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by Erica Fischer on Sep 22, 2012

Using Groups to Practice Communication Skills in the World Language Classroom

Last week, our #LangChat participants shared their thoughts on how to use groups to practice communication skills. The conversation focused on, but was not limited to, interpersonal oral communication. Participants shared their thoughts on ways to group students for activities that maximize target language use and cultural exposure.

Group Size and Roles for Practicing Communication Skills

Most participants agreed that students got the most out of interpersonal communication skills activities when they were put into groups of two or three. For interpretive and presentational tasks, ideal group size can vary depending on the task and the students’ abilities. @CoLeeSensei likes a maximum of groups of three for interpretive tasks in her classroom, although she prefers pairs, especially if the activity is in the target language.

@SraSpanglish likes giving students in groups specific roles. For example, two students talk while one checks/monitors the conversation. She provided examples of this activity here:
@SraCasey and @CalicoTeach suggested having students report back to the whole class about what they did in their groups; this means more accountability, and a chance to practice presentational skills.

Helping Novice Speakers Stay in the Target Language

Even novice speakers can engage in activities demanding oral communication skills – with the right help. Many participants were enthusiastic about the use of visuals in communication activities for novice speakers.

  • @dr_dmd recommends having pairs of students describe the pictures for each other, or catalog the differences between two pictures. Pictures can be of common everyday situations in keeping with the theme of the unit.
  • Alternatively, @tbcaudill suggested that teachers have one student describe an object or situation in the target language while the other student draws a picture based on the description.
  • @dr_dmd proposed giving students a set of pictures of faces. One student describes a particular face, and the other student has to guess which one he or she is describing.

Intermediate speakers can also benefit from descriptive speaking activities. @dr_dmd suggested having students work on speaking in more complex sentences and offering personal opinions.

Another way to help novice speakers stay in the target language is by semi-scripting communication to varying degrees. Teachers might gives students some lines or sentence starters, sentence framework to fill in with specifics, or even just general directions (“You must include x, y, and z in your piece”). Sometimes a few constraints can spur creativity, keeps students from feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of starting from scratch, and lowers their affective filter.

Group Activities for Communication Skills

Participants shared a wide range of types of group activities that help students practice target language communication skills.

  • @teachelmundo likes using 1-2 minute news clips for audio with visual reinforcement, and then asks comprehension questions differentiated by level. Students find short video clips to be less overwhelming than long ones.
  • @IteachHola has her students interview each other about their families, favorite things, likes and dislikes. The students then present to the rest of the class.
  • @lauren_schryver took a night improv class at Stanford that gave her lots of ideas for group communication activities. She recommends searching Google for more improv activity ideas.
  • @CoLeeSensei is preparing a murder mystery game for her Japanese class, “Who killed Mr. Hasegawa.” Students play the roles of suspects and detectives and get great communication practice!

Group activities can be a great opportunity to teach about the culture of the target language, too.

  • @lauren_schryver used a site that listed French holidays in her class. She had students identify holidays they recognized from their own culture, as well as unfamiliar ones, and discuss. Lists of French holiday can be found here: and
  • @lauren_schryver has also had students practice communication skills at an in-class meal. Students are guests and must have proper table manners, ask for food, and compliment the host.
  • @dr_dmd has his students study Le Tour de France, followed with a class bicycle race. Students then wrote compositions about what they had learned.

Participants shared some links to sites offering ideas for group activities for world language classrooms.

  • @SchmandaMac ’s school district has emphasize the Kagan method, which seeks to get a higher percentage of students participating in-class. @trescolumnae has been using some ideas from the Kagan method for almost 20 years! More information about that method can be found here:
  • @DiegoOjeda66 recommended Helena Courtain’s wiki for pair and group work ideas:
  • @DiegoOjeda66 also shared a link to this site that includes lots of ideas for games to practice target language communication skills:

Thank you to all our enthusiastic participants for sharing so many ideas! And a special thanks to our moderator, @dr_dmd.

Please suggest future #LangChat topics on our wiki at Don’t forget to vote each week to select topics, too!

Join us every Thursday at 8pm EST (5pm PST) for sharing, debate, and inspiration with your fellow #LangChat participants!

#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.

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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