We help kids learn to speak real Spanish. For life.™

by Erica Fischer on Jan 19, 2016

#Langchat Gets (Inter)personal! Designing Tasks for Quality Interpersonal Interactions

Last week, Langchatters got (inter)personal! Participants considered how proficiency level affects interpersonal task design. Next, acknowledging that learner output is based on perceived need to produce language, they reflected on how to build a feeling of need into task design. Langchatters then discussed their thoughts on ideal group size and make-up for interpersonal tasks. They also talked about design of quality interpersonal writing tasks. Instructors ended the hour by sharing interpersonal tasks that they have designed and implemented successfully.

Thanks to all who contributed to a strong interpersonal dynamic last week! We extend a big thanks to Laura (@SraSpanglish), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), and Kris (@KrisClimer) for moderating the Thursday evening chat, and to Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), “sipping coffee [and] leading [the Saturday morning Sequel] from west coast” (@SECottrell).

Question 1: How does proficiency level affect interpersonal task design?

In discussing the effect of proficiency level on task design, many participants commented on what novice-level students need. @LauraErinParker wrote, “[Proficiency] level determines expectations: [the] degree of memorized [or] parroted sentences.” @LisaShepard2 noted, “Novices need tasks they can complete with practiced language,” and @SraSpanglish agreed, writing, “For my baby parrots ([novice level]) [they have to] know pretty much every word that could [or] should come out of their mouths [and] scaffold in advance.” @SraSpanglish views the capacity to be more than a parrot as a sign that learners are “breaking out of novicehood.” @KrisClimer added, “At lower levels, I find [that teacher] involvement [is] more needed,” and @SraSpanglish replied, “I’m with you. If I don’t meddle, [students] script EVERYTHING.” @MCoachSalato pointed out that instructors can help learners become less teacher-dependent in interpersonal activities: “The more [conversational] continuations I teach (e.g., Moi Aussi [Me too], Moi Non Plus [Me neither], etc.), the less I have to be the conduit for all [of the conversation].” Some mentioned the benefit of prewriting exercises as preparation for interpersonal engagement. For example, @MmeBlouwolff said, “My novices do well with some prewriting on the topic, e.g. [using a] graphic organizer or table.” @MmeCarbonneau also mentioned prewriting: “I often do a writing piece too a day prior. [This allows] language to be more readily available in [students’] head [and] on [their] tongue.”

Question 2: How can our tasks make students feel the need to produce output?

Langchatters brainstormed ways to create a sense of urgency to engage in interpersonal activities. @SECottrell explained, “In other words, what in a task design says, ‘Yeah, you’re gonna need to do this, so let’s practice it!?’” @tmsaue1 commented that this “just might be one of the hardest questions facing [world language teachers] today.” Here are some of the suggestions for task design shared by participants:

  • Purposeful activities: @KrisClimer said, “[A task] must have PURPOSE, ideally more than ‘cause he said do it, or ‘cause it’s for a grade […] The more the accomplishment of [a] task gives [students] something they WANT [or] NEED, the better. So [what] do they WANT [or] NEED?” @K_Griffith agreed: “[Students] need to WANT to talk about it. If they’re not interested, they won’t talk.” @FrenchFunFacts added, “If students can relate topics to their own lives, I think they are more eager to talk about it.”
  • Student police: @senornoble wrote, “I sometimes design [a task] so that students police other students. :)”
  • Audience design: @SraSpanglish wrote, “[Generally] the conversations work better when building to something for a [target language] audience.” Also considering the role of audience, @LauraErinParker proposed: “Maybe connect via [Skype], etc. to another class to present novices with each other to do basic questions?”
  • Accountability: @LisaShepard2 pointed out: “A [follow-up presentational] task helps. [For example, after] speed-friending, [have students] write [a] note to [a] parent asking to spend the weekend with [a new friend] and [to] explain why [they want to].” Alternatively, @senornoble suggested instructors “[use a] device to record students for accountability.”

Question 3: What are your thoughts on group size and make-up for interpersonal tasks?

Participants reflected on the influence of group size and make-up on the quality of interpersonal activities. Here’s what they had to say!

  • Group Size: @LisaShepard2 felt that pair work was best for novice students: “I prefer [two per group] for novices, [with] more opportunities to speak.” @MmeBurgess agreed that group size “depends on level,” adding, “[Lower] levels tend to need smaller groups. Otherwise, not everyone talks AND [it’s] too easy to digress.” @KrisClimer commented, “Pairs maximize the activity per participant, but teams of three or four can provide some comfortable space, too.” @MCoachSalato said, “My classroom is set up in groups of [three students] with a ‘leader’ in each. This [student] makes sure all [students] speak and do so in [the target language. This makes it easier for] me.” Participants discussed positive and negative aspects of larger groups. @MmeBlouwolff wrote about large groups favorably: “I like [one third] of the class [grouped together] at a time so [seven or eight students interact] at once. [Students] practice turn-taking [and] can take a breather when they need to.” On the other hand, @FrenchFunFacts pointed out that “the affective filter can be high for larger groups, [so] it may be good to be flexible for student preference.” @LauraErinParker added that not all students are active in larger groups. @Narralakes proposed a differentiated approach with flexible groupings based on level and task.
  • Group Make-up: In discussing group composition, @tmsaue1 wrote, “[I] always struggle with this one (even when grouping adults). Do you pair high achievers together or mix levels?” @LisaShepard2 replied, “For practice I mix it up, but for assessment I like to match [proficiency] levels.” Many participants like to mix up groups frequently. @MmeBurgess said, “I like to mix groups up throughout the period. Groups AND topics change to keep it fresh.” To mix partners up, @SraSpanglish arranges her students “kind of like [a] wagon wheel, but [with] rotating partners in [two] lines.” Participants offered some resources to randomly generate groups. For example, @atbrowning said, “[For] practice, [I] love [the] online fruit machine name picker to pair [students. They] love it too.” @KrisClimer noted, “Also ClassDojo can randomly pick students,” and @senoraCMT said, “[The Team Shake application] for iPhone is GREAT too! So convenient!” @KrisClimer added that good old-fashioned notecards can also do the trick: “I still use a set of notecards (one per [student]) [that are color-coded] by class to create random teams/pairs/‘volunteers.’”

Question 4: How can we design quality interpersonal writing tasks?

Participants had similar suggestions for quality interpersonal writing tasks as they did for speaking tasks. We bring you their tips for making interpersonal writing meaningful!

  • Audience design: @LisaShepard2 suggested that instructors provide students with an audience. She added that this need not be ‘authentic’ but can simply consist of classmates. @senornoble recommended penpals as an option.
  • Purposeful activities: @KrisClimer spoke for many when he wrote, “[The same] standard [applies] in writing as in speaking, I think (i.e. [The] task must have LEGITIMATE purpose […] for [students]).” @MmeBurgess commented, “I always like to make writing tasks as real as possible. [For example, students could email someone] to ask for more [money] or explain an absence (…).” Speaking of real tasks, @MmeCarbonneau wrote, “[I just] did an interpersonal faux texting scenario with Google Docs. Students loved it!” @LauraErinParker commented, “My students love texting, so that is a realistic scenario for them.” @MmeBurgess added, “[I] also like the idea of class Twitter chats or Instagram posts [and] comments.” @SECottrell echoed the recommendation for Twitter: “[If] there’s a such thing as interpersonal writing, Twitter is it!” She also shared her “Tweetfest activity.” @senoraCMT replied, “We have no [technology] so here is our Twitter solution for interpersonal [mode].” As additional realistic activities, @atbrowning mentioned “online greeting cards, note passing, [or] excuses.”
  • Game format: Others suggested using a game-like format to engage students in interpersonal tasks. @senoraCMT said, “[I] love to have [students] do musical chairs writing.” As an example, she explained that this could mean having students ask a question as a character from a novel, move when the buzzer sounds, answer the question, move and ask a follow-up question. As another alternative, @KrisClimer said, “My [intermediates] do a group constructed writing (à la Telephone [telephone style]).”

Question 5: What interpersonal tasks have you successfully designed and implemented in your classroom?

For the final question, Langchatters shared some of their interpersonal successes! We invite you to test them out in your own classroom:

  • Comparisons with Venn diagrams: @LisaShepard2 proposed, “Discuss X (activities/family/eating habits/etc.) and make a Venn [diagram] comparing you and your partner.”
  • A trip to the market – without leaving the classroom: @senornoble shared his “[mercado] activity for Spanish 2 [students:]”
  • Eyewitness accounts: @SECottrell wrote, “[Playing] eyewitness to a news event made for [a] good interaction for us.” Details here!
  • Pop song discussions: @SraSpanglish said, “[Daily] pop song practice chats are going nicely, especially [with] emphasis on questions [and] PARTNER’s ideas.” More info here!
  • Interpersonal Blitz: @SraWienhold wrote, “I love @alenord’s interpersonal speaking blitz! [This entails a] timed PowerPoint with a new mini topic every minute.”
  • Linguacafé: @SECottrell said, “I must share (again) Linguacafé– the interpersonal idea from @maestranadine that rocked my world.”
  • Meow? Kitty Talk on Instagram: @ksipes129 said, “My kitten has an Instagram [account. Students answer or comment] in [the target language] for points.”


Langchatters discussed how to design tasks for quality interpersonal interactions. They considered the influence of proficiency level on interpersonal task design, thought up ways to encourage learner output, and shared their thoughts on ideal group size and make-up for interpersonal tasks. They also chatted about how to design quality interpersonal writing tasks. Lastly, Langchatters offered up some of their successful interpersonal tasks. Throughout, participants reminded one another that small changes to task design can lead to big student output!

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who kept interpersonal engagement high on #langchat last week! Don’t forget that you can get your #langchat on twice a week now– both Thursday at 8 p.m. ET AND Saturday morning at 10 a.m. ET!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have an topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! 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.

No Comments

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Click I accept to consent. More info: Privacy Policy