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by Erica Fischer on Sep 24, 2013

15 Fun Collaboration Activities for World Language Teachers

 “Collaboration is THE 21st-century skill. Real collaboration is NOT cheating.”

This wonderful quote from @SECottrell at last Thursday’s #langchat summed up the value that most world language teachers feel is inherent in collaboration activities. While some teachers believe that collaboration can put undue pressure on the few who may do a majority of work, #langchat teachers overwhelmingly believe what @KrisClimer said: “Collaboration is sharing. Communication is sharing. Period.”

Even though world language teachers agree that collaboration is a vital part of their teaching process, they also agree that it is important to continually find new ways to engage students with activities that are level-appropriate and supportive of growth in the target language.

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Different Ways to Collaborate

When @CoLeeSensei started the discussion about collaborative activities, it became clear right away that everyone is dealing with different skill sets, backgrounds and aptitudes in their classes. @katchiringa said, “Differences: multiple grade levels, backgrounds (WL and other), interest, proficiency… the list goes on.”

Despite this vast list of differences that teachers see in their world language classrooms, the major schisms break down into grade level and proficiency level. Many #langchat teachers have multiple grades that they teach during one period, so they have to account for differences in learning styles and cognitive ability (especially at the lower grade levels). Teachers with older students may find that cognitive abilities are more closely related, but that proficiency levels vary dramatically. @trescolumnae said, “Even when students are ‘theoretically’ on the same level, proficiency differences can be vast!”

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Encouraging Inter-Proficiency Interaction

@CoLeeSensei asked #langchat teachers, “Does anyone find that they have to ‘teach’ kids how to work with those less proficient? And if so – how?”

There were a number of responses, but most teachers felt that students generally tended toward collaboration, even with less proficient students. @katchiringa said, “Luckily, most of my students are conscientious of lower levels, with some notable exceptions.”

@KrisClimer shared a keen insight: “Lots of strong [students] just don’t like to collaborate at first.” In order to get students collaborating, it is vital to overcome prior collaborative experiences that may have been negative. @trescolumnae said, “True, especially if ‘collaboration’ in the past meant ‘you do all the work but somebody else gets the credit.’ So much depends on the students’ prior experiences! It’s harder for students who got ‘made to help’ without enough support.”

In order to overcome these obstacles, a number of suggestions were made, with @lclarcq giving a great list in order of importance. @lclarcq encouraged teachers to do “…lots of modeling first, reduce the competitive atmosphere second, and create opportunities to highlight other strengths third.”

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Keeping Collaboration in the Target Language

The other key question was about keeping student interaction in the target language. Teachers mentioned ideas like collaboration grades, motivational points given or participation points taken away for English use. @KrisClimer made an important point: “Large classes require target language use buy-in because you’re WAY outnumbered.”

Specific Ideas to Keep Them in the Target Language:

1. Rubrics. @CoLeeSensei said, “One of the items on my rubrics is always “didn’t use any English” – kids really key on that as a positive!
2. Use a Timer. @katchiringa said, “sometimes timing target language-only use helps reduce stress for students. Then, add more time as days go on…”
3. Establish Target Language Use Early. @SrtaTeresa said, “It’s important from the start to emphasize the importance of only using TL so that students buy into it.”
4. Provide Consequences. @alenord said, “Keeping groups in target language is easy with conversation strips. Strips of paper with points from 0-100 in tens. Hear English? Clip pts off!”
5. Provide Rewards. @alenord said, “Also, I have a Powerpoint with points on it. Take points off the whole group or add back. Very motivating!”

15 Great Collaborative Activities for World Language Classes

1. Mentoring

Having advanced students prepare lessons for less proficient students is a great way to get them collaborating across proficiency levels. @trescolumnae said, “One thing that works well is for more-proficient [students] to create ‘stuff’ (stories/videos/whatever) for less-proficient classmates.” @jas347 said, “Intermediates ask questions and novices answer them. It allows novices to feel like they’re really communicating!”

2. Centers

Creating “centers” or “stations” for students to rotate through allows them to interact more fully with each other and learn the content in different ways. By setting up stations that teach a concept using differentiated instruction (audible, physical and visual), students learn the material multiple times, and it provides lots of opportunities for collaboration and discussion.

3. Skits/Videos

@katchiringa said, “It’s old-school, but skits/videos allow for all diff types to work together well (if it goes right).” @SECottrell said, “I also love it when students do videos, assigning each other roles, etc.” @KrisClimer said, “My Level 1’s performed their RAP for video cam and in front of class today. Collaboration was effusive applause for one and all.”

4. Embedded Readings

In embedded reading, more advanced readers can progress farther and then create appropriate reading selections for lower levels. Not only do these types of readings allow for each reader to understand at their own proficiency level, it provides interaction between the levels. @CoLeeSensei said, “It’s a great way for uppers to learn how to communicate with those not so proficient – good communication skills needed!”

5. Interpersonal Games

Games are a fun way to easily get students to collaborate. @KrisClimer said, “Play helps with collaboration. I like games where info has to be shared, etc.” @ldpricha said, “Most of my activities don’t have a product. We use games and I teach them phrases and let them “mix it up” with their own vocabulary.”

Some Fun Games to Try Are:
Verb Relay Race
White Board Pictionary
Row Races
Scavenger Hunts
More Ideas…

6. Interviews

@SrtaTeresa said, “I think that short interviews can be useful, especially when the students have to find common ground despite differing abilities.” Not only that, but interviews can connect students to their family and larger communities.

7. Blogging

Blogging can be very collaborative, as long as you maintain interaction on your blog. @KrisClimer suggests having a requirement for posting in order for collaboration to be counted: “For me to assign grade, have to see one, then two, then three comments on someone else’s comment.”

8. Small Group Sharing

Small group and pair sharing seems to be the #langchat teachers’ favorite collaboration tool of all. Teachers love having students discuss weekend plans, global questions and internalize classroom activities with their small groups. @CoLeeSensei said, “I use partners a lot too! They seem to risk/help more when they work with another! @SECottrell said, “Whenever we do stations activities, students always work in partners. It’s more fun and more scaffolding.”

9. Jigsaw

In a Jigsaw activity, students are put into main groups (home groups) of no more than 4. Then, each member goes to a secondary group (specialty group). After they work with their specialty group, they come back to their home group and teach their information. Finally, the whole group presents their findings in a project, live presentation or report.

10. Peer Feedback

@alenord said, “Peer assessment and feedback is always good for collaboration!” @trescolumnae said, “Yes, definitely. Peer feedback really changes the feeling in the class – not just ‘for the teacher’ anymore.”

11. Witness a News Event

@SECottrell said, “This is an activity I love to do with the news: ‘witness’ a news event.” In this activity, students in small groups become familiar with a news story in the target language, including past events and key details. Then, they switch group in Jigsaw style and become interviewers/interviewees for a videotaped ‘News Report.’”

12. Philosophical Chairs

@LauraJaneBarber shared one of her favorite activities that encourage discussion in the target language. She explained, “Basically, you pose a statement. Students outline arguments for and against the statement and then pick a side–brainstorm w/ partner. Then they sit on different sides of the room and each side takes turns posing arguments. If they hear a good argument, they can change to other side. At the end, they process the whole activity including the number of times people changed sides, the final position, what good arguments were heard, etc. Doing it in the target language is a plus, but it’s also great for debating cultural topics like Columbus Day/DDLR.”

13. 6 Thinking Hats

@jennifer_spain suggested using the “6 thinking hats” concept as a way of approaching group collaboration. In this collaboration form, there are 6 main ways of thinking about a problem: Information, Emotions, Discernment, Optimistic Response, Creativity, and Process Management. Each student would then choose one of these ways to think about a problem (maybe in small groups of 2-4), then the class would come together to work out the best solution incorporating each different element.

14. Group Storytelling

Reflecting and retelling as a class can be much less stressful than doing individual summaries of target language reading. @jackimorris23 said, “With big #s I also do group retells of stories to teacher – they practice together and I can give a little feedback to each person.”

15. Collaborate on Collaboration

Let your students be involved in the process of defining what good collaboration is and how it should be graded. @LauraJaneBarber said, “The first week of school we collaborated about what collaboration is and created norms.” This hands-on approach to the concept of collaboration is much more likely to encourage buy-in from the students and participation in collaboration activities throughout the year.

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Thank You

We’d like to thank @CoLeeSensei for keeping our conversation collaborative and informative. #Langchat relies on a committed group of volunteer moderators. Read more about the #langchat team and weekly chat on the official #langchat wiki. There you will also find links to complete archives of all our chats.

Do you have questions or suggestions for our next #langchat topic? We want to hear what you think about our professional learning network and what you’d like to learn from it. Give us your suggestions for future #langchat discussions and help us all become better teachers!

Additional Resources

3 Quick and Easy Google Doc Collaborative Activities
Embedded Reading Resources
Online Collaborative Activities in French
Assessment Rubric for Blogs, Conversations
Conversation Circles – 45 Minutes in Target Language (@CoLeeSensei)
Collaborative Kinesthetic Matching
The Power of the Pair (@CoLeeSensei)
Collaborative Jigsaw Reading

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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