Saturday, November 21, 2015

Focus on conversation

I've always tried to focus my classes on communicative language rather than grammar. I want my students to speak the language not learn about the language but I've always been the one doing the 90% target language and not my students. So how to change that? Or at least increase my students' TL usage in class?

The answer came from French teacher and KWLA president Sara Merideth. She mentioned keeping key phrases right above the board and focusing on those until students knew them and then replacing them with new ones, constantly building the students' conversational skills.

Sounded good to me so I tried it. I moved my question word wall from the side to right up front - literally right over the white board where I keep the schedule for the day, our I can statements, and WBT scoreboard. Guess what happened? My students are asking more questions! They shout out things like ¿Por qué? ¿Qué? ¿Dónde? While watching a video 2 fifth graders asked me ¿La cámara...hmmmm....dónde? A great example of novice learners using questions!

So I took it a little further. I have a bulletin board just behind where I sit with my white board where I added additional useful phrases. I move one or two to the white board and give students incentives for using them (a ticket that they write their name on and put in a box - once a month I pull out several students names and they win a piece of chocolate.)  We started with ¿Cómo se dice ___ en español? in September and added ¿En serio? for October.

Our useful phrases are written on sentence strips and are stapled on my bulletin board.

But my kiddos noticed that a lot of the phrases are great when playing games - like calling each other out for being a tramposo or Me rindo/No te rindas or  yelling ¡Toma! or ¡Te gané! when they win. Or Tranquilo when we´re getting too loud. My fourth grade classes had me cracking up because several kids in the front were craning their necks to see what phrase they could use next while one kid in the back raised his hand and asked ¿Cómo se dice I'm confused en español? because he couldn't see the board. I've since added the phrases where the back of the class can see them easily as well. We also added them to their folders.

Students glued the phrases to their folders so they're always handy.

When we played Diego Dice (Simon says) they were telling each other to sit down in Spanish and I had to teach them "I didn't do it" on the fly so they could defend themselves against accusations of being out of the game.

We sit on the carpet during class but I know one of my high school teacher friends has a list of useful phrases taped to each desk in her room. Or you could keep them on tables or taped to folders so students can access them easily. Combined with some incentives or competition for using the most target language can really get them talking.

Get a copy of the useful phrases here.

How do you get your students talking in the target language? Share in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #earlylang!


  1. Haha...and I thought my kids were the only ones who argued about who is out of the game during Diego Dice! Great idea to post the words/phrases directly around the board. Mine are way over on the side of the room and it seems like the kids don't bother to pay attention to them. -- Amy @

    1. Nope - mine go from sleepy to crazy in 10 seconds of Diego dice! Thanks for reading!