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We teach kids to speak real Spanish. For life.™

by Erica Fischer on Oct 14, 2011

Top Ways to Get Students Speaking Productively in Class

Thanks to all the participants of Thursday night’s #langchat! We had an animated discussion on the best ways to get kids speaking productively in large world-language classes. Lots of you were able to join us, and we shared a fantastic amount of ideas and resources for use in the classroom.

Thanks again to all our participants and also to our two moderators for the night, Diego Ojeda (@DiegoOjeda66) and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell). If you weren’t able to join us, please enjoy the summary below or check out the archive here. Feel free to join the conversation by commenting on any ideas you thought useful or by adding your own ideas in the comment box below; we’d love to hear from you!

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speaking productivelyProductive Speaking

@tmsaue1 asks early on, What do we mean by speaking “productively”? While definitions differed slightly, most teachers agreed that productive language involves getting your point across comprehensively and pushing yourself to higher levels. Productive language differs by skill level; “Hello, my name is Chris” is great for beginners in early classes, but doesn’t cut it by itself at advanced levels.

It’s sometimes difficult to get students in large classes (or any size class) to participate, but teachers shared lots of ideas on how you can get them speaking. As we discussed in a previous #langchat on ways to inspire conversation, a large part is getting students comfortable and preparing them with the tools they need.

The amount of error correction you use also factors into students’ production. @ZJonesSpanish suggests that the more correction you apply, the less language students will produce. In speaking and learning a language, making the effort to communicate is often more important than communicating with 100% accuracy. Try rewarding students for communication, not perfection (@myclasstalk).

After a comfortable and welcoming environment, perhaps one of the most essential elements is student engagement. Many of our colleagues stressed how important it is to make the language about the students(or the escargot they recently adopted! @klafrench). Bring up current issues that they’re interested in (@DiegoOjeda66).

  • A tip for picking subjects students want to talk about: surveys. @DiegoOjeda66 says students will respond if you ask them what they’re interested in.
  • Also, when talking about students, remember to do so in a careful and tactful way. Don’t embarrass the students. (@DiegoOjeda66)
  • Some common subjects that students seem to always want to discuss: school policies, popularity, their hobbies and other teachers.

As we’ve discussed many times on #langchat, interdisciplinary teaching is also very crucial to student engagement. Combine several subjects to boost both participation and production in the classroom.

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Ideas for Implementation

This week’s #langchat was so fast and full of fantastic ideas that some participants had trouble keeping up! That’s why we provide these summaries, so that none of the ideas shared by your colleagues go forgotten. Below you’ll find quite a few techniques and suggestions for implementation in world-language classrooms.

@SunnyEarth1 has been trying to teach language in set phrases. For example, she might teach three question and answer sets in a class, and students practice with various activities. These phrases help to build students’ language skills without getting bogged down in the technical details of grammar.

It’s always a challenge to keep kids speaking the target language instead of their native language. Rather than take away participation points or otherwise punish students, make remaining in the target language fun. In past #langchats we’ve discussed the “English box,” a designated area of the classroom in which English is permitted, and participants shared a few more ideas this time around.

  • @myclasstalk likes to use a water gun or sprayer in class to squirt students when they slip up. Kids might love it, but first make sure that your administration (and parents) are accepting.
  • @SECottrell’s classes earn beans towards a pizza party for producing the language and working together, while @SraSpanglish’s classes earn candy in a jar and get to split it when full.
  • @mmebrady has worked with ClassDojo to manage her classes virtually.
  • @kelld does a points system using clothespins. If students participate, they gain pins. If they speak English, they lose pins — but have a chance to win them back. At the end of the month, pins are worth varying amounts of points.

@DiegoOjeda66 likes to assign himself a seat when he’s assigning seats for students. His goal is to be working with students 60% of class time. He recommends that this is also a great way to find out what students’ true perceptions of the class are.

Timing of activities is important in any classroom to ensure you cover all your material and the class pace is constantly moving. Several participants like to time speaking sessions to keep kids on edge. Bring a timer to class or use a computer-based one; you might be surprised how your students respond.

  • @klafrench likes to use random amounts of time for her activities to keep kids on their toes.
@klafrench makes a habit of giving some preparation time to students just before starting an activity or speaking practice. Students use it to practice by themselves, write notes and look up useful words — but watch the time!

Several participants believe teachers should keep as much of the class instruction in the target language as possible. Try to use authentic resources and situations. When in the target language, use circumlocution in combination with visual prompts — such as school supplies, pictures, demonstrations and drawings — to ensure students comprehend.

  • Lots of participants suggest using stories or other context methods to teach vocabulary and grammar, too. Similar words in the two languages are a great way to expand students’ vocabulary. Let them decipher and identify the words in children’s stories on their own. Use stories that students are familiar with so they can focus on the language used.

@myclasstalk has a simple method of eliciting more participation: give students time to respond. She suggests that if you wait, students will often speak more about the subject.

Games and Activities

To practice and encourage students to participate, @langology uses lots of games in class with flashcards, balls and other prompts. Students have to speak productively to advance in the games. Many other participants shared their productive-speaking games and activities with us, and we’ve included a huge list of them below.

  • @sleary1023 likes the game “Password,” where students select a vocabulary word and must describe it to their partner — no charades!
  • @louvre2012 enjoys having students create paper bag puppets and using them to converse. It keeps the atmosphere light and the students engaged.
  • @myclasstalk uses guessing games in the target language for vocabulary and definitions. Students have to guess a classmate’s word.
  • @kelld likes to play “Telephone” at the end of class with simple sentences. Students whisper a sentence down a line and see how close the result is to the original. In large classes, try having each row compete in a race.
  • @cadamsf1 likes the “Or” activity suggested by @js_pasaporte in a previous #langchat, where students are given two options and should discuss with a partner. For example, “football or soccer?”
  • Lots of teachers use debate in the classroom to really get kids interested and push language skills to the limit. For large classes, divide students into debating teams. For topics, get ideas from a student survey, let students choose their own or come to class with several controversial options.
    • @SraSpanglish likes to use debate with flexible teams. Students can switch teams if persuaded one way or another, but have to explain their reasoning.
  • @profesorM plays the “Familia misteriosa” game where students have to guess the identity of a classmate through yes/no questions.
  • @sleary1023 suggests that “Twenty Questions” is good for almost any topic or vocabulary set.
  • @pamwesely often adopts word games such as “Password,” “Taboo” or “Balderdash” to the chalkboard to get students speaking. She says there are many opportunities for board or TV games to be adapted to the world-language classroom.
  • @profesorM teaches an expression for every week, then gives students lots of examples and opportunities to say it.
  • @SraSpanglish plays “Piramides,” after the $64,000 pyramid. She makes a period of vocabulary and teams have to use circumlocution to get the blindfolded student to guess the active word.
  • @klafrench likes a simple activity of having students write any question, then pose that question to their partner.
  • @SunnyEarth1 makes video-taped skits with students and watches them the same day. Then students pause and correct their mistakes before retaping the next day. Huge improvements!
  • Several participants use a fly-swatter game with words on the board and two students who race to swat a word that the teacher shouts or acts out with a fly swatter.
  • @klafrench finds that “Show and Tell” is a great way to get kids productively speaking.
  • @muchachitaMJ has had some fun experiences with “Would you rather…?” questions. It can be really enjoyed when both options are bad.
  • @cadamsf1 had students act out a faculty meeting where each student played as a department chair and discussed school issues.
  • @sonrisadelcampo likes to play short videos of two to three minutes, then ask students to predict what happens next.
  • @profesorM suggests trying out “Pecha Kucha,” Japanese for chatter. Show 20 short slides of visual prompts for 20 seconds each, and students must discuss or give their thoughts on the slide quickly with their partner. Works great with food!
  • @DiegoOjeda66 uses crazy statements in class to spark student discussion, such as “Do you enjoy eating shoes?”

Wow! Lots of activities and ideas to implement in class! For those of you who can make it to Thursday’s #langchat, I’m sure Fridays are great days to experiment with new techniques. For those of you who can’t make it, we continue to publish the summaries on this blog and the archives here. Although you might have missed the chat, there’s still an opportunity to share your thoughts on our topic or continue the conversation below.

Be sure to join us for next week’s #langchat on Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, and monitor the #langchat hashtag in the meantime for news about and a chance to vote on our next topic.

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

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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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