Tag Archives: Writing

Writing Activities that Facilitate Foreign Language Speaking

Consider these writing activities that can be used to facilitate  speaking of the target language.


The free-writing technique is one of the ways to make writing more like speaking. It is a pre-writing technique which encourages students to overcome their fear of the blank page and their preoccupation with correctness. By pre-writing is meant the first stage of the writing process, followed by drafting, revising and editing, when the purpose is to teach writing skills. In this case, however, since our aim is to facilitate speaking, we concentrate only on the first stage. Free-writing can be seen as the closest writing can get to impromptu speech.

Writing Activities that Facilitate Foreign Language Speaking. (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.com


The goal is to generate and connect subtopics. The subject is placed in the center, and topics are added on extending lines as the writer thinks of them. So, if asked to speak on the “mapped” topic, the learner knows what to talk about, how to organize his/her speech and how to connect subtopics.

Building Sentences Through Images

I have found it extremely useful to use pictures to represent words and to add on to these picture sentences as the year moves on.  I tend to use an LCD projector to show these pictures, but have used printed pictures and overhead transparencies in the past and the process works just as well.

I begin the year with a simple picture of heart and another of a heart with an X on it.  These represent “I like” and “I don’t like.”  About 10-15 verbs are introduced (again through pictures) and students then “read” their first sentence, something such as “I like to run.”  I purposely use only “I like/don’t like” at this stage so that students don’t have to be concerned with verb forms.  As we begin to study more vocabulary I add on to these pictures.

For example, they learned the rooms in the house.  As soon as they were comfortable recognizing the pictures of the rooms I added the previous words to them to make more complex sentences, such as “ I don’t like to sleep in the living room.”

As we added on food vocabulary I again using words/pictures that they already knew to make more complex sentences, such as “I like to eat strawberries in the living room.”

It is very important to use the same pictures rather than changing them so that the students become comfortable recognizing them.  I was very surprised and impressed this past year when some of my youngest students (3rd grade) began creating their own sentences based on the pictures and they began trying to create the longest sentence.
This process has helped students to retain the majority of vocabulary that they have learned throughout the year and they enjoy what they are able to accomplish.  You can go in many directions with these pictures once students are comfortable with them.  They can “read” the sentences out loud, write the sentences in the target language based on the picture sequence, or “write” what they are reading.  This entails giving sentences to students that are in the target language along with a group of pictures that they assemble in the correct order.

Here is a Powerpoint that demonstrates this concept:  Image Sentences

picture sentence

Foreign Language Reading and State Testing

We live in the age of state testing. For those teachers who are in public schools, there is a need and expectation that all subject teachers attend to the literacy needs of students. Traditionally, the level of foreign language in the middle school (and even high school) has not been sophisticated enough to contribute to the language arts framework.

Janel Paquin, the Past-President of the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA), recently addressed the literacy issue during the Association’s Summer Immersion Institute. She became aware, while doing advocacy work in Washington, that foreign language classes must contribute to the literacy needs of students so that the departments are valued, respected, and funded.

We hear about foreign language programs and individual languages being cut on a regular basis these days. One way of defending language programs to the wider school community is to emphasize reading and writing in the language classroom and making others aware of how this contributes to Language Arts curricula (while still focusing on speaking and listening of course).

Writing Outlines for Foreign Language

writing-colorWhat to focus on most in foreign language classes (speaking, listening comprehension, reading, and writing or some other order or combination), is the subject of much research into language acquisition. However, exposure to all elements of language and increased confidence are unquestionably necessary. Regardless of your approach to language teaching and order in which you expose your students to the different mediums of language and culture, consider this writing exercise, keeping in mind that this model is easily adaptable to any level or theme.

It very helpful for the entire class to write together collectively before students work independently. The result will provide each student a chance to see that he/she was able to write a paragraph appropriately (albeit a collective one) before engaging in the task on his/her own. The paragraph produced by the class also serves as a model for the individual writing. In time, perhaps several months, students will no longer have to refer to the model paragraphs, but will rather be more able to engage the process on his/her own from the beginning.

  • Begin with an outline that resembles this (the handout should be in the target language):
  • Name: ________________
  • Age: He/she is ________ years old.
  • Class: 6th 7th 8th
  • School: ________________
  • Activity: ________________
  • Time: ________________
  • With whom: ________________
  • Where: ________________
  • Clothing: ________________

Put a copy on however many desks as there are students in the class, plus one for the teacher. Each student will begin with the paper on his/her desk and fill in a name (any name). All students will then rotate to another sheet and fill in the next piece of information. The class (and the teacher) will continue to rotate until all information is filled in. Students need to pay attention to what is already on the outline so that they add appropriate places, times, and clothing.

Once the outlines are done (collectively), students return to their seats and now have an outline completely filled in. The teacher will also have one. Ideally (perhaps in a follow-up class or immediately if the teacher has access to a copy machine), each student will have a copy of the teacher’s outline to follow as the class helps the teacher to write a paragraph based on his (her) outline. The teacher writes the paragraph on the board and students contribute and write down the model paragraph. Here is an example of what one of these initial paragraphs might look like (although in the target language):

  • John is twelve years old. He goes to Collins Middle School. He is in the 7th grade. John plays baseball at three o’clock. He plays with his friends Craig, Mark, and Peter. They play at the park. John wears a green tee-shirt, white shorts, and gray sneakers.

Students then take their own outlines and write their own paragraphs (from their outlines) using the model paragraph as a guide. Once the students are familiar with the process, they can fill in their own outlines in the future. It is helpful to continue writing a model paragraph together as a guide until students no longer need one.

These kinds of outlines improved student writing a great deal. Also, make the outlines as specific as possible: perhaps all written in the first person or in the present tense, etc. Students like to use funny names, make outlandish outfits, and have people doing amusing things.

It is beneficial to allow this freedom and allow them to enjoy the process. Once students are at a more sophisticated linguistic level, they can begin to combine.

The RAFT Writing Process in the Foreign Language Classroom

Students Doing HomeworkWhen students are given a choice of writing topics and can choose one that interests them the most, they are typically more motivated and produce a better writing sample as a result. This idea of choice can go even further with a choice of writing style and topic. The RAFT is a way of giving students a choice of topic and style while still maintaining the focus of the writing objective.

RAFT is an acronym for Role, Audience, Form, and Theme. Given a choice, students will compose a written piece from a number of options.

  • Roles
  • Audience
  • Form
  • Theme

Here is an example how how this type of assignment would work. Students read a short story about a student named Delphine in Québec. She is very involved in all of her school activities and students read all the details about her school life. After engaging in reading activities (see Reading Activities in the Reading category), students are given a choice of topics and writing styles. Generally, the options get progressively more challenging, so a teacher may ask a student to choose two of the less challenging options or one of the more challenging assignments.

Based on the Delphine story, here are some RAFT writing options:

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 3.05.11 PM

Essentially, if a student were to choose number one, he would draw on details from the story to write a note from Delphine to friend about plans for Friday night. For number two, he would write an email from the Yearbook Adviser to Delphine about the sports page. If he were to choose number three he would write a speech by the principal to be delivered to families about an award that Delphine is receiving.

This type of writing assignment allows students the opportunity to write in different ways (formally, informally) on topics of interest to them, while remaining within the parameters of the assignment.

Detailed examples of RAFT Activities