities. The first version looks like this:
This is how it works. A pencil, a paperclip and a copy of the worksheet are needed to complete this activity. Students place the point of their pencil and a paperclip in the middle of each hexagon. They spin the paperclip by flicking it with a finger. Students write complete, detailed sentences based on the three responses to the spins. Each verb is followed by a question word. Students write an answer to the question word in their sentence.
The second version looks like this:
One die or three dice and a copy of the worksheet are needed to complete this activity. Students roll the die three times or roll three dice once. Students write complete, detailed sentences based on the three responses to the rolls. Each verb is followed by a question word. Students write an answer to the question word in their sentence.
You can download over 20 versions of these writing activities for French and Spanish by clicking on the links below:
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.
Posted in Activities and Games, Speaking, Teaching Methodology and Research, Writing
Tagged ACTFL, french, proficiency, spanish, Speaking, teacher, teaching, Writing
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.
Posted in Activities and Games, Grammar and Structures, Teaching Methodology and Research, Writing
Tagged ACTFL, foreign language, french, language, proficiency, spanish, teacher, teaching