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by Erica Fischer on Jun 19, 2014

Integrating Interpersonal Speaking into Language Instruction

Summer may just be underway, but Langchatters are already thinking about ways to modify their teaching come Fall! Last Thursday, your weekly #langchat focused on strategies that instructors can adopt in order to integrate more interpersonal speaking in the classroom. Participants shared a wealth of ideas on how to transition into, support, and wrap-up interpersonal interactions among students.

We extend a warm thank you to our moderators, Amy (@alenord), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Cristy (@msfrenchteach), and Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), and to everyone who tuned in for this summer edition of #langchat!

The Importance of Peer-to-Peer Conversations

#Langchat participants emphasized the value of and need for interpersonal spoken interactions among language learners. @MmeCarbonneau wrote, “My [middle school] students do way too much presentational speaking. Need more interpersonal [interaction]!” Several Langchatters encouraged instructors to allow time for peer-to-peer spoken interactions on a daily basis. Spoken interactions among peers can begin as soon as students set foot in the door, as noted by @CoLeeSensei, who wrote, “I try to have them speaking every day – we start with ‘greet your partner and…’” @tiesamgraf also advocates for daily practice conversing with peers, adding, “Interpersonal conversation is the most likely real life application so I stress the importance daily!” Finally, @SECottrell pointed out that students desire conversational confidence more than any other skill: “interpersonal speaking is the #1 skill students WANT,” and @BeckyTetzner whole-heartedly agreed: “YES! They always tell me the [first] day, ‘I want to be able to have a ‘real’ [conversation with] someone’.” She also noted that “short [conversations with] lots of different [people lead to increased] confidence.”

How to Get Students Talking

Langchatters had plenty of ideas about how to get student conversations rolling. @MmeCarbonneau suggested short prompts to get students’ thoughts flowing without resorting to pen and paper: “Try one word prompts! No writing. Build off the prompt. EX: In summer….My friends and I…..” @crwmsteach encouraged instructors to help students “brainstorm words [and] phrases [related to the discussion topic and then] let them go.” @CoLeeSensei suggested letting students share their thoughts with a single partner before interacting with multiple peers: “You can give them time with their partner to ‘brainstorm’ [and] then mix it up, [having them speak] with others.” @tiesamgraf uses the classroom walls to offer students helpful resources and models conversation for the class before setting students free to chat: “I have helpful vocab [and] question words posted [on the wall] and [I] model [output] beforehand to [be] sure students understand [the] logistics of conversation.”

How to Support Students as They Converse

@tiesamgraf highlighted the instructor’s role as a facilitator of student dialogue: “teacher = facilitator :-),” and Langchatters repeatedly echoed this point. Participants encouraged instructors to circulate around the room. @SenoraDiamond55 prodded teachers to “CIRCULATE!” and @mmegalea wrote that “[The teacher] must circulate the room and direct the flow of conversation [while keeping kids] in [the] target [language].” @mmegalea takes advantage of the opportunity to scaffold oral communication when circulating. @alenord also uses this time as an occasion to discuss pragmatics: “I like to take a moment to frame the conversation. [I ask students], ‘Is greeting necessary now? Why? Why not?,’ etc.” Langchatters also highlighted the importance of teaching students to be good listeners and to naturally follow-up on peer comments. @SrtaLohse wrote, “I think that it’s important to emphasize listening before responding. [This is] an essential skill for every language!” and @SenoraDiamond55 said, “I remind [students] to follow up Q&A’s [because] in real world [conversations], we don’t ask [one] question [and] STOP, right? :).”

How to Follow-Up on Spoken Interpersonal Exchanges

After students have finished conversing, follow-up is key. Participants advocated for holding students accountable for the content of their spoken exchanges. @SrtaLohse wrote, “To keep on [students on] task, I have them report back some [details from the] conversation. They have to listen [and] then use [the third] person to describe [what their partner said to them].” @crwmsteach asks students questions about their peers in order to encourage careful listening: “I use who…? [e.g. Who went to the movies last week?] For students to summarize what they learned.” Langchatters also advocated for self-reported assessments following interpersonal conversations. Additionally, @CoLeeSensei kindly shared a self-assessment rubric: She commented, “I include ‘I didn’t use English’ in my [self-evaluation] so they monitor themselves.” In order to encourage a ‘real’ conversation in the target language, with both parties invested in the topic, @Mlmoore_Spanish includes “‘engaged others in conversation by asking questions’” in the [self-evaluation],” emphasizing, “It’s not about one person taking over.” @CoLeeSensei pointed out that student reflection can also include brief checks for comprehension: “[Students] can use a checklist: ‘I heard my partner tell me….’” Aside from individual feedback and self-evaluation, @tiesamgraf encouraged “overall feedback to the [entire] group after you circulate and take note of common errors.”

Fun Activities to Facilitate Interpersonal Speech

Participants shared some fun ideas for those looking for ways to integrate interpersonal dialogue. To begin with, Langchatters suggested changing up your desk arrangement. @CoLeeSensei shared, “Interpersonal communication is the reason I changed my seating. [Now I have] all ‘tables’ [made up of] of 4 desks. They face each other and talk all the time.” @MmeCarbonneau transforms her rows of desks into a lively bus: “I use a ‘bus’ format [with] two rows [of desks] facing one another. [The] bus stops. One student gets off (and gets on the bus in the [front]).” @Inconnue_21 also observed how a change in your room arrangement just might give students more talk time: “I found when I moved the focus in the room from the front I shut up more!”

Here are some activities to get your students talking to one another:

  • “Speed Friend-Making”: This is a good way to have your students interact with a variety of classmates through quick spoken exchanges. @BeckyTetzner said, “This [year] in [Spanish class] we had a lot of fun [with] “Speed Friend-Making” (as opposed to speed dating), adding, “For me, [with] classes of 34 [students], the speed-dating format was perfect–they had an easy [and] set routine.”
  • Improv with a Brown Paper Bag: @bleidolf67 advocates for this oldie but goodie. The instructor puts “random items in a paper bag, [and students] use items [that they draw out] and [the target language] to create [interpersonal dialogues. Engaging!”
  • “Sketch and Share”: @CoLeeSensei shared her go-to activity for interpersonal dialogue. Students create a drawing and come up with a caption. When they come to class, they challenge classmates to guess the caption of their sketch. Find out more here:
  • Pretend you’re there… @bleidolf67 shows students “a cultural picture and [has them] create [an] interpersonal dialogue, [pretending that] they are there.” @SECottrell commented that this is a good way to focus on a unit theme, while giving students the freedom to react to the image and share their thoughts. Alternatively, @LauraJaneBarber wrote, “You can also play a muted YouTube video of people walking through [a] city [and tell students that they] must pretend it’s them talking in [target language].”
  • Inside-Outside Circle: This technique encourages all students to create spoken output, while summarizing the content of a story. For more details, see this description. @tiesamgraf said, “[the] inside/outside circle [strategy] works so well for interpersonal [communication],” and @CappiGio commented that “students love them!”
  • “Free Chat” Session: Instructors can set aside time for students to freely converse with one another in the target language. @MmeCarbonneau said, “Every Friday do a ‘free chat’ session [and] see where it leads.”

Looking to Record and Replay Student Chats?
Many #langchat participants expressed a desire to record student conversations “for either portfolios, [teacher] feedback, or self reflection” (@natadel76). Langchatters shared their thoughts on a variety of recording tools, which have been summarized below.

  • Notibility: @Inconnue_21 suggested the Notability recorder and wrote, “I like the drawing tools in Notability. [One] student will explain a [picture] and the others will draw what [they] hear and ask [questions] to clarify.”
  • Evernote: @natadel76 said, “Evernote has [a] recorder too. [Students] record [themselves], send [their recording to you, the instructor], [and] then you record your feedback – they have to listen!”
  • Vocaroo: @bleidolf67 suggested this as another recording tool, which is “easy for [students] to use.”
  • GarageBand: @JenniferSolisj wrote, “[At my school,] we use GarageBand to record [and] export [files] to iTunes. [Students] share [their recordings] with [the] teacher.”
  • GoogleVoice: Instructors expressed mixed feelings about GoogleVoice. @crwmsteach wrote, “GoogleVoice is an easy way to record and [the instructor] can easily hear if two [students] are talking [or not].” @Mlmoore_Spanish shared a concern with using this tool: “My problem with GoogleVoice is that I feel like it’s still rehearsed or notes are read.” @BeckyTetzner expressed agreement (“Me too..”), and @amandacharle wrote, “I know most of my students plan their speaking when they use [GoogleVoice] but I make it clear they won’t be able to do so on [the] test.”

If you don’t want to deal with transferring recordings, @Inconnue_21 provided a solution: “Sometimes I have the [students] record on MY iPad. [You] don’t have to upload/share anything that way. But then they have limited access.”

Finally, @SECottrell offered a word of advice to instructors looking to facilitate and monitor peer-to-peer spoken exchanges: “One caution, don’t overwhelm yourself with thinking you need to record [and] give feedback on every conversation.”


For those eager to integrate more interpersonal talk time next year, Langchatters offered plenty of tips. Overall, they emphasized the role of the instructor as a facilitator who should circulate and help scaffold student output. Additionally, they highlighted the importance of follow-up work to encourage good listening skills and to call upon students to reformulate information they heard.

Thank you!

We extend a big thank you to Amy (@alenord), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Cristy (@msfrenchteach), and Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell) for moderating a summer session of #langchat! To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive.

If you have any comments or questions that you would like to share, do not hesitate to do so. Finally, as @SECottrell reminded us, “#langchat is powered by YOU,” so do send us your ideas for future #langchats!

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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