Challenge Yourself! Mix it up! Get them using the language!

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In my last post I discussed the importance of communication in the  language classroom. Today I want to talk about how we can mix it up to keep students engaged and communicating in the target language.

I know there are days where I am standing in front of my Smartboard pointing at pictures lecturing away and completely frustrated because my students look like they want to fall asleep. On these days students are so bored they can’t answer my questions let alone have a conversation with a peer. My intentions as a teacher are good…I want to give them language skills so they can actually apply it to a conversation. But let’s face reality, when a student dreads class they aren’t learning.

Here are some “rules” I have learned to follow when dreaming up speaking activities for my students.

  1. The activity must be engaging. You have to have student buy in.
  2. The activities must be varied. Even if it is a fun game, if you play it every day students will become bored.
  3. They must be focused around a theme. Activities have to be created with what you are teaching and what students are learning.
  4. They must be applicable to the students language level. Activities must be provided where students can apply the skills and language they know and feel accomplished using it.
  5. They must be authentic. Activities must be genuine in order to get student buy in and to allow students to acquire new knowledge in the process.

If you are familiar with ACTFL you will know that there are three modes of communication: Interpretive, Interpersonal and Presentational.  

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Photo credits to Regional 10 Education Center

Interpretive mode – Is one-way communication that consists of no negotiation of meaning. In ASL it includes viewing information, receptive language or watching language and understanding it.  In this type of communication there is no way to question the author or ask for clarification or repetition. Students must interpret meaning and read between the lines in order to comprehend. This type of communication includes viewing of stories, YouTube videos or news reports.

Interpersonal mode – Is two-way communication that can be actively negotiated between all parties involved.  It includes an exchange of information that is monitored by all individuals. The parties involved can make adjustments and clarifications. Most importantly this is not rehearsed  or practiced. This is spontaneous communication. This type of communication includes expressive and receptive signing.

Presentational Mode – Is one-way communication that is intended for an audience.  It is a presentation of information and not an exchange of information or negotiation. This is rehearsed, practiced and not spontaneous. The presenter needs to have knowledge of  the audience’s culture and language in order to convey information that is understood. This type of communication  includes stories, literature, videos or informational presentations.

Mix It Up!

Here are some thoughts on activities to get your students communicating in the target language any day of the week.

Interpretive Mode

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  • Watch children’s stories in ASL. Dawn Sign Press has an entire series, Once Upon a Sign  that includes my buddy CJ Jones and other deaf performers.
  • Use the Daily Moth for upper level ASL students to get the news. I use these in class with prepared questions and on use clips on my test and quizzes.
  • Have students interpret peer videos. Students can create a video and use a Google form to “quiz” each other.
  • Use this site for a quick and easy recipe to check for understanding. Be the really cool teacher and bring in the ingredients so they can actually make the cookies.  You know if they taste good, they got it!
  • Use a video like this one and post to a conversation board like Canvas. Have students respond about what they learned and comment on other’s posts.  This can be written or signed responses.

Interpersonal Mode

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  • Begin the class with a topic starter that relates to your class. I create a PowerPoint of topics for each unit I teach. The topic is up on the board at the start of class. They talk to their partner about the topic while I take roll. If you are teaching holidays post “Discuss your favorite holiday.”   If you are learning about directions to a location post “Tell your partner where your favorite restaurant is and what you like to order there.” Not only are you on topic but now you are reviewing too. Win, win!
  • Use video chats, Skype or FaceTime to call students in another class you teach or link up with another school for one day.  Use created situations to give a purpose to the call.
  • Gap activities are a great way to get students using the language.  You can Google this and so many things will pop up.  They are sometimes called A-B activities. I use one like this to have students describe a room and their partner arrange their picture to match. Anything where student A and student B have an incomplete activity that requires questioning and communication is considered a gap activity.
  • Conversation circles are where students prepare questions to ask their peers, using new vocabulary words. They sit in a circle, and one student starts by asking a question of another student in the circle. Once that student answers, he or she will ask a question of someone else and so on.
  • Pictures may sound old school but they are a great tool to start a discussion.  Take great sports photos off the internet and have students discuss the rules of the game, famous athletes, the color of the uniforms or how the ball is passed down the field.  The possibilities on this one are endless.  Use magazine pictures, personal pictures students bring in, pictures taken from the Internet or pictures from a coloring book to prompt pairs or groups of students to express their opinion, have a discussion or tell a story.

Presentational Mode

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  • Students can research a topic on any aspect of Deaf culture like greetings for novice students to share in small groups or research deaf education and present on it for a more advanced class.
  • Have students analyze a piece of literature either written or signed and have them share the meaning the author is trying to convey.  
  • Advertisements are a good way to get students to think about products and ASL.  Students can view ads with deaf people then create a product advertisement of their own in the target language.  The commercial can be based on a product already being marketed or students  can choose to create your own product.
  • Book reports or literary circles can be a fun way to get students to talk about their favorite book or what they learned from a culture book you have assigned. Give students a prep sheet like this one from ESL blog or prepare your own focusing on information you want students to share.

Here is a link to a gap activity to try with your students.  Its FREE.  So try something new today and let us know how it worked out in the comments below. 



Communication First

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By now we all know the 5 C’s of World Language teaching…Communication, Culture, Comparisons, Community and Connections.  They are, after all, the foundation to what we do as language teachers.  But how often do we think of these 5 components when creating daily lessons? And how easy is it to just focus on a few and let the others fade into the oblivion?

Communication tends to be the easiest to incorporate into our daily lessons because duh, we teach language and it better be happening in our classrooms! Right? But what we need to be asking ourselves is…”Does my lesson have a real communicative goal?” ”Is communication really happening?” “What does real communication look like?” “Are our students really communicating?”

Does my lesson have a communicative goal?

This is a question we should all ask ourselves when creating a lesson. Often times we fill in the class period with activities that help students practice vocabulary or we drill and kill them until they are bored.  This year our World Language department finally caught on to the ACTFL “I can” statements. It has been a real eye opening experience filled with challenges, mistakes, regrets and a whole lot of learning. Most of what I have learned is just because it says “I can” in front of a task does not mean communication is happening and does not make a task communicative. Let’s look at a few of the statements I started with.

I can recite the ABCs

I can give basic commands

I can count to 10

Let’s think for a moment what these really say about a student and what they can do.  These statements on their own generally equal no communication. When was the last time you were at a Deaf community event and recited your ABCs to someone? That is probably not the casual conversation someone is expecting. Vague outcomes just tell us what a student can regurgitate and not really what they “can do.”

Is communication really happening?

For communication to be taking place we need to put these outcomes into real life situations. Wouldn’t it be better for a student to know how to use the vocabulary and skills for communication in a real life situation? It is important for us as teachers of the language to provide opportunities for this to happen and to make sure there is a clear understand of how to do it from a student’s perspective. Let’s take the above goals and put them into real life situations.

I can tell where I am from (ABCs)

I can tell someone where the paper is located in the classroom (basic commands)

I can give my address (numbers and ABCs)

Students can complete these tasks in a number of settings at various levels of skill.  Students will all produce language differently …some will use phrases or sentences while others can begin to use paragraphs. At each of these proficiency levels there is room for students to grow and improve their communication. Here are some ideas on how take the “I can” statements and use them in real communication situations.

  • “Introduce yourself to a deaf girl you just met at the park…tell your name and where you are from”
  • “Tell your new friend where the bathroom is located at the park…”
  • “Give your new friend your phone number so you can Facetime later…”

The great news about these type of communication activities is that students are not expected to master each task immediately.  Some students will straggle behind and some will pleasantly surprise you with what they can expand on.  Just remember with language, these skills should always be revisited. Don’t forget to incorporate them in future units or expressive tasks.

If communication is your classroom goal…and I hope it is, start to think about your objectives and how to incorporate them into your daily lessons.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how to improve communication in the classroom and how you use your “I can” statements. Comment below.